Ottawa Riverkeeper Gala rides wave of success to raise record high of $270K

Outdoor environmental fundraiser on Ottawa River enjoys perfect weather, sold-out crowd

If you're looking for a party that's really going to float your boat, try the annual Ottawa Riverkeeper Gala.

It was back for its sixth sensational year Wednesday, bringing along a fun crew of 500 for the ride, under dry skies and ideal weather conditions. 

And just like a river’s water — always moving and never the same — the gala popped up in a beautiful new location along the Ottawa River. It was held at 50 Sussex Dr., right next to Rideau Falls at the home of The Royal Canadian Geographical Society.

Guests, dressed in “river chic,” soaked up the stunning views of the waters on which rowers and boaters could be seen navigating, silhouetted by a setting sun.

By the end of the night, the gala had reached an all-time fundraising high of nearly $270,000, gross.

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Shopify senior vice-president Brittany Forsyth and Alexandra Clark, chief of staff to the company's CEO,  at the Ottawa Riverkeeper Gala held at 50 Sussex on Wednesday, May 30, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Everyone was free to roam among the different areas, from the clear-topped elegant party tents with hanging chandeliers and lights to The RCGS building and its riverside terraces. There were chill-out lounge areas, creative food and drink stations and such activities as ping pong, fuzzball and Pac Man. A nice whimsical touch was the tree swings (Ottawa artist Andrew King was seen giving Barbara McInnes a gentle push but he stopped short of an "underdog").

Some guests, including iPolitics editor and publisher James Baxter and his wife, Sarah, got into the spirit of the environmental cause by cycling to the gala in their party clothes.

This year's gala committee was 15-people strong. It included Opinicon Resort co-owner Fiona McKean, wife of Shopify CEO Tobi Lütke. She admitted to OBJ.social that her striking red, white and black outfit got mixed reviews from her children, who thought she looked like a:

But, the glass half-full mom had simply replied: "It'll bring people joy."

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From left, David Segal (Mad Radish) with Lindsay Taub (Sundae School Ottawa), Shopify COO Harley Finkelstein, Tobi Lütke, Fiona McKean and Emily Segal at the Ottawa Riverkeeper Gala held at 50 Sussex on Wednesday, May 30, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Sarah and James Baxter biked to the Ottawa Riverkeeper Gala from their home in nearby Rockcliffe. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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It was definitely sunglasses weather for the first hour or so. From left, Tracy Rait-Parkes and her husband, Scott Parkes, with his brother, Jeff Parkes, and his wife, Gillian Rowan-Legg, representing their family's charitable Taggart Parkes Foundation, at this year's Ottawa Riverkeeper Gala. Photo by Caroline Phillips 

Thyme & Again was back to cater the $250-a-ticket fundraiser, with its usual panache, while columnist, political journalist and radio host Evan Solomon returned as emcee. He and long-time Ottawa Riverkeeper Meredith Brown go way back, to their days of tree planting together.

“The river is the most beautiful part of this city,” said Solomon of his favourite running route.

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Evan Solomon

Henry Burris, retired quarterback for the Ottawa Redblacks and a three-time Grey Cup champ, took on the role of this year’s Honorary Riverkeeper. The native of Oklahoma and his wife, Nicole, along with their two boys, now call Ottawa home. Burris is one of the hosts of CTV Morning Live.

Burris may have fumbled his French accent a little, with his  “Bonsoir tout le monde” welcome, but hearing how he's been learning the language from his nine-year-old was pretty darn sweet.

Burris touched on the benefits that the outdoors have on our physical and mental health, and how it’s up to all of us to make sure we leave behind a city we're proud of, for our children. He compared it to a relay race, and how a runner tries to smoothly pass the baton to the next runner so that they can get a good start in their dash toward the finish line.

“What type of tomorrow will you hand off to them?” asked the inspiring speaker.

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Henry Burris, 2018 Honorary Riverkeeper

Burris received one of the unique paddles made by Andy Convery, owner of Echo Paddles. He now joins a list of honorary riverkeepers that consists of Murray Sinclair, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz and his predecessor Mark Carney, who, Solomon told the crowd, keeps his paddle in his office in England, where he's the governor of the UK's central bank. Former House of Commons sergeant-at-arms Kevin Vickers, who's now ambassador to Ireland, was made an honorary riverkeeper in 2015. The New Brunswick-born diplomat was at the gala that night.

The evening also presented Water Leader awards to young Canadian water activist Autumn Peltier, from Wikwemikong First Nation on Manitoulin Island (accepting the award on her behalf was Sarain Fox, an Indigenous activist and dancer of Anishinabe heritage), and to Paul Dewar, former NDP MP for Ottawa Centre. Dewar, who was diagnosed earlier this year with brain cancer, has been a long-time advocate for and admirer of the Ottawa Riverkeeper team and its leader, Brown, for their engagement and dedication toward keeping the waters clean and pollution-free.

“Water unites us all,” Dewar said in his acceptance speech. “It connects us all, no matter what your (political) party, no matter where you live, no matter who you are. It is our collective responsibility to preserve it for future generations.

"Our existence depends on water and air."

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Paul Dewar and Sarain Fox at the Ottawa Riverkeeper Gala held at 50 Sussex on Wednesday, May 30, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Ottawa Riverkeeper executive director Patrick Nadeau with Sarain Fox, Meredith Brown, Paul Dewar, Henry Burris, Kevin Vickers, Craig Stewart and Geoff Green, chair of the board of the Ottawa Riverkeeper. Photo by Caroline Phillips

The sold-out event was supported by local businesses and corporate sponsors, with this year’s presenting sponsor being the Insurance Bureau of Canada, represented by its vice-president of federal affairs, Craig Stewart.

The musical guest that night was Juno Award-nominated soul queen Tanika Charles, whose impressive vocals and infectious energy lured partygoers to the dance floor.

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From left, Thyme & Again executive chef Tim Stock with owner Sheila Whyte and managing partner Michael Moffatt at this year's Ottawa Riverkeeper Gala, held at 50 Sussex on Wednesday, May 30, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Star Motors general manager Yves Laberge with his wife, Lynn, and owner Jeff Mierins at this year's Ottawa Riverkeeper Gala, held at 50 Sussex on Wednesday, May 30, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Alison Fowler and her partner Andrew King are both Ottawa artists who donated works to the silent auction at this year's Ottawa Riverkeeper Gala. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Geoff Green, chair of the Ottawa Riverkeepers' board and founder of Students on Ice and Canada C3, with fellow board member Colleen Westeinde, and her husband, Jeff Westeinde, president at Zibi Canada and founding partner of Windmill Development Group. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Tobi Lütke, CEO of Shopify, and his wife, Fiona McKean, enjoy a night out together at this year's Ottawa Riverkeeper Gala, held at 50 Sussex Dr. on Wednesday, May 30, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips