Ottawa Riverkeeper Gala cruises to new fundraising high of $303K

Retired Supreme Court chief justice Beverley McLachlin joins environmental organization's circle of Honorary Riverkeepers
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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.

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From left, Craig Stewart, from the gala's presenting sponsor Insurance Bureau of Canada, with Honorary Riverkeeper Beverley McLachlin and Geoff Green, board chair of the Ottawa Riverkeeper, at the 7th annual Riverkeeper Gala, held at 50 Sussex on Wednesday, May 29, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Audience members join a friendship dance during the Riverkeeper Gala, held at 50 Sussex on Wednesday, May 29, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Rebecca Noelle performs on stage during the Riverkeeper Gala, held at 50 Sussex on Wednesday, May 29, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Evan Solomon was master of ceremonies for the Riverkeeper Gala, held at 50 Sussex on Wednesday, May 29, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips

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.

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Former prime minister Jean Chrétien worked the room like a pro at the Riverkeeper Gala VIP reception, where he's seen speaking with, from left, Meredith Brown, Helen Hirsh Spence and Fiona McKean, on the terrace of 50 Sussex. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Riverkeeper Gala organizing committee members Tania Kratt and Penny Schroeder at the VIP reception for the Riverkeeper Gala, held at 50 Sussex on Wednesday, May 29, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Green Party leader Elizabeth May with Lara Van Loon, one of the fun-loving members of the organizing committee, at this year's Riverkeeper Gala, held at 50 Sussex on Wednesday, May 29, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Riverkeeper Gala committee member Patricia Barr, director at Wall Space Gallery in Westboro, with Thyme & Again Creative Catering owner Sheila Whyte and Ottawa Riverkeeper board member Tracey Clark, president and CEO of Bridgehead Coffee, at the VIP reception for this year's Riverkeeper Gala, held at 50 Sussex. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Ottawa singer Rebecca Noelle, musician Petr Cancura, who's also program director of the Ottawa Jazz Festival, and Ottawa singer Kellylee Evans at the VIP reception for this year's Riverkeeper Gala, held at 50 Sussex. Photo by Caroline Phillips 
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From left, Louis-Alexandre Lanthier, senior manager with VIP reception sponsor CN, and Royal Canadian Geographical Society CEO John Geiger enjoying the beautiful sunshine on the terrace of 50 Sussex at the Ottawa Riverkeeper Gala, held Wednesday, May 29, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips

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.

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Beverley McLachlin, retired chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, was made an Honorary Riverkeeper during this year's Riverkeeper Gala, held at 50 Sussex on Thursday, May 29, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips

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.

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Honorary Riverkeeper Beverley McLachlin, centre, with her husband, Frank McArdle, and Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna at the VIP reception for this year's Riverkeeper Gala, held at 50 Sussex. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Craig Stewart, left, and Geoff Green present a handmade wooden paddle to Honorary Riverkeeper Beverley McLachlin at this year's Riverkeeper Gala, held at 50 Sussex on Thursday, May 29, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips

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.

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From left, restaurateur Stephen Beckta with Shopify CEO Tobi Lütke and COO Harley Finkelstein at this year's Riverkeeper Gala, held at 50 Sussex on Wednesday, May 29, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Will Amos, Liberal MP for Pontiac in West Quebec, with his wife, Regina Flores, Susan Finlay and her husband, Jonathan Westeinde, CEO of Windmill Development Group, at the VIP reception for this year's Riverkeeper Gala, held at 50 Sussex. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Ellen Emond with her husband, Jacques Emond, founding partner of law firm Emond Harnden, at this year's Riverkeeper Gala, held at 50 Sussex on Wednesday, May 29, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, French Ambassador Kareen Rispal with long-time Riverkeeper supporter Gary Zed and Shirley Kouri at the VIP reception for this year's Riverkeeper Gala, held at 50 Sussex. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Mary Taggart, with the Taggart Parkes Foundation, Padme Raina, director of strategic partnerships and programs at Ashbury College, and Tara-Leigh Mierins, with Star Motors of Ottawa, at this year's Riverkeeper Gala, held at 50 Sussex on Wednesday, May 29, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Fiona McKean, co-owner off The Opinicon Resort, with Melissa Reeves, marketing and operations at Linebox Studio, at this year's Riverkeeper Gala, held at 50 Sussex on Wednesday, May 29, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Elder Claudette Commanda with Ottawa Riverkeeper board member Colleen Westeinde at this year's Riverkeeper Gala, held at 50 Sussex on Wednesday, May 29, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Ottawa Riverkeeper board member Peter van Roon, regional sales manager with RBC, and board vice-chair Jean Perras, at the VIP reception for this year's Riverkeeper Gala, held at 50 Sussex. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Ottawa Riverkeeper Emeritus Meredith Brown with Elizabeth Logue, a director at Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, at the VIP reception for this year's Riverkeeper Gala, held at 50 Sussex. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Laura Dudas, in her role as Ottawa deputy mayor, with John Westeinde  at the VIP reception for this year's Riverkeeper Gala, held at 50 Sussex. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Ottawa-Vanier Liberal MP Mona Fortier with Minister Catherine McKenna, MP for Ottawa Centre, and Will Amos, Liberal MP for Pontiac, announce their government's $275,000 in funding to protect the Ottawa River. Photo by Caroline Phillips 
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Chloe Hillier, director of donor relations at Ottawa Riverkeeper, with her father, veteran professional fundraiser John Bouza, at this year's Riverkeeper Gala, held at 50 Sussex on Wednesday, May 29, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Ottawa Riverkeeper executive director Patrick Nadeau, left, and Gatineau Councillor Audrey Bureau on stage to present a Water Leader Award to Trevor Cunningham from River Surf Ottawa-Gatineau. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Ottawa Riverkeeper executive director Patrick Nadeau on stage with, right, Adam Miron, co-founder and chief brand officer at HEXO Corp, to present Jimmy Vigneux from Mission 100 tonnes with a Water Leader Award. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Honourees and special guests gather for a group shot at the Ottawa Riverkeeper Gala, held Wednesday, May 29, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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A departing shot of the Ottawa Riverkeeper Gala, held at 50 Sussex on Wednesday, May 29, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips

— caroline@obj.ca