Just when you thought Wabano's Igniting the Spirit Gala couldn't get any better, along comes Alan Doyle

Canadian singer, cultural dancers wow sold-out crowd at signature fundraiser for Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health
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Community leaders from across Ottawa came together Thursday to raise funds for and to celebrate one of our great success stories, the Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health.

The award-winning centre on Montreal Road has earned itself a large and solid fan base. Its well-respected leader, Allison Fisher, was met with a standing ovation as she took to the stage at this year’s Igniting the Spirit Gala, held Thursday on the eve of National Indigenous Peoples Day. The annual fundraiser was back at the east-end Ottawa Conference and Event Centre.

Wabano provides a variety of health, social and cultural programs for Ottawa’s Indigenous community, from mothers and their babies, to children and youth, to seniors.

Returning to co-chair the gala committee was Leikin Group president Barbara Farber. She recruited another prominent business leader with deep roots to Ottawa — lawyer Lawrence Soloway from Soloway Wright LLP.  The gala sold out quickly, with some 660 attendees.

Wabano
Igniting the Spirit Gala committee co-chair Lawrence Soloway, from Soloway Wright LLP, with Wabano Centre executive director Allison Fisher and Igniting the Spirit Gala committee co-chair Barbara Farber, president of Leikin Group, at this year's gala, held at the Ottawa Conference and Event Centre on Thursday, June 20, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips

The evening's list of Canadian celebrities welcomed a new addition: Alan Doyle, who's best known as the lead singer from Newfoundland's beloved band Great Big Sea. He belted out his Dream of Home, a cappella, with a glass of red wine in hand in order to raise a toast. As well, in support of the cause, he agreed to perform a couple more songs — including the always-popular Ordinary Day — once the live auction bidding reached the $1,000 mark. 

Doyle, who has a great sense of humour and wonderful audience rapport, told everyone how happy he was to finally attend the gala in support of Wabano, following years of being unavailable. "I can just tell it's just one of those special places that makes everyone's life a little bit better."

He also recalled the first time he performed a gig with Great Big Sea in Ottawa, at the Newfoundland Pub on Montreal Road in 1994. "Twenty-six people showed up," he quipped.

CBC Radio’s Shelagh Rogers was delightfully warm, funny and inviting as emcee while her brother, John Rogers from CTV was also back, as auctioneer. Canadian comedy legend Mary Walsh remained devoted to her task of selling raffle tickets to guests during the cocktail reception. The prize was four first-class tickets to Halifax on ViaRail.

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Alan Doyle with fellow Newfoundland native Mary Walsh at Wabano Centre's Igniting the Spirit Gala: The Trees of Peace, held at the Ottawa Conference and Event Centre on Thursday, June 20, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips
Wabano
Emcee Shelagh Rogers was back to emcee Wabano Centre's Igniting the Spirit Gala: The Trees of Peace, held at the Ottawa Conference and Event Centre on Thursday, June 20, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips
Wabano
Alan Doyle sings Dream of Home at Wabano Centre's Igniting the Spirit Gala: The Trees of Peace, held at the Ottawa Conference and Event Centre on Thursday, June 20, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips

This year’s theme, Trees of Peace, saw the ballroom transformed into a mystical forest. The gala is famous for its beautiful and breathtaking cultural performance, which included contortionists, ballerinas, contemporary dancers, and traditional First Nation dancers. Impressively choreographed by Christine Friday, the music and dance took the audience on a journey of reconciliation, all through the eyes of the trees. It's the belief of elders that trees are a community, and that they rely on one another to survive, the crowd heard.

On the dinner tables were glow bracelets and jingle sticks for guests to help create the image of fireflies and the sounds of rustling leaves. “Please shake you jingle sticks, and I don’t say that to everybody,” joked Rogers.

