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Le Bal Rouge: On Fire, Montreal

  • Le Bal Rouge.Nolan Bryant/The Globe and Mail

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Infection and immunity, two topics I think it’s safe to say we’ve had our fill of talking and hearing about. However, the importance has never been more topical and it was indeed the focus of fundraising efforts in Montreal recently at Le Bal Rouge: On Fire. The splashy gala raised an impressive $2-million, funds which will benefit the McGill Interdisciplinary Initiative in Infection and Immunity, referred to as MI4.

The ball, founded in 2016 to support patient care, research and teaching at McGill University Health Centre was helmed by party maestro Alison Silcoff, who oversaw Montreal’s legendary Daffodil Ball for more than 25 years. The evening included a swish reception, dinner for 520 at tables strewn with candles and red roses in the historic Windsor Station and a series of performances, including one with the energy of a Super Bowl half-time show by singer and multi-instrumentalist Gabriella Laberge.

The true rock star of the evening though, was honoured guest Dr. Don Sheppard who in 2017 founded MI4 to address the global threat of infection. Fast-forward just a couple of years and it would be his team of some 250 researchers who would mobilize immediately to address every aspect of COVID-19. Dr. Sheppard became a key member of a government initiative that supported the response to the pandemic and a trusted voice in the media across Canada when many were trying to make sense of the unprecedented situation. Hespoke during the event, touching on the past few years but also speaking to the future focus of MI4: antibiotic resistance, a growing threat for which his team is working to find solutions.

There were many black-tied philanthropists out to support their work, chief among them Mélanie Bernier, PSP Investment’s senior VP and chief legal officer, who served as co-chair of the evening, alongside Ivan Vella, Rio Tinto’s chief executive of aluminium and Ian Edwards, president and CEO of SNC-Lavalin.

The Walrus Gala, Toronto

  • Jennifer Lambert, Rudyard Griffiths and Martha Durdin.Tom Sandler/The Globe and Mail

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The previous week, back in Toronto, the Walrus gala, usually a mid-January happening, made its debut on the spring social calendar. The fundraiser, which supports the magazine’s journalism as well as up-and-coming journalists, raised north of $450,000. Executive-director of The Walrus, Jennifer Hollett, made her in-person gala debut and served, rather splendidly as host of the evening. Having taken on the top role just before the pandemic, for many Walri (the moniker for supporters and fans of The Walrus) Hollett was a mere familiar face in a box during Zoom-hosted board meetings and digital events. The evening was a jubilant return to in-person events for an organization which is known for great national gatherings, most notably, the Walrus Talks. An opening performance was given by musician Aysanabee and after dinner, poet and writer Canisia Lubrin performed a piece for those in the room. There among the crowd: Jodi Butts, chair of The Walrus board, journalist Pacinthe Mattar and philanthropist Roxanne McCaig of Calgary, who together served as co-chairs; my seat-mate for the evening, philanthropist Rosemary Phelan, who served on the gala’s committee; Walrus editor-in-chief Jessica Johnson; former Walrus executive director Shelly Ambrose; and long-time Walrus supporters including Diane Blake and Stephen Smith, Pierre and Janelle Lassonde, and Ira Gluskin.