Not only are France and Canada great friends and allies but so, too, are the French embassy and Ottawa Salus, for whom the embassy opens up its decorative doors, year after year, to help the local charity raise money to better assist individuals living with serious and persistent mental illness.
Several hundred guests filed into the resplendent residence of French Ambassador Kareen Rispal on Wednesday for a lively cocktail reception, complete with auction bidding, music (played by the most glamorous DJ around), and a special fire-dancing performance.
This year's Soirée Salus was the most successful yet, grossing $165K in support of community mental health services.
Fiona Murray was back to co-chair the popular soirée with Camille Therriault-Power, who is also the new board president for Salus. The non-profit organization has been around for more than 40 years, providing a range of services — including supportive housing options — to more than 500 clients. "With your support, we hope to continue to provide these important services and grow to meet the needs of our wait list that is much, much too long," Therriault-Power, president of RH Belvedere HR and senior fellow with the University of Ottawa's School of Public and International Affairs, told the room.
The current wait list includes hundreds of names, which can mean more than five years for an individual to move into their own home.
Bringing his trademark energy and fun to the evening was Harley Finkelstein, COO of Ottawa-based e-commerce powerhouse Shopify. He entertained the crowd with his funny shtick as the emcee and live auctioneer. “I’m available for bar mitzvahs!” Finkelstein jokingly told the sophisticated and well-heeled crowd.
Finkelstein's wife, Lindsay Taub, sits on the board of directors at Salus and is the owner of Sundae School ice cream shop on Beechwood Avenue.
Salus has been holding its signature fundraiser at the embassy for the past four years. This year marked the third time Rispal has been the host.
“It’s always a great, great, great pleasure to have all of you here,” said Rispal in welcoming members of the local community. “I really wanted, as French ambassador, to open the doors of this embassy.”
She spoke about her interest in supporting a few local charities that she cares about. “Salus is one of them and, believe me, I receive lots and lots of requests for support from many charities,” Rispal told the room.
The soirée attracted a mix of long-time Salus supporters, along with some newer faces and a strong showing from the legal profession. Former prime minister Joe Clark and his wife, Maureen McTeer, a long-known advocate on women's health issues, were in attendance again this year.
Serving as the honorary patron was Shirley Greenberg. It's hard to believe the Ottawa philanthropist is turning 88 this Sunday, especially when one considers how active she remains on the charity circuit. She told OBJ.social that she might slow down after this year, but we'll believe it when we see it.
The ambassador donated a group dinner at her residence that includes an overnight stay in the embassy’s presidential suite, for the highest bidder and their guest. It sold for $8,500 to Sanjay Shah, president of ExecHealth.
Rispal added a last-minute surprise item: a Halloween dinner, in costume. The embassy has never hosted such an event before. “It’s for 14, 16, or whatever,” Rispal said in an easy-going manner, while recognizing that there could be a party-crashing ghost or two in attendance.
Well-known philanthropist Gary Zed, CEO of Treehouse Family Advisory, didn't get spooked by the rising cost of the auction item. He bought the dinner for $8,000.
For $3,000, Finkelstein sold off the choice of a golf or tennis lesson with Daniel Alfredsson, former captain of the Ottawa Senators and a high-profile advocate for mental health awareness. The item went to Finkelstein's good friend, Dan Goldberg, CEO of Telesat and the recently announced Ottawa 2019 CEO of the Year.
Alfredsson also agreed to hold, for the highest bidder, a hockey practice for 20 participants. The bid opened at $5,000 but Finkelstein quickly took it up to $5,500 on behalf of him and his wife — putting the successful entrepreneur in the unusual position of being the auctioneer and bidder, at the same time.
Only when Finkelstein is the charity auctioneer will you likely ever hear the words: “Sold to us!”.
Also deserving of serious attention was the silent auction. It featured desirable trips to places like Fogo Island, jolly London, Tuscany, France and the Bahamas. There were WestJet flights to Banff and a horseback riding trip in Ireland, along with a chef’s dinner for 10 donated by Thyme & Again, a monthly cheese experience from Jacobsons Gourmet Concepts, and a wine-tasting and small bites reception at the residence of German Ambassador Sabine Sparwasser. For the sweet-toothed set, there was a party for 10 at Taub's Sundae School to make sundaes and ice cream delights (with unlimited toppings, I might add).