Community celebrates Ottawa photographer Michelle Valberg for being named to Order of Canada

Award-winning Canadian wildlife photographer recognized for philanthropic work, raising awareness of Canada's North
Valberg
Ottawa photographer Michelle Valberg was celebrated by friends, family and co-workers at a reception held Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022 at 50 Sussex. Photo by Caroline Phillips
Editor's Note

OBJ.social is supported by the generous patronage of Mark Motors and Marilyn Wilson Dream Properties. Read their stories here.

It was about time the focus was clearly on Canadian photographer and philanthropist Michelle Valberg for a change.

Many of those who know and admire the award-winning Ottawa-based entrepreneur came together Tuesday for a reception to celebrate her recent appointment to the Order of Canada — one of our country’s highest honours.

The gathering was held at 50 Sussex, a scenic venue that also serves as the headquarters of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. It publishes Canadian Geographic, which hosted the reception, seeing as Valberg is photographer-in-residence at the magazine and all.

Valberg has spent a good chunk of her career capturing the country's wildlife and natural surroundings through patience, passion, perseverance and talent. Her work has been featured on Canada Post stamps and a commemorative coin produced by the Royal Canadian Mint. This past spring at the 2022 World Photographic Cup held in Rome, she won a gold medal in the nature category for her image of the white-coated Kermode bear, or spirit bear, in the Great Bear Rainforest on the Pacific Coast of British Columbia.

Valberg, who was born and raised in Ottawa, has also continually given back to her community and to Canada, most notably through her creation of Project North to bring hockey equipment to children living in remote communities in the Arctic. It's a region of Canada that she's brought attention to through her work.

At the podium, Valberg steered the attention away from herself and toward all those who’d come out to raise a glass of champagne in her honour. “I just look around the room and am filled with so much love and joy and so much appreciation for all of you, sharing in my journey and supporting me and elevating me through it,” said Valberg, who wore an inukshuk pendant necklace, as well as her new Order of Canada pin. “Because, without you, none of this would have been possible.”

valberg
From left, Project North board member Colin Zappia (Sutton Group — Ottawa Realty) with Ottawa photographer and philanthropist Michelle Valberg, Jeff Turner and Cameron Fraser, vice president of people and organizational development for Canadian North airlines, at a reception held at 50 Sussex on Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022, to celebrate Valberg's appointment to the Order of Canada. Photo by Caroline Phillips

It was Valberg’s dear friend and mentor, Leslie Coates, who, without telling Valberg, quietly nominated her for the Order of Canada. Coates, who has worked for decades in the travel industry, was named Ottawa businesswoman the year in 2003, just one year before Valberg won the same award.

Three of Valberg's close friends gave references, including: author, speaker, coach and podcaster Kathie Donovan, CTV News Ottawa host Leanne Cusack and Jeff Turner, who’s the senior manager of Indigenous partnerships and special projects at Algonquin College, as well as incoming board president of Project North. He also emceed the gathering. 

While Valberg joined the Order of Canada on June 29th, the official insignia ceremony with Gov. Gen. Mary Simon won’t be happening anytime soon because of delays related to COVID-19 and to Julie Payette’s resignation from her post last year.  “Instead of waiting two or three years, I’m pleased to be here with all of you who play a very special part in my life,” Valberg told her friends, neighbours, co-workers and family members.

valberg
From left, Leslie Coates, with support from Leanne Cusack, Jeff Turner and Kathie Donovan, successfully nominated Ottawa-based Canadian photographer and philanthropist Michelle Valberg, far right, to the Order of Canada. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Valberg expressed her gratitude to Dorothy Jackson for being there that night. Her late husband, Dennis Jackson, who passed away in April from cancer, had been instrumental in building up Project North back when he was district vice president at Scotiabank. His support was carried on by his successor, Frank Bilodeau.

“It became more than just an idea; it became something tangible,” said Valberg of how the charity has made such a difference in enhancing the lives of hockey-loving children in the Arctic. “I have not done it alone by any means.”

Valberg made sure not to repeat a mistake she made at an awards ceremony years ago — forgetting to thank her husband, Scott MacLennan, whom she considers “one of the most important people in my life”. The retired fire platoon chief was there with their son, Ben MacLennan, 17, who recently graduated from Ashbury College and is headed off to Western University in a couple of weeks.

