Glamping the night away to raise $450K-plus for BGC Ottawa – and no bugs

Unique outdoor fundraiser features yurts, camping theme – and Shopify president Harley Finkelstein as DJ
Michelle Taggart and Stephen Beckta, co-chairs of the Glamping Gala for BGC Ottawa, inside the yurt that was sponsored by Robertson Martin Architects. 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.

Everyone was a happy camper at BGC Ottawa’s Glamping Gala, a sold-out fundraiser that brought 480 partygoers together for a fun and memorable night of food, drinks, dancing and socializing while also raising $450,000-plus to give more kids in our community access to the kind of opportunities and experiences that can change lives.

The glamping-themed event was heavy on glamour, light on camping (and all the associated hardships).

The fundraiser was co-chaired by BGC Ottawa board member Michelle Taggart, vice-president of planning and land development at Tamarack and Tartan Homes, and her good friend, Ottawa restaurateur Stephen Beckta. He's the board chair of BGC Ottawa (formerly Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa).

Rounding out the organizing committee were Monica Singhal (Richcraft Homes), Sarah Grand (Engel & Völkers), Derek Noble (Huntington Properties) and former Shopify chief talent officer Brittany Forsyth-Wilson, founding partner of Backbone Angels.

“It came together in such an incredible way,” said Beckta, referring to both the tremendous group effort and the co-operation of the weather. “It’s like the skies parted just when we needed it.”

Had it rained, there was no shortage of party tents delightfully decorated with pretty lights, green foliage, camping gear and canoe paddles, along with cozy and comfortable yurts for sponsors to lounge inside of with their guests, complete with drinks and charcuterie.

The outdoor party was held on the expansive lawn just outside BGC Ottawa’s Tomlinson Family Foundation Clubhouse on Prince of Wales Drive, near Hog’s Back Road. Bylaw did pay a visit later in the night, similar to when the inaugural gala was held there in 2019.

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Glamping Gala co-chairs Michelle Taggart and Stephen Beckta on stage during the fundraiser for BGC Ottawa, held Friday, June 10, 2022, on the lawn outside the Tomlinson Family Foundation Clubhouse on Prince of Wales Drive. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Shopify president Harley Finkelstein returned to his DJ roots at the Glamping Gala held Friday, June 10, 2022, in support of BGC Ottawa. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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The Glamping Gala, held outside BGC Ottawa's Tomlinson Family Foundation Clubhouse, featured a collection of private yurts that some sponsors had access to. Photo by Caroline Phillips

The event included a vintage-looking Airstream trailer with tequila bar, as well as six food stations featuring Play food & winePURE KitchenCoconut LagoonLa BottegaTown and North & Navy. North & Navy made the recently revealed Canada’s 100 Best Restaurant list. So did Beckta’s eponymous Beckta Dining & Wine. Desserts included a doughnut wall by Maverick’s Donuts and s’mores-themed cookies by Toro Treats.

The event was presented by Mark Motors Group, a family-owned local business that sells Audi, Porsche, Jaguar, Land Rover, Maserati and Alfa Romeo luxury cars. Dealer principal Michael Mrak and his sister, executive vice-president Liza Mrak, attended. Also among the top sponsors were Howard Silver, founder and owner of the Silver Group, a residential rentals and commercial property management company, and husband and wife architects Robert Martin and Danica Robertson from Robertson Martin Architects.

Many people hit the dance floor once Shopify president Harley Finkelstein took to the stage to DJ. It’s how he got his start as an entrepreneur, working as many as 500 bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs in Montreal to pay for his undergrad degree, from about age 17 until 22. He doesn’t DJ as much anymore, but he still loves it.

“It gives me the greatest joy in the world,” he told OBJ.social.

Publicist Ginger Bertrand from Gab Communications was there with one of her celebrity clients, former CFL player-turned-television personality Brad Smith from Bachelor Canada, Chopped Canada. Social influencer Katie Hession donned the show-stopping dress she recently wore to the Governor General's Performing Arts Awards Gala.

"It was a bold choice," she said good-humouredly of her outfit repeat. "But I'm all about sustainability now."

