Caroline Phillips Around Town: Gallery donors fêted with vino, Van Gogh

Picture 1 of 14

From left, John Koensgen, Sarah McVie, Lise Ann Johnson, Catherine Rainville, Andy Massingham and Mary Ellis at The Great Canadian Theatre Company's opening night for Circle Mirror Transformation on Thursday, May 24, 2012. (Photo by Caroline Phillips)

I think we can all agree that the National Gallery of Canada was meant for someone as beautiful as Vincent van Gogh. Precious paintings by the Dutch artist were the star attraction of the second annual Distinguished Patrons Soirée held there last Wednesday.

Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of Canada and chairman of the Financial Stability Board, and Wim Geerts, ambassador of the Netherlands, were among the 100 guests of the soirée, which featured a curator-led preview of the new exhibit, Van Gogh: Up Close.

The black-tie evening drew members of Canada’s business elite, all of whom support the gallery through their generous support and leadership. Calgary’s Ron Mannix, who last year gave $1 million to the gallery, was there, as were Montreal investment guru Stephen Jarislowsky and Toronto cultural philanthropist Jim Fleck (I’ll always remember him waltzing with Karen Kain in an NFB short film played at the Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards Gala in 2009, the year he was a recipient).

Spotted from Ottawa were JDS icon Jozef Straus and his wife, Vera, developer Bill Teron and his other half, Jean, and Sara Vered, chatting with fellow distinguished patron Nancy Richardson.

The gallery foundation’s board chairman, well-known Ottawa lawyer and entrepreneur Thomas d’Aquino, and his wife, Susan, underwrote the soirée while Andrew Peller Ltd. provided the wine.

Guests first gathered in the Water Court for cocktails and short speeches, including delivered by the likes of the official soirée patron, McLachlin. Our top judge spoke of “one of her great distractions” at work: the magnificent view from her northeast corner office in the Supreme Court of Canada building. Among the architecture to catch her eye is the glass tower of the gallery.

“The presence of this building, the National Gallery, and the works of imagination and beauty that it houses reassures all Canadians that it’s our art and cultural endeavours that make Canada what it is,” she said.

The gallery’s director, Marc Mayer, was on hand with Van Gogh co-curators Cornelia Homburg and Anabelle Kienle Ponka, as well as Dean Connor, CEO of exhibit sponsor Sun Life Financial. The soirée also included dinner from Tulips & Maple and a musical extravaganza showcasing Toronto’s Gryphon Trio, Ottawa’s Julie Nesrallah, Montreal’s Ensemble Caprice and the Ottawa Bach Choir.


Ringside for Youth XVIII has turned into a heavyweight on the Ottawa charity gala circuit, raising to date $2.1 million for the Ottawa Boys and Girls Club.

A business suit crowd of 1,200 filed into the CE Centre on Thursday for this year’s sold-out event with special guest, Evander Holyfield, a former world champion boxer who’s also famous for having part of his ear bitten off by Mike Tyson. Steve Gallant of CIBC Woody Gundy was back to lead the dedicated volunteer committee in organizing the evening of dinner, amateur boxing and musical entertainment by Juno Award-winning singer Kellylee Evans.

Retired boxer Gerry Cooney was back as event ambassador while comedian Angelo Tsarouchas was the returning MC. The evening also honoured the late boxer Smokin’ Joe Frazier, a previous special guest, and trainer Angelo Dundee.

Ringside has evolved beyond boys’ night out-territory. Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, who was a presenting sponsor with Walton International, came with his wife, Bibbi.

“Anything to get out of the house,” said Bibbi, a busy mother of four boys. She told Around Town she was looking forward to spending quality time with her husband, but had to laugh when she then noticed he was tied up doing media interviews.

“Maybe it’ll be on the drive home,” she lightheartedly quipped.


Call it a case of life imitating art, but the GCTC’s outgoing artistic director, Lise Ann Johnson, can truly relate to the GCTC’s latest production, Circle Mirror Transformation. The quirky comedy “is really about people who are going through big changes in their lives,” Johnson told Around Town at Thursday’s opening night party at the Irving Greenberg Theatre Centre.

The play, directed by Johnson, stars a stellar cast with Mary EllJohn Koensgen, Andy Massingham, Sarah McVie and Catherine Rainville, daughter of veteran actor Paul Rainville.

Among the changes in Johnson’s life is her decision to leave the GCTC after seven years. She’s already scored a new gig, to begin in June, as theatre officer for the Canada Council for the Arts.

The more regular hours should help Johnson as she continues to raise two boys, ages nine and 11, while her professor husband commutes out of town, to Queen’s University. Johnson has “mixed feelings” about her departure, as she will miss the GCTC and the people.

“But, I also feel that life is about changes, and I’m excited about what’s going to come next.”


The National Arts Centre’s Le Salon was gussied up May 20 with an array of glamorous gowns belonging to acclaimed concert pianist Angela Hewitt, who was back in her hometown for a celebration of performances and events.

The room was set up with display mannequins outfitted with 15 of Hewitt’s concert gowns. As well, five female students from Tu Mach’s music school were recruited to model Hewitt’s childhood frocks.

About 80 guests were at the VIP reception, held in support of Hewitt’s Trasimeno Music Festival in Italy. There was also a short performance from Mach’s award-winning sons, Kerson and Stanley Leong, on violin and cello.

A casual survey done by Around Town revealed the gown by Italian designer Roberto Cavalli to be a crowd favourite. Jean Teron quite liked Hewitt’s glittering silver number by Ottawa couturier Richard Robinson, worn at Carnegie Hall, while former mayor Jacquelin Holzman was a fan of Hewitt’s “un-Bachlike” gold lamé jumpsuit.

As for Hewitt, her top pick was a red Robinson gown. She said she has many happy memories associated with it (she wore it in 2003 as a recipient of a GG’s Performing Arts Award).

Eventually, the gowns will be auctioned off for charity, Hewitt told Around Town before adding, goodhumouredly: “When I really have no more room in that cupboard.”

Connect with Caroline Phillips |