When Katherine Dines opens the red-painted door to her Nepean home, the welcome is gracious and warm. “Come in, come in,” she says. “The water’s hot for tea. Would you like some?” Petite, pretty and animated, the media personality has the kind of presence that lights up a room. Her daughters, Grace, 12, and Sydney, 15, are curled up in different spots in a serene, tastefully decorated living room and there’s a plate of brownies on the coffee table. You can’t help but notice the girls are strikingly attractive; even the family pet is elegant.
“We’ve been fostering cats since Grace was in junior kindergarten,” Katherine mentions, but when this special-needs kitty arrived from the Ottawa Humane Society (OHS) in September, they fell for her. Hard. Although No Adoptions is part of the OHS fostering agreement, given the cat’s unique health profile they “put out a little prayer to the universe” and made a pitch. On New Year’s Eve, right before closing time, they found out their adoption application had been accepted and rushed to the local adoption centre. With five minutes to spare, they were able to scoop up the feline cutie and take her home for good.
It was an auspicious start to 2015 and young Grace got to give the new family member her name: Schmusen. It’s the German word for cuddle. There’s lots of that going on as the conversation flows.
The head of this household, Katherine Louise Dines, grew up in Fredericton, New Brunswick. The first time she visited Ottawa was in 1988, right before she went off to Belleville’s Loyalist College to study broadcast journalism and communications. On that first trip here with her friends, Katherine fell in love with Canada’s capital city. The next summer she returned for a bursary program at the University of Ottawa. That’s where she met the guy, an Ottawa native, who would become her husband and the girls’ dad.
Today, Katherine Dines is popular across the city and beyond as a MAJIC 100 FM radio host. She’s also an actor, voice artist, host and MC with many and varied credits, including roles in film, television and commercials, through the Mensour talent agency.
She’s brimming with enthusiasm about a lot of things—volunteering, hiking, biking, camping, meeting people and trying new things. She’s particularly passionate, though, about empowering women and girls, and has empowered herself by achieving a blue belt in taekwondo. “I believe martial arts is an excellent tool for helping build confidence in children, especially girls,” she explains. “It helps build strength and courage. It also teaches respect, empathy and integrity.”
She’s involved in many of Ottawa’s special events and activities and has also raised her children to contribute to the community. Speaking of the 40 volunteer hours required for kids to graduate high school, Katherine says, “I don’t think 40 hours is enough, to tell you the truth. I try to get them involved, as much as I can, with any projects we’ve got going on [through MAJIC 100].
We’re always looking at ways we can give back.”
For instance, the girls recently modeled in the Runway for Hope Ottawa fashion show. It was a perfect fit for these photogenic sisters because not only did the event promote local fashion designers, it was also a fundraiser for the CHEO Foundation—a cause close to their hearts.
The girls have their own passions too. Grace is active in taekwondo and Sydney’s auditioning for a spring production at her school. They’re both keen about art, drama and music.
Sydney plays piano, bass guitar, violin and acoustic guitar. Grace plays piano and bass guitar; in addition, she’s learning to play acoustic guitar and teaching herself to play flute. “Music is huge in our home,” Katherine notes. “We are always singing.” She calls the piano in the living room “one of the best investments I’ve ever made. I encourage music in every home.”
If you were to pass by the lighted window of this lovely residence, as Grace sips her drink and Sydney pets the kitty, it would be easy to envision a perfect family. When Katherine was a youngster she used to pass by such windows, imagining the ideal lives of the families inside.
But there is no perfect family, and Katherine Dines’ childhood was not ideal. That personal story includes bullying, trauma, abuse, violence, anorexia, mental health issues. And although Katherine continues to deal with anxiety and depression, she notes, “I haven’t had a major panic attack in a couple of years.”
Thankfully, she has lent her high-profile voice to the ongoing efforts to de-stigmatize mental health challenges. She has spoken publicly about anxiety and depression and has also been asked to write about her experiences.
Like a lot of others, though, her own family has had its share of challenges. Thirteen years ago, when Katherine was expecting Grace, it was discovered that she and the girls have Long QT syndrome (LQTS), a heart rhythm disorder. Once Grace arrived, she spent her first week in the hospital and there were fears she may need a pacemaker. Fortunately, she didn’t, but mother and daughters must take medication.
Then, when Grace was five months old, the marriage ended and Katherine was on her own with the girls. She didn’t have a job. The unraveling of the relationship, the newly diagnosed heart conditions, the two tiny dependents – a toddler and an infant, and the worries about money and the future proved to be overwhelming.
“I called the Distress Centre quite a bit,” Katherine recalls. “It was a lifeline. I couldn’t stop crying and I couldn’t sleep. I felt so completely deflated and weak.”
Fortunately for everybody, she made some really healthy decisions: “I reached out and consumed all the resources I could find.” Practical, at-home support was provided so she could get some sleep and slowly she began building a new family life with her girls.
“When my marriage ended, I knew that I didn’t want daycare. I wanted to be at home until my girls were in school.” To that end over the years she took on work projects, including voiceover work, acting and commercials, that fit around the needs of her family.
In those early days, she also took advantage of all the city’s no-charge attractions, especially the free-admission times at museums. “Ottawa is an awesome place to raise a family,” she enthuses.
Today, with Grace in Grade 7 at Carleton Heights Public School and Sydney in Grade 10 at Merivale High, they’re still enjoying all that the community has to offer. Katherine talks about Sunday Bikedays, Fly Day—an annual fundraiser that allows people to tour the city in a plane, performances at the NAC and outings to other favourite spots. “I try to do new, interesting things with them and create a lot of memories for them.”
Katherine also takes one day at a time and tries to take good care of herself. For the Long QT syndrome, the girls are monitored through CHEO and Katherine is followed by the University of Ottawa Heart Institute. For her anxiety and depression, Katherine credits a life coach, Patricia Wall of Take the Lid Off Inc., for helping her “get to the root of what was going on inside.”
She also believes in forgiving, in paying it forward and in practicing gratitude.
“I am super lucky to have the kids that I have,” she says. “We do have our fights and we do have our moments. I’ve taught them to call me on my BS; and we have certainly been through a lot together.” She pauses, her face lighting up; Grace slowly stirs the drink in her cup and Schmusen settles contentedly in Sydney’s lap. “I feel very good about where we’re at as a family. We are very lucky.”