The National Arts Centre could not have asked for a better birthday gift than the remarkable $10-million donation that's come its way from philanthropists Janice and Earle O’Born, as was announced during the NAC's signature gala on Saturday night.
The good news was shared on stage in Southam Hall by Christopher Deacon, president and CEO of the NAC, prior to the start of the concert featuring Canadian singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan with the NAC Orchestra and its music director, Alexander Shelley, as maestro.
The audience reacted by delivering the first standing ovation of the night. Earle O’Born is chairman and founder of Toronto-based firm The Printing House Ltd. while Janice is chair of the board of directors for the NAC Foundation. The name may also sound familiar because one of the NAC's beautiful new event spaces, the O'Born Room, is named after them.
“It’s the largest gift in the history of the National Arts Centre,” said Deacon before going on to say how the funds will help enrich the lives of Canadians through the performing arts by helping to put artists on stages at the NAC, across Canada and around the world.
“I’m a little verklempt,” chimed in NAC Foundation CEO Jayne Watson, who was standing alongside Deacon at the podium during their remarks.
Watson also shared the amount of money raised from that evening's NAC's 50th Anniversary Golden Gala: $725,000. The net total rose to $765,000 after the post-concert dinner, which included a live auction. The funds will help support the NAC's education activities in music, theatre and dance from coast to coast to coast.
Watson delivered perhaps the funniest line of the night when she opened with: “Christopher, we really should have checked with each other before showing up wearing the same haircut. That never happened with Laureen [Harper] and Sophie [Grégoire Trudeau].”
It’s tradition for the wives of the prime ministers to serve as honorary chairs of the gala. Grégoire Trudeau was invited this year but, with the federal election right around the corner, was not in a position to accept, according to NAC officials.
Among the supporters seen that night were Adrian Burns, chair of the NAC’s board of trustees and a director of sponsor Shaw Communications; lawyers from Ottawa-based labour and employment law firm Emond Harnden, which was a major sponsor; Gail Asper, president of The Asper Foundation; Sam Mizrahi, president and founder of Mizrahi Developments; Liza Mrak, co-owner of Mark Motors Group; sponsors Chris Taggart and Mary Taggart; Mariette MacIsaac, manager of the Trinity Development Foundation; and regional bank presidents Victor Pellegrino from BMOand Marjolaine Hudon from RBC.
Gen. Jonathan Vance, chief of defence staff, was seen arriving with his wife, Kerry. Also spotted were Beverley McLachlin, retired chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, and her husband, Frank McArdle.
Watson’s brother, Mayor Jim Watson, helped out later with the live auction for a private dinner for six with Shelley, and an all-expense paid trip for two to Antarctica, courtesy of OneOcean Expeditions.
The first half of the concert took the audience through 50 years of the NAC, with orchestral music and costumes. There were performances by indigenous pop and electronic music artist iskwē; writer, director and actor Mani Soleymanlou; and National Ballet of Canada principal dancer Greta Hodgkinson, along with appearances from Karen Kain, Come From Away co-writer David Hein, and Kevin Loring, the first artistic director of Indigenous Theatre at the NAC.
In the second half of the show, McLachlan entertained the audience with song after song, including all her beloved hits, while moving between piano and guitar. “I’m so, so, so happy to be here to help celebrate 50 amazing years for National Arts Centre,” she told her audience. “They do so much for eduction and youth and the arts. I’m privileged to celebrate the stage with an amazing orchestra and with a wonderful bunch of artists.”
McLachlan was warm, charming and so relatable as she shared with the audience the meaning behind some of her songs. Most of the material is “depressing stuff,” she acknowledged good-naturedly.
“I love sad songs. The darker the better. I think it’s because, as a song writer, it’s very cathartic to be able to dive into one’s suffering and loss and confusion and try and find a way through it.”
She spoke appreciatively of the opportunities given to her early in life, both from her schools' vibrant music programs and from the private music lessons paid for by her parents. By age 17, she joined a band and was able to share the “powerful force of inclusion and unity” with her fellow musicians.
“I’ve been so incredibly thankful for it my entire life, to feel like I found my tribe, with my musicians, with people who love the arts, love music, and want to support it.
“I feel that love and energy here tonight, so powerfully.”