Elmwood School Gala continues record-breaking streak by raising $450K

Speakeasy gala theme delivers big on style and glamour as school gym is transformed into opulent nightclub

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There was a speakeasy operation in Ottawa on Saturday night and — if you can keep it hush-hush – we’ll disclose to you its not-so-secret location: Elmwood School.

The all-girls private school of 375 students, located in Rockcliffe Park, hosted its 30th annual fundraising gala in Roaring Twenties style. 

The cocktail reception area felt like a warehouse-styled club, with seemingly illicit barrels of booze doubling as cocktail tables and vintage music, from scratchy old vinyl records, drifting out from a nearby record player.

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The glamorous crowd of 260 was summoned into the school gymnasium — not that it looked anything like a place for basketball layups or volleyball spikes. The room was jaw-droppingly gorgeous and ready for a night of dining and dancing with its white ostrich feathers, elegant chandeliers and spectacular lighting.

By the end of it all, the crowd ended up raising a staggering $450,000 — making it Elmwood’s most successful gala to date.


The evening’s Hear us Roar title paid a nod to the 1920s as a time of liberation for women, when they wanted to be seen as individuals outside of their familial roles. At that time, speakeasies were a popular place for people to go and get their alcohol fix during the Prohibition Era.

The gala team, made up of dozens of volunteers, was co-chaired this year by Antonia Betts and Aileen Conway, both of whom are lawyers by profession. Elmwood alumna Jamilah Taib-Murray, chairwoman of Sakto Corporation, was back as gala patron.

Betts and her husband, Craig Betts, executive chairman and founder of Solace — a Kanata-based smart data movement technology company — hosted several high-profile guests that night, including capital market executive Mark Mulroney, son of former prime minister Brian Mulroney, and his wife, Vanessa, along with Canadian ski legend Erik Guay, and two-time Olympic skier Patrick Biggs. Solace is a major sponsor of Alpine Canada.

Interestingly, Biggs also has artistic talent; he donated one of his paintings, Weightlessness, to the silent auction.

Other major boosters included Elmwood School board of governors chair Peter Hudson, founder and CEO of HTG, a leading national provider for major sporting events, and his wife, Kelly, as well as Telesat CEO Dan Goldberg — who’s also on the school board — and his wife, Whitney Fox. Together, the couples matched $50,000 made in donations by attendees that night. The generosity didn’t end there, either. Hudson offered to match additional pledges, thereby helping the school to raise another $16,600. Also later, French Ambassador Kareen Rispal offered up a dinner for 15 people at her official residence. It sold for a remarkable $15,000.

The money raised from the gala will go toward two causes: the school’s scholarship program to help promising girls who would not otherwise be able to afford to attend Elmwood, and the renovation of its visual art studio.

The evening’s diamond sponsor was gala committee member Janice Saunders and her husband, Tim Saunders, executive vice-president and chief financial officer of Canopy Growth and a member of the Elmwood School board. Other big boosters included Marilyn Wilson and daughter Reba Wilson from Marilyn Wilson Dream Properties.

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The evening marked the final Elmwood School gala for its head, Cheryl Boughton. She’s leaving later this year to lead St. John’s-Kilmarnock School, a co-ed private school near Waterloo. The annual gala has raised some $2 million over her 11 years with Elmwood. Boughton will be succeeded by the school’s deputy head, James Whitehouse.

Some of the exciting prizes sold off that night were: a three-night stay for two in the Newfoundland Suite at the exclusive Fogo Island Inn, with plane tickets from Air Canada; a dinner and wine for 30 hosted by the restaurant-owning Fraser brothers, in partnership with Jacobsons Gourmet Concepts; embassy dinners at the official residences of the Korean and Swedish ambassadors; original artworks by Christopher Griffin and Andrew Berks; a scotch tasting night for 21 people; and a six-night trip to Ireland that features filming locations from the popular Game of Thrones show.

At least one 2019 Forty Under 40 award recipient was spotted in the crowd: Stephanie Appotive from Howard Fine Jewellers & Custom Designers. It donated a pair of diamond earrings to the auction.


– caroline@obj.ca

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