There was also Thyme & Again Creative Catering owner Sheila Whyte to acknowledge. She’d been invited as a guest but, once she caught wind of Valberg’s plans to purchase run-of-the-mill cracker and cheese platters for the reception from a global retailer, stepped up to provide the lovely food, wine and service for guests.

valberg
Ottawa-based photographer Michelle Valberg is flanked by her husband, Scott MacLennan, and their son, Ben MacLennan, 17, at a cocktail reception held at 50 Sussex on Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022, to celebrate Valberg being appointed to the Order of Canada, our country's highest civilian honour. Photo by Caroline Phillips
valberg
From left, Thyme & Again Creative Catering owner Sheila Whyte with fellow guest Dorothy Jackson at a cocktail reception held at 50 Sussex on Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022, to celebrate photographer Michelle Valberg and her appointment to the Order of Canada. Photo by Caroline Phillips
valberg
From left, Leanne Cusack with fellow guests Gail Carroll, Canadian Museum of Nature's former president and CEO, Meg Beckel, and Susan St. Amand, president and CEO of The Sirius Group Inc,. at a cocktail reception held at 50 Sussex on Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022, to celebrate photographer Michelle Valberg and her appointment to the Order of Canada. Photo by Caroline Phillips
valberg
From left, Kevin Pidgeon, president and COO of Nautical Lands Group, with his wife, Natalie Tommy, vice president of marketing and branding for Nautical Lands Group, and Brenda Rothwell, major gifts ambassador at The Ottawa Mission, at a cocktail reception held at 50 Sussex on Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022, to celebrate photographer Michelle Valberg and her appointment to the Order of Canada. Photo by Caroline Phillips
valberg
From left, Ian McDowell with his wife, Carrol Pitters, former chief of staff at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO), with marketing consultant Kerry Mortimer and her husband, Steve Mortimer, vice president of digital health at the Canadian Medical Association, at a cocktail reception held at 50 Sussex on Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022, to celebrate photographer Michelle Valberg and her appointment to the Order of Canada. Photo by Caroline Phillips
valberg
CTV Ottawa News award-winning journalist Joel Haslam and his partner, Leanne Cusack, a beloved broadcasting host with CTV Ottawa News, at a cocktail reception held at 50 Sussex on Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022, to celebrate photographer Michelle Valberg and her appointment to the Order of Canada. Photo by Caroline Phillips
valberg
Canadian Geographic editor Alexandra Pope with Javier Frutos, director of brand and creative for the magazine, at a cocktail reception that the magazine hosted at 50 Sussex  to celebrate photographer-in-residence Michelle Valberg and her appointment to the Order of Canada. Photo by Caroline Phillips
valberg
From left, public affairs expert Phil von Finckenstein, a partner and co-founder of Maple Leaf Strategies, with his wife, Vanessa von Finckenstein, and Denise Carruthers, board member with The Ottawa Hospital Foundation, and her husband, Dan Carruthers, CEO of Raven Connected, at a cocktail reception held at 50 Sussex on Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022, to celebrate photographer Michelle Valberg and her appointment to the Order of Canada. Photo by Caroline Phillips
valberg
Ottawa photographer and philanthropist Michelle Valberg is flanked by Leslie Coates, who successfully nominated Valberg for the Order of Canada, and Coates' daughter, Kelly Bélair, who helped to organize the cocktail reception to celebrate Valberg's appointment. Photo by Caroline Phillips 
valberg
From left, Dr. Bella Mehta with Sheila McKeen and her mom, Claudia McKeen, at a cocktail reception held at 50 Sussex on Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022, to celebrate photographer Michelle Valberg and her appointment to the Order of Canada. Photo by Caroline Phillips
valberg
From left, Betty Kennedy and Gerda Hnatyshyn, a former viceregal consort to Canada from 1990 to 1995, when her late husband, Ramon John Hnatyshyn, served as governor general, attended a reception to celebrate Ottawa photographer Michelle Valberg and her recent appointment to the Order of Canada. Photo by Caroline Phillips
valberg
From left, Tony House with his wife, Sharon Bosley House, owner of Avant-Garde Designs, and Ottawa photographer Miv Fournier at a reception to celebrate Ottawa photographer Michelle Valberg and her recent appointment to the Order of Canada. Photo by Caroline Phillips
valberg
Kathy Turner, owner of K. Turner Transitions, with her brother Jeff Turner, incoming board president of Project North and emcee of a reception held at 50 Sussex to celebrate Ottawa photographer Michelle Valberg and her recent appointment to the Order of Canada. Photo by Caroline Phillips
valberg
Ottawa photographer and philanthropist Michelle Valberg wipes away tears of pride and joy at a cocktail reception held in her honour to celebrate her appointment to the Order of Canada. Photo by Caroline Phillips

caroline@obj.ca

Never miss a story. Get OBJ's daily update in your inbox every Monday to Friday. Click here to subscribe.