Throughout her career, Beverley McLachlin has always had both oars in the water, as they say. Now, the retired chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada also has her very own handmade wooden canoe paddle, presented to her Wednesday night at the 7th annual Ottawa Riverkeeper Gala.
McLachlin joined the list of well-known Ottawa residents to be named an Honorary Riverkeeper during an outdoor environmental benefit that was blessed with fine weather and a great crowd. Former Canadian prime minister Jean Chrétien, Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna and Green Party leader Elizabeth May were among the 500 attendees there that night.
The fundraiser brought together people who care about restoring and protecting the 1,300-km Ottawa River. It also raised $303,000 — making it the most successful night yet for the gala.
The evening offered up Indigenous cultural performances, with JP Longboat and co-choreographer and dancer Josee Bourgeois, and youth cultural dancers from Kitigan Zibi, along with live music headlined by Ottawa singers Kellylee Evans and Rebecca Noelle, and a remarkable roster of silent auction items. The Riverkeeper Gala has easily earned itself a reputation for being one of the top galas in this city, thanks in part to an organizing committee that includes Tania Kratt, who specializes in interior architecture and design, Lara Van Loon, Penny Schroeder, among others.
One of the most uplifting moments was the friendship dance, in which audience members were invited to join the aboriginal dancers.
The festive evening took a pause to remember the late Paul Dewar, who was awarded a Water Leader award last year. As well, it focused on those communities suffering due to this spring's devastatingly high water levels. Ottawa Riverkeeper, which has been very involved with flood relief efforts, offered to match the first $1,000 in donations made that night for the Red Cross.
While some things about the gala do change over the years, from its musical guests to its riverfront locations, what remains as constant as the Ottawa River flowing into the St. Lawrence is the choice of master of ceremonies: Canadian journalist Evan Solomon. He spoke of ongoing efforts to turn the Ottawa River into the cleanest capital river in the world.
The gala returned for its second year in a row to 50 Sussex, the stunning new headquarters for the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. Special guests gathered inside the building for an earlier VIP reception. It was sponsored by CN, which was represented by senior manager Louis-Alexandre Lanthier. The room heard about Riverkeeper’s proposed plans to turn the century-old Ottawa New Edinburgh Club boathouse, located by the Ottawa River, into its new home.
Chrétien, who was invited to deliver some remarks, spoke of his affection for the river. He also shared how he and his wife had intended to move to Montreal to be closer to family but realized how much they love Ottawa, and decided to stay.
After the reception, the VIP guests spilled out onto the property with the rest of the crowd for the gala, catered by Thyme & Again.
McKenna took to the stage with her colleagues to share the announcement, made earlier that day, of the federal government's commitment to provide $275,000 to help monitor and protect the Ottawa River over the next two years.
The Insurance Bureau of Canada, represented by its vice president of federal affairs, Craig Stewart, was back as presenting sponsor. He and Riverkeeper Gala board chair Geoff Green helped to honour McLachlin as the newest Honorary Riverkeeper.
Not only was McLachlin the Supreme Court’s first female chief justice but she was also the longest serving top judge, at 17 years. She retired in December 2017. With her that night was her charming husband, Frank McArdle.
Rivers have always been part of McLachlin’s life, from her childhood in her southern Alberta hometown of Pincher Creek, with Oldman River, continuing to the province’s North Saskatchewan River, and to British Columbia’s mighty Fraser River. She spoke about a need to respect and cherish our rivers.
After being elevated to the country’s highest court, McLachlin was lucky enough to be able to admire the Ottawa River each day from her office in the Supreme Court building.
“There’s something about a river that calms the soul and grounds us,” said McLachlin at the podium. “When I had a difficult decision to make, I would leave my desk and get up and look out the window toward the river.”
She referenced the Norman Maclean novel A River Runs Through It (also known for its screen adaptation starring Brad Pitt at his hunkiest, I might add).
“The river is a metaphor for our life,” said McLachlin. “The river runs through our lives and there’s something about a river that nothing else can emulate. The river is permanent, it is always there, but the river is always changing.”
As Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice," said McLachlin of the famous quote that continues: For it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.
Attendees also included National Capital Commission CEO Tobi Nussbaum, Liberal Pontiac MP Will Amos, Ottawa-Vanier MP Mona Fortier and Ottawa Deputy Mayor Laura Dudas.
Ottawa Riverkeeper board member Fiona McKean, co-owner of The Opinicon Resort on Opinicon Lake, was there. So was her husband, Shopify CEO Tobi Lütke and his equally well-dressed COO, Harley Finkelstein, later seen executing some slick moves on the dance floor.
The crowd was sprinkled with members of the prominent Taggart and Parkes clan, along with the Westeinde family. Also spotted were Royal Canadian Geographical Society CEO John Geiger, French Ambassador Kareen Rispal, Elder Claudette Commanda, and Riverkeeper Emeritus Meredith Brown.
Water Leader Awards were handed out by Riverkeeper executive director Patrick Nadeau to Mission 100 tonnes for its cleanup action of the waterways, and to River Surf Ottawa-Gatineau for its help with flood relief efforts.
Auction items included: a first-time-ever overnight stay for two at the French ambassador's residence in Ottawa, with dinner and breakfast; a voyage from Iceland to Greenland from Adventure Canada; a handmade wooden rowboat from Boatworks Ottawa; a private tasting for up to 10 friends at The Unrefined Olive; rafting adventures; a two-night vacation at Windmill Developments' Whitewater Village Cottage Club; a private dinner for 20 people with Thyme & Again's Michael Moffatt at Wall Space Gallery; stays at the Wakefield Inn and Le Château Montebello; and original artwork.