Margaret Huber helps Niagara Symphony in latest collaboration
Margaret Huber is perhaps the only person in the region who could have given the Niagara Symphony Orchestra the counsel it needed.
The question: How can the Niagara Symphony, one of Canada’s oldest orchestras, go beyond just the music, to attract new audiences to its upcoming concert collaborating with the renowned Japanese Canadian Taiko drum ensemble, Nagata Shachu?
“We are interested in exploring ways to present more diverse kinds of music to more diverse audiences,” says symphony board chair, Larry Bourk, a well-known supporter of the arts in Niagara.
“When Brad (Thachuk, the NSO’s music director) arranged for the Taiko drummers to play with the symphony in November, we saw an opportunity to attract new patrons.”
To make it happen he pointed his organization to his longtime friend and former colleague on the board of directors of Music Niagara, for guidance.
“Margaret Huber has a perfect combination of skills and experience to point us in the right direction. And we knew Margaret Huber had spent many years as both a trade commissioner and consul general in Japan. She is completely fluent in Japanese,” Bourk says.
“A perfect person to help us, right in our own backyard.”
After four decades on the front lines of Canada’s foreign service, Huber has become a firm believer in the power of cultural diplomacy to bring people and nations closer together.
So, she was pleased to nudge the NSO in the right direction.
“I’m delighted that the NSO is presenting a concert involving Japan, involving leading Japanese musical figures. These drummers have won many awards.”
“I was asked to provide background on diplomatic practices. I was happy to do whatever I could.”
It worked. The cultural consul from the Japanese consulate in Toronto, Masahiro Matsui, will attend the Nov. 19 concert and the NSO plans other Japan-focused activities to help celebrate the occasion.
Huber, 75, has called Niagara-on-the-Lake home for almost 30 years. But her roots in Niagara go much deeper.
At the age of four, the youngest of six siblings, she arrived with her parents, fleeing the world war, from what is now Croatia.
The family settled with relatives in Port Colborne, her father working for a family shoe company.
Huber believes it was her early upbringing that pushed her toward diplomatic service.
“I had a foreign background,” she pauses thoughtfully (as diplomats often do), considering her response to the question: Why the foreign service?
“And as a student of history, I was aware of the importance of international relations. That was appealing.”
She started during the era of Prime Minister Lester Pearson. “It was a very interesting time.”
Huber says it was not necessarily a career meant to be.
After degrees in history at McGill and the University of Ottawa, and a gap year teaching English in Japan, she successfully applied to work in Canada’s trade commission service.
“I thought I would stay in the job for five years,” she says with a smile. “I retired 40 years later.”
“Can you imagine, in my first job my travel budget was larger than my salary. I was in heaven.”
After a posting in the trade commission in Manila, she spent two years of extensive full-time training learning the Japanese language. It led to early diplomatic positions in Japan, and later in her career, to the role of consul general of Osaka.
Along the way, she took on ever more senior roles, including ambassadorships in what is now the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Jordan, Iraq and as high commissioner in Pakistan.
Huber recalls one amusing highlight of her illustrious career.
“I was ambassador in Prague, and Canada was putting a bid forward there, to the IOC, for what became the Vancouver Winter Olympics.”
“It was not a done deal that we would get it. In fact, it was a very close vote. We had a large delegation — including Wayne Gretzky.
“The picture that was taken at that time of me with Wayne Gretzky as the only one of hundreds I’ve taken with celebrities and leaders around the word, but it was the only picture that impressed the children in my family.”
Toward the end of her foreign service career, Huber did a three-year stint as chief of protocol for Canada, a role in which she was responsible for all incoming and outgoing delegations and links with the diplomatic community in Ottawa.
“Throughout my career I got real pleasure in getting to know people,” she says. “It is only by getting to know people that you can find common ground — how you can work together for common goals, either individually or with countries.”
Throughout it all, Niagara was her anchor.
“When people asked what my favourite part of Canada is, I would diplomatically name a number of areas across Canada. But my heart was in Niagara.”
“Having a supportive family when you are traipsing around the world, it is like an anchor. Terrific to have that balance.”
“I always called Niagara home, no matter where I lived.”
Huber talks fondly of her large family, most still in Niagara. Of returning often for Fish Fridays at Minor Brothers, always eaten with friends and family in the park or by the canal. Of her memories of Port Colborne High.
(As a Port High alumna, Huber recently attended the 100th anniversary of the school and created a Century Scholarships and Awards Fund for deserving students.)
Since 1994 she has had a quiet, historic home in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
“For a student of history, Niagara-on-the-Lake is absolutely fascinating,” she says with enthusiasm.
“And for a student of diplomacy, we’re right here on the border. You can practically throw a stone and hit the U.S. It helps you understand that geography matters.”
Now, in her spare time, she tends to stay pretty close to home.
She is a strong supporter of the Canadian International Council, a platform for all Canadians to engage in global affairs, helping shape Canada’s place in the world. She is on the board of a global health company. And she has spent a lot of time and resources on youth engagement.
She admits she feels very lucky to be where she is and having done what she has.
“Niagara has an amazing diversity of people. I find it fascinating. When the weather is good, I walk around this beautiful community. I like starting and ending at the museum.”
It’s clear that well-ordered thoughts of the world, of her life’s experiences, are never far from Huber’s mind. But you can also tell she’s at peace, here in Niagara.
- For more information about the Niagara Symphony concert: Taiko + Bolero, a collaboration with the taiko drum ensemble, Nagata Shachu, Sunday, Nov. 19, at 2:30 p.m., at the Performing Arts Centre in St. Catharines, go to niagarasymphony.com or call 905-688-0722.