A wonderland of fun at Ottawa Children's Gala for CHEO

Family friendly evening raises funds for programs and initiatives that keep kids safe from injury
Editor's Note

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It's lucky for Alice she didn't seriously hurt herself falling down that rabbit hole, but there's comfort in knowing the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario is always there for kids when they do suffer falls and other such accidents.

Alice and her zany collection of friends played a starring role in this year’s Ottawa Children’s Gala, held Saturday night at the Infinity Convention Centre.  Event decorator Sharon Bosley House and her team from Avant-Garde Designs put the ‘wonder’ in Alice in Wonderland, creating a never-ending adventure of fun, excitement and entertainment. 

The gala, presented by Urbandale Construction, raises money for programs and initiatives at CHEO that keep kids safe from injury. 

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Avant-Garde Designs was behind the marvelous décor for this year's Alice in Wonderland-themed Ottawa Children's Gala, held in support of the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO). Photo by Caroline Phillips

The gala, now in its 10th year, was created by Spencer Warren, director of operations for Eastern Canada at Paladin Technologies. He's also founder of the Kids Play Safe program. 

“Every year we’re like, ‘Is this our last year?’," he says, acknowledging that it takes tremendous work, including help from volunteers and sponsors, to put a gala together. "But, afterward, we’re always glad we did it. It’s very rewarding, seeing the smiles on the kids' faces. It's unbelievable when you see them arriving here. It's like they're at Disney."

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Children took to the dance floor at the 10th year of the Ottawa Children's Gala, held at the Infinity Convention Centre on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020, in support of the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Warren created the benefit after his only child, Emily, suffered a broken arm during a preventable accident at an Ottawa family fun park. She was two at the time. There was concern the toddler would suffer life-long injuries. Fortunately, she made a full recovery after being fixed by CHEO doctors. 

The ordeal allowed for Warren to see the quality of care provided by CHEO to his daughter and other hospitalized kids dealing with even more serious health problems. He's never forgotten how compassionate the CHEO staff were toward him and his wife, Lisa

Emily has just turned 14 and is a student of St. Joseph Catholic High School in Barrhaven. She’s been part of the gala since she was three, always standing alongside of her father on stage. Whereas she was once waist-height, she's now nearly shoulder to shoulder to him. She volunteers at the Ottawa Children's Gala, along with her teenaged friends. 

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Emily Warren with her parents, Spencer and Lisa Warren, at the Alice in Wonderland-themed Ottawa Children's Gala, held at the Infinity Convention Centre on Saturday, February 22, 2020. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Attendees of the gala included Lieutenant Governor of Ontario Elizabeth Dowdeswell and Senator Vern White (his adorable seven-year-old daughter, Ella, has been going for the past four years). Mayor Jim Watson had to cancel due to illness but the evening’s emcee, Annette Goerner from CTV Morning Live Ottawa, read aloud the mayor's proclamation, declaring it to be Kids Play Safe Day. 

One in five children who visit CHEO are treated for preventable injury, the sold-out crowd of 500 heard.

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Lieutenant Governor of Ontario Elizabeth Dowdeswell takes a seat in the Mad Hatter chair at the Alice in Wonderland-themed Ottawa Children's Gala, with the Mad Hatter (Marc Seguin), Alice (Sarah Howell) and the White Rabbit. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Senator Vern White, who's also a former Ottawa chief of police, with his wife, Sari Musta-White, and their daughter, Ella, seven, at the Alice in Wonderland-themed Ottawa Children's Gala, held Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020, in support of the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Ottawa Children's Gala founder and chair Spencer Warren with his daughter, Emily, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario Elizabeth Dowdeswell, and his wife, Lisa Warren, at the Alice in Wonderland-themed Ottawa Children's Gala, held Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020, in support of the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Melissa Boudreau, marketing communications manager at presenting sponsor Urbandale Construction, with her daughters, Aaliyah, nine, and Avery, six, at the Alice in Wonderland-themed Ottawa Children's Gala, held Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020, in support of the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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CTV Morning Live Ottawa host Annette Goerner, who emceed the Ottawa Children's Gala, with her cutie-patooties, Isla, three, and Addison, five, at the Alice in Wonderland-themed Ottawa Children's Gala, held Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020, in support of the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Jennie Panesar, who works at gala sponsor Hydro Ottawa, was at the Ottawa Children's Gala with her husband, Harpreet Panesar, and their two kids, Malik, five, and Maya, two. Photo by Caroline Phillips

