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Water unites politicos at stylish soirée, scores thousands for Ottawa Riverkeeper charity

By Rachel Aiello      

Sophie Grégoire Trudeau spoke about First Nations drinking water, while Serena Ryder’s performance along with signature food and drink helped make the Ottawa Riverkeeper Gala a big evening on the water for Ottawa’s heavy hitters and socialites.

Claudette Commanda, Meredith Brown, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, and Catherine McKenna at the Ottawa Riverkeeper Gala on June 1, 2016. The Hill Times photograph by Rachel Aiello
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Last Wednesday, $230,000 was raised by some of political Ottawa’s biggest names, reporters, lobbyists, strategists, and politicians at the fourth annual Ottawa Riverkeeper Gala.

That was more than half the $420,000 raised for the organization during the first three years of the event.

The gala has come to be known for its fun food, signature cocktails, entertainment, and socializing to help raise money for the Ottawa Riverkeeper charity, which aims to keep the Ottawa River and watershed clean and enjoyable. This year’s gala didn’t disappoint.

It all went down on Lemieux Island, home to one of Ottawa’s water purification plants. It was the first time an event like this had been held on the grounds, and the second year in a row that attendees were granted access to an exclusive location on the Ottawa River. Last year, it was held on the site of the new Zibi development on Albert Island.

Recognized as the 2016 Honorary Riverkeeper was Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, who made an entrance that could only be described as ethereal. About an hour into the event, the prime minister’s wife walked in behind a parade of people playing indigenous drums and singing, wearing a white-and-floral flowing suit, and accompanied by Canadian songstress Serena Ryder. Suffice it to say, heads turned.

At $250 a ticket, guests were ushered into the party on a red carpet by a group of young Navy cadets and each guest was handed a glass of champagne. Violinists played, accompanied by the sound of rushing water around the island. The décor was well done. Rope-suspended tables hung from the trees. Mini-lights stretched above the grassy, sandy ground. Mixed seating was scattered both inside and around a big clear tent housing the bar and stage. Party Central  spotted one couple arriving riverside on an inflatable rowboat.

Once the guest of honour, Ms. Grégoire Trudeau, was on-site, the formal portion of the evening commenced with MC Evan Solomon inviting Kitigan Zibi elder Claudette Commanda onstage to welcome guests to the traditional territory and speak of the importance of water. This then kicked off a series of sponsors’ speeches, including from EY’s Gary Zed, and RBC’s Louise Summers, who announced an additional $100,000 water leadership grant to Ottawa Riverkeeper.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson and city council were also recognized by the Ottawa Riverkeeper Meredith Brown as the 2016 Water Leader for their work to protect local waterways. Ottawa Riverkeeper chair Geoff Green introduced Ms. Grégoire Trudeau with such a glowing description of her work and passion for water (including for apparently being a “kickass waterskier” and pontoon boat captain) that she welled up before even getting on stage.

She spoke (while PMO press secretary Andrée-Lyne Hallé recorded her) about how clean water was a good example of something partisan differences could be put aside on, and reminded the audience that clean water is still not available to everyone in our country, mentioning the many boil-water advisories First Nations communities across Canada continue to experience.

Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna then rose to give a toast to the river, and announced she’s working to designate the Ottawa River a Canadian heritage site, which was met with big cheers. She also gave a shoutout to Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, who was in attendance, for her work addressing climate change.

Then it was time to eat. Thyme and Again catered this year’s party and the spread was earthy and smartly presented. It included small tables of vegetable dishes arranged to look like a garden, and a canoe with mason-jar munchies. Among the dishes were juniper panna cotta with gravlax, and a fiddlehead-and-mushroom salad. They also had servers rotating with small bites such as sliders and black-bean-and-sweet-potato tots.

Fish from Fogo Island was used in fish tacos and a fish pie—both scrumptious—and Whalesbone had an Oyster-shucking station that was a popular spot all night. The bar was open, and stationed off to the side of the grass was a silver airstream trailer where Cellar 82 was slinging old-fashioned cocktails and a rhubarb-and-vodka cordial. For dessert, a strawberry social was set up that included fresh berries and cream with lemon scones, red velvet cupcakes, passionfruit pavlova, toasted marshmallows dipped in chocolate with a bailey’s injector, and iced coffee in tall shot glasses.

After guests were able to get a taste of everything, it was time for Ms. Ryder’s performance. Dressed in black fringe, she spoke about her connections to water and joked that, apparently at some point during the evening, the portable washrooms ran out of water. She sang a new song off her yet-to-be-released album, as well as some classic hits like What I Wouldn’t Do and Sing Sing (which she said she wrote in a bathtub) and got the crowd dancing, or swaying along at least.

The event was sold out and around 400 were in attendance, in their best “river-chic” (a lot of nautical statement-pieces). Among them: Liberal MPs Karen McCrimmon; Seamus O’Regan and his husband Steve Doss; Chief Government Whip Andrew Leslie; Conservative Whip Gord Brown; U.S. Ambassador Bruce Heyman’s wife Vicki Heyman; Bruce and Rick Anderson with a group interns who are part of the program that honours Rick’s late daughter Jaimie Anderson who died of cancer at age 23; i2 Ideas & Issues Advertising’s Jane Kennedy; PMO communications director Kate Purchase; Summa Strategies’ Lindsay Doyle and Shay Purdy; strategist Kathleen Monk; Rogers’ Heidi Bonnell; Bluesky Strategies’ Susan Smith and Elizabeth Gray-Smith; Unifor’s Jerry Dias; Global News’ Tom Clark; and The Globe and Mail’s Bob Fife.


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