Ottawa Riverkeeper Gala enjoys record-breaking year back on Lemieux Island

Environmental benefit honours Sen. Murray Sinclair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Ottawa Riverkeeper Gala

There’s no room at the Ottawa Riverkeeper Gala for fairweather friends. That’s because it’s the kind of outdoor gala where one happily attends, rain or shine; it’s just that much fun.

And this year’s environmental benefit was no different, despite some scattered rain.  

Some 450 attendees of the $250-a-ticket gala returned Wednesday to Lemieux Island in the middle of the scenic Ottawa River. Options for getting there included walking, biking or car shuttle.

Once there, the crowd raised a record $265,000 for the Ottawa Riverkeeper, a citizen-based action group that protects and promotes the ecological health and diversity of the Ottawa River and its tributaries.

With the forecast looking iffy, gala-goers got updates from organizers throughout the day, including a revised dress code of “riverside cozy.” That meant stilettos were out and Blundstones were in. Surprisingly, many women pulled off the "rain boot look" quite nicely.

Ottawa Riverkeeper Gala
Dr. Bella Mehta, seen with her husband, Sanjay Shah, looked stylish in her rubber knee-high rain boots at the Ottawa Riverkeeper Gala held at Lemieux Island on Wednesday, May 31, 2017. (Photo by Caroline Phillips)

A giant clear-topped party tent was beautifully decorated with strings of lights and chandeliers, with white umbrellas suspended from the ceiling. A second large party tent (with a billiards table, to boot!) was positioned nearby for social butterflies to escape to during speeches.

Seen were Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson and such city councillors as David Chernushenko, Tobi Nussbaum, a bow-tie wearing Tim Tierney and Michael Qaqish, as well as Gatineau Mayor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin, Environment Minister and Ottawa MP Catherine McKenna, Green Party leader Elizabeth May and Treasury Board President Scott Brison. Journalist Evan Solomon was back to host the evening while the lovely Kathleen Edwards, who is an acclaimed musician and Ottawa Riverkeeper ambassador, performed for the crowd.

Ottawa Riverkeeper Gala
From left, Alex Ross and Kathleen Edwards with Mayor Jim Watson and Gatineau Mayor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin at the Ottawa Riverkeeper Gala held Wednesday, May 31, 2017. (Photo by Caroline Phillips)
Ottawa Riverkeeper Gala
Well-known journalist Evan Solomon was back to host the Ottawa Riverkeeper Gala, held Wednesday, May 31, 2017, at Lemieux Island on the Ottawa River. (Photo by Caroline Phillips)

Partygoers also included those whiz kids from Shopify, including co-founder and CEO Tobi Lütke and COO Harley Finkelstein (it's a telltale sign of a good bash when those two attend). 

The evening acknowledged Gary Zed, who is leaving EY on a high note, having led the Ottawa office to new heights and having supported its sponsorship of the Riverkeeper event for a number of years. He will shortly be starting a bold new entrepreneurial venture

Ottawa Riverkeeper Gala
Long-time supporter Gary Zed, with his daughter, Olivia Zed, at the Ottawa Riverkeeper Gala held at Lemieux Island on the Ottawa River on Wednesday, May 31, 2017. (Photo by Caroline Phillips)
Ottawa Riverkeeper Gala
From right, Shopify CEO Tobi Lütke at Lemieux Island with Shopify senior vice president of engineering Jean-Michel Lemieux (no relation to the island) and his wife, Nadine Martel, at the Ottawa Riverkeeper Gala held Wednesday, May 31, 2017. (Photo by Caroline Phillips)
Ottawa Riverkeeper Gala
From left, Whitney Fox with her husband, Telesat president and CEO Dan Goldberg, and Lindsay Taub with her husband, Harley Finkelstein, COO of Shopify, at the Ottawa Riverkeeper Gala held at Lemieux Island on Wednesday, May 31, 2017. (Photo by Caroline Phillips)

Senator Murray Sinclair, co-chair of the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry in Manitoba and chief commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, was this year’s honourary Riverkeeper. Ottawa Riverkeeper Meredith Brown and executive director Patrick Nadeau presented him with a hand-carved canoe paddle, similar to the ones given in previous years to prime ministerial wife Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, former sergeant at arms-turned-ambassador Kevin Vickers, Governor of the Bank of Canada Stephen Poloz and his predecessor, Mark Carney.

Ottawa Riverkeeper Gala
Ottawa Riverkeeper Meredith Brown with Sen. Murray Sinclair, 2017 Honourary Riverkeeper, and the non-profit organization’s executive director, Patrick Nadeau, at this year’s gala held at Lemieux Island on the Ottawa River on Wednesday, May 31, 2017. (Photo by Caroline Phillips)

Sinclair, who was the first aboriginal judge appointed in Manitoba and only the second in Canada, became a senator last year.

“Water is life, as you know,” he told the room. “Those of you who follow our traditions and know our teachings a little bit will know that’s a common refrain that you hear.”

He warned of the great risks that exist of losing our waters, both in Canada and beyond, to industry and pollutants.

“It’s really bizarre when you think about it, that we pay more for a gallon of water than we do for a gallon of gas,” said Sinclair. “We pay a huge amount of money for what used to be free, and yet we don’t seem to have a really good set of policies and laws around that to protect that kind of exploitation and overdevelopment and misuse and abuse.”

Ottawa lawyer and charity auctioneer Lawrence Greenspon quieted down the chatty crowd for long enough to sell an all-red Martone commuter bike (snapped up by Dr. Bella Mehta and her husband, Sanjay Shah, president of ExecHealth), a Wood Duck 12 recreational kayak, an oil on canvas of a view from Lemieux Island Bridge by Ottawa artist David Lidbetter and an Adventure Canada expedition for two to Canada’s Sable Island. It went for $11,000.

The last thing anyone wants to wear this time of year is a toque, but they made for practical parting gifts, courtesy of Canada Goose.

Ottawa Riverkeeper Gala
Ottawa lawyer Lawrence Greenspon gave a quick demo before auctioning off a commuter bicycle at the Ottawa Riverkeeper Gala held Wednesday, May 31, 2017. (Photo by Caroline Phillips)

- caroline@obj.ca