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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.