It’s lucky for Alice she didn’t seriously hurt herself falling down that rabbit hole, but there’s comfort in knowing the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario is always there for kids when they do suffer falls and other such accidents.
Alice and her zany collection of friends played a starring role in this year’s Ottawa Children’s Gala, held Saturday night at the Infinity Convention Centre. Event decorator Sharon Bosley House and her team from Avant-Garde Designs put the ‘wonder’ in Alice in Wonderland, creating a never-ending adventure of fun, excitement and entertainment.
The gala, presented by Urbandale Construction, raises money for programs and initiatives at CHEO that keep kids safe from injury.
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The gala, now in its 10th year, was created by Spencer Warren, director of operations for Eastern Canada at Paladin Technologies. He’s also founder of the Kids Play Safe program.
“Every year we’re like, ‘Is this our last year?’,” he says, acknowledging that it takes tremendous work, including help from volunteers and sponsors, to put a gala together. “But, afterward, we’re always glad we did it. It’s very rewarding, seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces. It’s unbelievable when you see them arriving here. It’s like they’re at Disney.”
Warren created the benefit after his only child, Emily, suffered a broken arm during a preventable accident at an Ottawa family fun park. She was two at the time. There was concern the toddler would suffer life-long injuries. Fortunately, she made a full recovery after being fixed by CHEO doctors.
The ordeal allowed for Warren to see the quality of care provided by CHEO to his daughter and other hospitalized kids dealing with even more serious health problems. He’s never forgotten how compassionate the CHEO staff were toward him and his wife, Lisa.
Emily has just turned 14 and is a student of St. Joseph Catholic High School in Barrhaven. She’s been part of the gala since she was three, always standing alongside of her father on stage. Whereas she was once waist-height, she’s now nearly shoulder to shoulder to him. She volunteers at the Ottawa Children’s Gala, along with her teenaged friends.
Attendees of the gala included Lieutenant Governor of Ontario Elizabeth Dowdeswell and Senator Vern White (his adorable seven-year-old daughter, Ella, has been going for the past four years). Mayor Jim Watson had to cancel due to illness but the evening’s emcee, Annette Goerner from CTV Morning Live Ottawa, read aloud the mayor’s proclamation, declaring it to be Kids Play Safe Day.
One in five children who visit CHEO are treated for preventable injury, the sold-out crowd of 500 heard.
By late afternoon, the Infinity Convention Centre was full of children showing off their poofy party dresses and little boy suits. There were so many things for kids to do, such as get their face painted, hit the nail spa, or get a goofy group shot in the photo booth. They could discuss literature with the most bookworm-y of Disney princesses, Belle, or be on the receiving end of a friendly fist bump from a Star Wars Storm Trooper.
The eating of magical cake was not required for one to seemingly shrink in size. An oversized chair did the trick, in creating such an illusion. On hand were the Mad Hatter and Alice, the latter of whom was played by Sarah Howell. It turned out, “Alice” can sing and play the keyboard, too. She was part of a non-stop musical line-up that also featured beatboxer Emilie “Sparx” Carrey, hip-hop dancers Culture Shock, and circus performer Isabella Hoops.
Worth mentioning is an elaborate candy buffet that stretched nearly 50 feet long. It offered so many sweets that even Willy Wonka would have been green with envy.
Organizers kept the candy buffet cordoned off until later in the evening but the lieutenant governor, who delivered some brief remarks, joked that she had first dibs.
“One thing I’ve learned when there’s a room full of children, they don’t want to hear speeches,” she told the room, light-heartedly. “I’m well aware of so many of the amazing things that go on at CHEO. I do want to, on behalf of the people of Ontario, congratulate all of the people at CHEO for the groundbreaking work that they do.”
The viceroy shared a couple of her favourite Alice in Wonderland quotes that convey the message that anything is possible, including: A dream is not reality but who’s to say which is which?
“I hope you will continue to turn dreams into reality,” she told the room. “That’s what this evening is all about.”