Meet Vanessa McDonald

August 19, 2019 in Meet the Women - 1 Comment

Vanessa and I were introduced by an old friend of mine from high school who (rightly) thought she would be perfect to join The Modern Bee. In addition to a career in marketing, Vanessa is also the founder of Courage Creator where she develops products to help motivate herself and others in the same position to get out of a rut and in her glorious words, “take action towards their life vision.” I love the tremendous sense of power there is just in the idea of taking action in regards to one’s own life and ultimately having the courage to tap into that power.” -Michaela

When I first heard that you ran marketing for events and retail at Union Station, a major train transportation hub in downtown Toronto and historical landmark, I got very excited and nostalgic as a Toronto native myself.  When I was about 5, my dad, sister and I took the streetcar to the station on a frigid January morning, got a box of powdered donuts from one of the only gift shops in the station back then and boarded a train to Oshawa, only to return on the next train. It was all just so us kids could have a “train trip” experience. Now, people come to Union Station for a myriad of reasons, like to hop a train or to catch a movie outside with friends. What do you think it is that draws people into these old hubs for modern day experiences?

With 300,000 daily visitors, Union Station is Canada’s busiest transit hub. It’s also a National Historic Site and a building that has the potential to function as a destination in its own right. This makes for an incredibly fun marketing challenge. I get to work with an amazing team of real estate developers, programmers, event managers, architects, retailers and the City of Toronto to showcase the best that Toronto has to offer. I see the marketing role as sharing all the excitement the events and retail happening now and to come as well as reminding people that when they are walking through the station on a daily basis, they walk in the footsteps of those who came before them in the station’s near century of operations. I often think that are likely people who pass through the Great Hall on their way to the office that step on the same stone floor that their grandparents may have stepped on when they arrived in Canada to start their family’s journey in this country.

Socially, at least in metropolises, we’ve really come to expect entertainment and programming at places we didn’t think to seek it before, like a train station. I’m not sure if you’ve heard of the TWA Hotel at JFK Airport in NYC. It’s the airline’s old terminal and has essentially been transformed into this time machine back to 1962 with—in addition to the hotel—a restaurant, food court, and newsstands. It’s instantly become a popular tourist destination. You’re also working within a historical context, have there been any challenges with attracting both modern day travelers and excitement seekers with fun programming and retail, while still paying homage to a historical place like Union Station?

Visiting that hotel is definitely on my travel list and similarly, when I began working in this role, I went to Grand Central Terminal in NYC to see how that transit hub became one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations. Union Station continues to be the gateway to Toronto and a destination for the ever-increasing audiences of commuters, event goers, office workers, tourists and locals. We have made a deliberate attempt to create a sense of place for the over 300,000 people who pass through the station daily. From the CEO who commutes in on the Lakeshore West GO train to the kid from Scarborough heading downtown alone for the first time, everyone should feel welcome here.

Our goal is to curate a multi-functional must-see standalone destination with the best retail, service and restaurant operators in the city and our Executive Director of Programming, Syma Shah collaborates with local arts and cultural organizations to ensure the programming and partnership activations that we curate reflect those who use the building every day.

I’m personally somebody who doesn’t consider it set in stone until it’s set in ink. I don’t have a doctor’s appointment, a bill due, a wedding to go to, or really a work week schedule to follow until it’s written in ink in my day planner so I love the idea of the Brave Journal, a product from Courage Creator, where you set your intentions in print. There’s something about feeling more accountable when you’ve taken pen to paper. What was the inspiration behind the journal? Were you always somebody who journaled?

I have never been afraid to examine my own life by asking myself the questions that are found in the Brave Journal. I’ve also shared these questions with the people I have managed as I found they can help a person to snap out a certain way of thinking and open them up to choose new thoughts and actions to move their life forward. I derive a lot of joy from the idea of self-responsibility and as I got older, I realized that the ability to be open to do this is a valuable skill and also one that I can offer to others on a larger scale.

The goal of the work done in the Brave Journal is to navigate back to a life well lived. What’s your definition of a life well lived?

To have the freedom and self-responsibility to make my own choices. It’s very important to feel that I am always learning, growing and remain open to new ideas and new ways of thinking. That growth can feel uncomfortable and that’s where the brave part comes in but, that’s also where the magic of life can be.

In “East of Eden,” John Steinbeck writes, “and now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.” What do you say to people reading this who are stuck in a rut because they feel paralyzed to even start, because they’re worried about being perfect, or what others might think? 

The whole journal is about this very feeling! The Brave Journal is designed so that the reader doesn’t need to know all the steps they need to take towards their goals, just the ‘next simple step’ to take right now. I set up the journal so that each day, you have an opportunity to write your ‘Brave Bet’ down and one step you will take towards it. You take just one small step for 21 days and before you know it, that large goal starts to look more manageable. Small steps create momentum. Many of us wait until the ‘right time’ but, life is not about having all the answers, it’s about taking action one small step at a time and just focusing on what is in front of you right now.

In a world of possibilities, what would you do with your life if failure wasn’t an option? What advice would you give your younger self just starting out yourself at a trying time in the past that you’ve since overcome?

I don’t think there is such thing as failure, there are choices made and consequences of those choices but, they always end up leading us towards our destiny whether the road is winding or more direct so I wouldn’t change a thing about my path right now. This is also what I would tell my younger self, not to worry so much because the choices I am making are one thing but, my reaction to them is totally another. I wouldn’t have dwelled so much on the disappointments -enjoy the journey a bit more, it’s meant to be fun. Then again, it was in that dwelling that I formulated the questions that became the basis of the Brave Journal and helped me get out of my own rut.

What traits do you value most in your circle of friends? What traits do you most value in yourself?

Integrity, compassion and humour. I’m lucky to have created a group of friends that are also people who inspire me with how they live their lives and exemplify these values in all kinds of combinations. It is a wonderful thing to be able to observe up close the people you admire, my friends make me a better person by being real with me and supporting me and being discerning enough to know when to employ each. The traits I value in myself are my curiosity, hope and loyalty.

And lastly, a few rapid fire questions for you:

Coffee or tea? Coffee. Cook or order in? Cook. Early Bird or Night Owl? Early Bird. Train trip or plane trip? Plane. Pen or pencil? Pen

You can learn more about Courage Creator (and Brave Journals!) here and for those of you unfamiliar with Toronto’s historic and dynamic Union Station here. You can also follow along on social media to stay informed (and inspired!) –  @couragecreator and @torontounion.

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1 Comment

  • Clark Johnson August 19, 2019 at 2:52 pm

    I love the beautiful railroad stations from the golden age of train travel. Leave early for your train so you can people watch and soak in the sights, sounds (and tastes!) Historic buildings like Union, Gare Central du Montréal, oh and let’s not forget Grand Central in NYC are not to be rushed through.

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