By late afternoon, the Infinity Convention Centre was full of children showing off their poofy party dresses and little boy suits. There were so many things for kids to do, such as get their face painted, hit the nail spa, or get a goofy group shot in the photo booth. They could discuss literature with the most bookworm-y of Disney princesses, Belle, or be on the receiving end of a friendly fist bump from a Star Wars Storm Trooper.

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Arizona McClelland, eight, at the face-painting station at the Ottawa Children's Gala, held Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020, in support of the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Now that's one friendly Storm Trooper at the Ottawa Children's Gala, held at the Infinity Convention Centre, in support of CHEO. Photo by Caroline Phillips

The eating of magical cake was not required for one to seemingly shrink in size. An oversized chair did the trick, in creating such an illusion. On hand were the Mad Hatter and Alice, the latter of whom was played by Sarah Howell. It turned out, "Alice" can sing and play the keyboard, too. She was part of a non-stop musical line-up that also featured beatboxer Emilie "Sparx" Carrey, hip-hop dancers Culture Shock, and circus performer Isabella Hoops

Worth mentioning is an elaborate candy buffet that stretched nearly 50 feet long. It offered so many sweets that even Willy Wonka would have been green with envy. 

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Organizers put together a 50-foot candy buffet for the Alice in Wonderland-themed Ottawa Children's Gala, held Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020, in support of the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Organizers kept the candy buffet cordoned off until later in the evening but the lieutenant governor, who delivered some brief remarks, joked that she had first dibs. 

“One thing I’ve learned when there’s a room full of children, they don’t want to hear speeches,” she told the room, light-heartedly. “I’m well aware of so many of the amazing things that go on at CHEO. I do want to, on behalf of the people of Ontario, congratulate all of the people at CHEO for the groundbreaking work that they do.”

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CHEO Foundation community engagement officer Mandy Arsenault, left, with her husband Rob Doig and their two daughters, Ella, 10, and Audrey, eight, with her CHEO Foundation colleague Lydia Blanchard, director of community engagement, and her little guy, Samuel, who's almost two, joined by her husband Guillaume Blanchard, at the Alice in Wonderland-themed Ottawa Children's Gala held in support of the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Dean Otto and his wife, Jeanine Otto, who organize another fundraiser, Maddy's Gala, in support of Roger Neilson House, with Bonnie Gregoire and sponsor Brian Henry, president of Quality Entertainment, at the Alice in Wonderland-themed Ottawa Children's Gala, held Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020, for CHEO. Photo by Caroline Phillips

The viceroy shared a couple of her favourite Alice in Wonderland quotes that convey the message that anything is possible, including: A dream is not reality but who's to say which is which?

"I hope you will continue to turn dreams into reality," she told the room. "That's what this evening is all about.”

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Ottawa Children's Gala guest Alicia Lejour (right), from sponsor District Realty, with her friend, Vanessa Arnele, left, pose for a photo with characters from Alice in Wonderland at this year's gala, held Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020, in support of the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Emilie Carrey, a.k.a. Sparx, taught kids how to beatbox at the Ottawa Children's Gala, held Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020, in support of the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Culture Shock hip-hop dancers perform at the Ottawa Children's Gala, held Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020, in support of the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Circus artist Isabella Hoops performs at the Alice in Wonderland-themed Ottawa Children's Gala, held Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020, in support of the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario. Photo by Caroline Phillips

– caroline@obj.ca