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Howard Silver, founder and owner of major sponsor the Silver Group, with his wife, Lisa Johnson, at the Glamping Gala for BGC Ottawa, held Friday, June 10, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Danica Robertson and her husband, Robert Martin, from major sponsor Robertson Martin Architects, at the Glamping Gala for BGC Ottawa, held Friday, June 10, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Isabella Mise with her father, Leslie Mise, general manager with Mark Motors Group, and Shirley Kouri with Michael Mrak, dealer principal of presenting sponsor Mark Motors Group, at the Glamping Gala for BGC Ottawa. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Gary Zed, founder and CEO of sponsor Canada's Forest Trust, with his wife, Liza Mrak, executive vice-president of presenting sponsor Mark Motors Group, at the Glamping Gala for BGC Ottawa, held Friday, June 10, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Monica Singhal, vice-president with sponsor Richcraft, and her Glamping Gala co-organizers Sarah Grand and Michelle Taggart, from sponsor Taggart Parkes Foundation, joined by their friends, clinical psychologist Jill Firestone, lawyer Natalie Raffoul and Angela Singhal, also vice-president with Richcraft, at the Glamping Gala for BGC Ottawa, held Friday, June 10, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips

The focus of the Glamping Gala was to raise money in support of Camp Smitty run by BGC Ottawa near Eganville. The organization sends some 400 children and youth there each summer for free to experience the magic of summer camp.

Taggart and Beckta took a moment to publicly thank the sponsors, BGC Ottawa staff, volunteers and attendees. Their remarks were brief but very sincere and meaningful. 

Taggart acknowledged that, growing up, she used to think of BGC Ottawa as merely an after-school program for kids. Since joining the board, she’s come to realize the full extent of its impact.

She spoke about her conversation with nine-year-old Asha from BGC Ottawa, and of how the girl was first drawn to BGC Ottawa for its art program. Asha subsequently joined the homework club and now dreams of doing the leadership program and of one day going to college or university with assistance from the BGC Ottawa scholarship program.

“The programs are truly life-changing for these kids, and really that’s what it’s all about,” Taggart told her audience.

Beckta shared his own personal story of being welcomed by BGC Ottawa at its former Centretown location during a particularly tough time in his childhood. 

“I started going to the club when I was eight years old. My home life was very rocky. I didn’t want to be at home. There were fights. There was divorce. I just didn’t want to be there.

“So, I found a place after school, on weekends where I could go and I could feel supported, I could feel seen, I could feel heard and have mentorship people who really believed in me and believed in my future.”

"Opportunity changes everything."

Beckta said BGC Ottawa ultimately helped him to see a better path for himself.

“I had choices, I had opportunity,” said the hard-working, self-made owner of Beckta, Gezellig and Play restaurants. “Opportunity changes everything.”

Taggart is part of the family-owned Taggart Group of Companies, a major player in the construction and real estate business. Her family made a $1.4-million donation last year to help run BGC Ottawa’s newest clubhouse in South Ottawa. Efforts to raise money for operating costs continue.

The co-chairs asked attendees of the Glamping Gala to consider making a one-time gift of $5,000 as part of the Medallion Wall at the new Taggart Parkes Family Clubhouse (incidentally, they also put their money where their mouth is).

More than 30 hands shot up with offers from Finkelstein and Lindsay Taub (as a tribute to their two young daughters), Inflector Environmental CEO Jeff Clarke, Mad Radish founder David Segal, IMI CEO Rudi Asseer, The Foundation WCPD president Peter Nicholson, Lundy Construction CEO Sean Lundy, Angela Singhal from Richcraft, the aforementioned Derek Noble and Howard Silver, multiple members of the Taggart and Parkes clan in attendance that night, and others.

As partygoers danced the night away, Sanjay Shah from ExecHealth and his wife, Dr. Bella Mehta, reflected on what a great time they were having. The experienced gala-goers liked the vibrant atmosphere, casual feel, the new faces and the cause of helping kids.

“And there’s no speeches,” said Shah with a hint of relief.