Wabano
The cultural performance at Wabano's Igniting the Spirit Gala is always a highlight of the evening. Photo by Caroline Phillips
Wabano
The cultural performance at Wabano's Igniting the Spirit Gala is always a highlight of the evening. Photo by Caroline Phillips
Wabano
The cultural performance at Wabano's Igniting the Spirit Gala is always a highlight of the evening. Photo by Caroline Phillips
Wabano
The cultural performance at Wabano's Igniting the Spirit Gala is always a highlight of the evening. Photo by Caroline Phillips
Wabano
The evening opened with a drum song performed by a member of the Wikwemikong First Nation on Manitoulin Island. Photo by Caroline Phillips

From platinum sponsor Johnson & Johnson was Lesia Babiak while RBC regional president Marjolaine Hudon was there on behalf of her bank, which was a diamond sponsor. Ottawa philanthropist Shirley Greenberg's generosity toward Wabano has earned her an aboriginal title, which translates to mean "good-hearted woman".

Faces in the crowd included Ottawa Deputy Police Chief Uday Singh, city councillor Diane Deans, who chairs the Ottawa Police Services board, and a table of senior mangers with the City of Ottawa. Alex Munter, chief executive of the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, attended. So did retiring Algonquin College president Cheryl Jensen. Also spotted were Ontario Superior Court justices Pam MacEachern and Tracy Engelking, Ottawa criminal defence lawyer Ewan Lyttle, who's been volunteering at Wabano for years, well-known Ottawa businessman Paul Hindo, and Tareyn Johnson, director of Indigenous affairs at the University of Ottawa. 

Organizers were hoping to net around $175,000. Last year, the evening raised $160,000.

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Lesia Babiak, executive director of government affairs and policy (Canada) for Johnson & Johnson, with her nephew, Mikhailo Babiak,  at Wabano's Igniting the Spirit Gala. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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RBC regional president Marjolaine Hudon with Heather Ochalski from ITK (Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami) at Wabano's Igniting the Spirit Gala. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, criminal defence lawyers Brett McGarry and Ewan Lyttle from Lyttle McGarry & Del Greco LLP  at Wabano Centre's Igniting the Spirit Gala: The Trees of Peace, held at the Ottawa Conference and Event Centre on Thursday, June 20, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Laura Stanbra, vice president of student services at Algonquin College, with Canadian wildlife and landscape photographer Michelle Valberg, Algonquin College president Cheryl Jensen and Jeff Turner, vice president with Kind Canada,  at Wabano Centre's Igniting the Spirit Gala: The Trees of Peace, held at the Ottawa Conference and Event Centre on Thursday, June 20, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Soloway Wright LLP lawyers Peter Hagen, Stephen Polowin and Lawrence Soloway  at Wabano Centre's Igniting the Spirit Gala: The Trees of Peace, held at the Ottawa Conference and Event Centre on Thursday, June 20, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips
Wabano
From left, gala committee member Shaun Logue, general counsel for Hydro Ottawa, with his sister, Elizabeth Logue, a director at Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, and her husband, Alasdair Gillis, at Wabano's Igniting the Spirit Gala. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Ontario Superior Court Justices Pam MacEachern and Tracy Engelking at Wabano's Igniting the Spirit Gala. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From right, Brad Greyeyes-Brant, president and CEO of Kiyam Nutrients, with his dad, Dan Brant, at Wabano's Igniting the Spirit Gala. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Construction industry trailblazer Shirley Westeinde with her daughter, Julie Westeinde, at Wabano's Igniting the Spirit Gala. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Kevin Wylie, general manager of public works and environmental services for the City of Ottawa with City Manager Steve Kanellakos and Steve Willis, the city's general manager of planning, infrastructure and economic development, at Wabano's Igniting the Spirit Gala. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Gloucester-Southgate Coun. Diane Deans, who chairs the Ottawa Police Services Board, with Alex Munter, president and CEO of the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario, at Wabano's Igniting the Spirit Gala. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Paul Hindo, executive chairman of Cyber Defence Corporation, with his wife, Alison Hindo, and Barbara Farber, co-chair of Wabano's annual gala, with her husband, Len Farber. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Tareyn Johnson, director of Indigenous affairs at the University of Ottawa, with Darren Sutherland, the university's Indigenous community engagement officer, at Wabano's Igniting the Spirit Gala. Photo by Caroline Phillips 
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Ottawa Deputy Police Chief Uday Singh with Sandy Smallwood, who's on the Ottawa Police Services Board, at Wabano's Igniting the Spirit Gala. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Hand-made fancy shawls inspired by this year's The Trees of Peace theme were auctioned off at Wabano's Igniting the Spirit Gala. Photo by Caroline Phillips

— caroline@obj.ca