An Austin Mini, arias — and an awesome night

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From left, Dean Usher, Erin Phillips, Chris Phillips and Claude L'Heureux at The Canadian Tire Snowsuit Fund Gala held Saturday, November 3, 2012, at the Ottawa Convention Centre. (Photo: Caroline Phillips)

“No way!” an incredulous Casey Slumkoski exclaimed as he processed the news he’d just won the 1979 Austin Mini that Opera Lyra raffled off during its elegant gala on Friday.

The self-described “car guy” had bought one of the 215 tickets after reading about the raffle in the Citizen (he wasn’t the only one; the rest of the $100 tickets sold out within 36 hours of the article’s publication last month).

“This is absolutely amazing,” said Slumkoski, a father of two young kids and a project manager at an engineering firm. He’d bought the ticket as an anniversary gift from his wife.

Slumkoski did not attend Un Gala Italiano, held in the beautiful ballroom of the Château Laurier Hotel, but got a call at home from Around Town shortly after being announced the winner.

The classic red car, which raised $21,500 in ticket sales, was donated by Opera Lyra board member Sarah Jennings and her husband, Ian Johns. Mark Motors fixed it up or, to quote Jennings, put the vintage vehicle “in apple-pie order.”

Italian Ambassador Andrea Meloni was honourary patron while Irma Sachs of Urbandale co-chaired the gala with Malcolm McCulloch, chair of Opera Lyra.

The 250 guests enjoyed a fancy Italian dinner along with exquisite singing from soprano Tracy Dahl and mezzo-soprano Arminè Kassabian, accompanied by pianist Judith Ginsburg. Dahl’s encore aria, Puccini’s O mio babbino caro, was truly lovely.

The auction included luxury trips to Tuscany, Hawaii, Cayman Islands and Mexico, sold by lawyer Lawrence Greenspon, whose energy is boundless (he planned to play late-night hockey afterward).

WARM HEARTS, WARM KIDS

Partygoers had a real glow about them at this year’s Canadian Tire Snowsuit Fund Gala. It was probably because the Northern Lights theme saw glorious hues cast around the room, but I’d like to think it’s because everyone had come together to raise money for a great cause — keeping needy kids warm this winter.

Some 375 guests attended Saturday’s gala held in the Trillium Ballroom of the Ottawa Convention Centre. Awaiting them were cocktails and dinner, countless auction items and a night of dancing to live band Alter Ego.

The gala was expected to raise enough money to buy winter wear for roughly 1,850 kids.

CTV’s Lianne Laing co-chaired the event with fellow Snowsuit Fund board member Taryn Gunnlaugson of BMO Harris Private Banking. Also seen were board member and Canadian Tire store owner Claude L’Heureux and board chair Dean Usher of CIBC Wood Gundy.

The honourary chairs, Senators player Chris Phillips and his wife, Erin, were seen arriving. Together. Prior to the current NHL lockout, Phillips always had a game on gala night.

“This is my first time (here) from start to finish,” Phillips told Around Town. “I’m looking forward to it and I’m glad I can be a part of it.”

Also there from the Senators was president Cyril Leeder with his wife, Lydia. Former hockey club employee Chad Schella, now director of government affairs at Canada Post, attended with his TV host wife, Catherine Clark.

Around Town caught up with Rene Faucher, who made headlines in 2010 after suffering a spinal-cord injury playing rec hockey (shortly after his disability coverage had lapsed). Faucher recently got a job with EDC (Export Development Canada) in business development.

FIRST-YEAR GALA A BIG HIT

The best summers of Serge Arpin’s youth were spent on staff at Christie Lake Camp, earning a pittance while working with underprivileged children.

“It was just such a great opportunity to give back to the community and to help young kids,” Arpin, chief of staff for Mayor Jim Watson, told Around Town at a successful new gala held Thursday for Christie Lake Kids.

The sold-out, 200-person event featured an elaborate dinner planned by the National Arts Centre’s executive chef, Michael Blackie, at the NAC.

Tamarack Homes V-P Scott Parkes co-chaired the fundraiser with fellow Christie Lake board member Mike McGann, an adviser with ScotiaMcLeod (his daughter, Sheyna, 16, worked at the camp this past summer, learning there are kids out there with far worse problems than an uncharged cellphone).

Among the supporters were Paul McCarney, president of Greenbelt (formerly Graydex), and building supplier Robert Merkley. Also seen were Christie Lake board chair Chris Hughes of Emtec and PwC partner Ellen Corkery-Dooher, who’s also a former Christie Lake Camp staffer.

The evening soared past its goal by raising $51,000 for Christie Lake Kids, a non-profit organization that’s been around for 90 years. In addition to its camp, it brings skill-building programs to the neighbourhoods of kids marginalized by poverty.

“Our approach is very grassroots and very hands-on but with deep, deep impact because we’re there in the heart of the community,” said executive director Carole Gagné Ince.

Items sold off by charity auctioneer Dave Smith included two tickets to the Justin Bieber concert donated by Tamarack Homes. They were bought, donated back and bought again, raising a total of $1,750.

ACTOR OVER THE MOON

Working with veteran Ottawa actor Mary Ellis has been “a little dream come true” for Margo MacDonald, who as a teenager watched Ellis perform on stage while yearning to be up there herself someday.

“I always looked up to her as an example of where I wanted to be,” MacDonald told Around Town at the Canadian premiere of GCTC’s Fly Me to The Moon. The comedy by Belfast playwright Marie Jones is directed by Dublin-native John P. Kelly and stars Ellis and MacDonald.

While the actors share great chemistry on stage, it’s their first time performing together (they were both in Third Wall’s Top Girls but didn’t share any dialogue). “We’re really looking forward to the run of the show,” said Ellis. “We’re going to have a lot of fun.”

Seen at the opening night at the Irving Greenberg Theatre Centre were GCTC’s new artistic director, Eric Coates, as well as GCTC board chair Nhanci Wright and vice-chair Brian Toller.

Just before show time, GCTC media relations coordinator Sheilagh D’Arcy McGee received a Certificate of Irish Heritage from the Irish embassy. McGee, a former TV producer and program executive, is a descendent of John Joseph McGee (brother of Thomas D’Arcy McGee, one of the Fathers of Confederation) and of James McCool, who in 1869 bought the Hudson Bay Company trading post at Fort William.

Connect with Caroline Phillips |carolyn001@sympatico.ca