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Jonelle Istead, chief advancement officer for BGC Ottawa, with her husband, Cory Awde, left, and BGC Ottawa board member and Glamping Gala co-organizer Derek Noble, a partner at sponsor Huntington Properties, at the Glamping Gala for BGC Ottawa, held Friday, June 10, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Natalie Raffoul, managing partner at intellectual property firm and sponsor Brion Raffoul LLP, with her husband, Mark Hubert, at the Glamping Gala for BGC Ottawa, held Friday, June 10, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, JD Lees, portfolio manager and investment adviser at BMO Nesbitt Burns, with Jeff Clarke, CEO of Inflector Environmental Services, at the Glamping Gala for BGC Ottawa, held Friday, June 10, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Chris Vivone, director of federal government relations for sponsor TC Energy, with his wife, Engel & Völkers real estate agent Sarah Grand, who was on the organizing committee for the Glamping Gala for BGC Ottawa, held Friday, June 10, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Rachelle Bruton from the National Research Council, Emma Bell and BGC Ottawa board member Brittany Forsyth-Wilson, who was also one of the co-organizers of the Glamping Gala held Friday, June 10, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Mike Taggart, president of Taggart Construction, with Andy Edmondson and his wife, Julie Taggart, president of Taggart Realty Management, Ottawa At Home Magazine publisher Mary Taggart and her husband, Chris Taggart, co-president of Tamarack and Tartan Homes, at the Glamping Gala for BGC Ottawa, held Friday, June 10, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Simon Taggart, vice-president of Taggart Construction Ltd. and Doran Contractors Ltd., with his wife Cindy Taggart and Alicia McCarthy Turner, Export Development Canada, at the Glamping Gala for BGC Ottawa, held Friday, June 10, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Harley Finkelstein, president of Shopify, with his wife, Lindsay Taub, at the Glamping Gala for BGC Ottawa, held Friday, June 10, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Anabel Bane and her husband, Peter Nicholson, president and founder of The Foundation WCPD, with Jennifer Stewart, founder and CEO of Syntax Strategic, and her husband, Kevin Stewart, owner of Ottawa Valley Grain Products, at the Glamping Gala for BGC Ottawa, held Friday, June 10, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Yvonne Langen, food and cocktail content creator for Taste and Tipple, with social media influencer Katie Hession at the Glamping Gala in support of BGC Ottawa. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Peter Joynt, culture content producer at Shopify, with his wife, Marjorie, who works at National Defence, at the Glamping Gala for BGC Ottawa, held Friday, June 10, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Ginger Bertrand, president of sponsor Gab Communications, with her client, former CFL player-turned-TV personality Brad Smith, along with Dominique Jacobson at the Glamping Gala for BGC Ottawa, held Friday, June 10, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Award-winning chef and philanthropist Joe Thottungal from Coconut Lagoon was busy serving guests at the Glamping Gala for BGC Ottawa, held Friday, June 10, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Chris Schlesak, co-owner of North & Navy, which was one of six food stations that fed attendees at the Glamping Gala for BGC Ottawa, held Friday, June 10, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Jessie-Lee Wallace, director of major gifts and communications for BGC Ottawa, is seen with, from far left, Stephen Assaly, along with Paul Butcher and Jim Stechyson (far right), co-founders of sponsor HostedBizz, at the Glamping Gala for BGC Ottawa, held Friday, June 10, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Jonathan Wiseman, president of homebuilding in Ottawa for sponsor Caivan Communities, with the company's co-founder and CEO Frank Cairo at the Glamping Gala for BGC Ottawa, held Friday, June 10, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Gavin Lumsden, television station manager for Rogers, with Sandra Plagakis, morning host on Rogers Sports and Media's KiSS 105.3, at the Glamping Gala for BGC Ottawa, held Friday, June 10, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Jim McConnery, managing partner of Welch LLP, with the firm's director of business development, Bruce Raganold, at the Glamping Gala for BGC Ottawa, held Friday, June 10, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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BGC Ottawa CEO and 2022 Forty Under 40 Award recipient Adam Joiner with his wife, Alison Telford, from Cornerstone Housing for Women, at the Glamping Gala for BGC Ottawa, held Friday, June 10, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Dozens of supporters of BGC Ottawa raised their hands during a call for one-time gifts of $5,000 at the Glamping Gala for BGC Ottawa, held Friday, June 10, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Michelle Taggart listens as BGC Ottawa alumnus Stephen Beckta briefly shares his personal story involving the non-profit organization at the Glamping Gala held Friday, June 10, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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BGC Ottawa's outdoor Glamping Gala, held Friday, June 10, 2022, raised more than $450,000 for the non-profit organization. Photo by Caroline Phillips

caroline@obj.ca