Vancouver’s Rogers Arena, which is home to the Vancouver Canucks, was transformed Feb. 1 into a big-top tent. The circus-themed gathering served as the Canucks Autism Network’s most important annual fundraiser, now in its fourth year. This latest, co-chaired by communications consultant Jill Killeen and Clara Aquilini, who founded the organization alongside her husband, Paolo, in 2008, raised more than $1-million. The funds will directly support programs across the province of British Columbia tailored to families and individuals with autism. The gala also aims to highlight the spectrum of abilities and challenges of those who live with the developmental disorder, which now affects one in 46 children in B.C., and one in 66 children in Canada, according to the organization.
“When you get an autism diagnosis, everyone seems to focus on the things that your child won’t be able to do.” said Claire Zanatta, whose son, Noah. has participated in programs since 2014. “But CAN flips it around,” she continued during the event. "Their incredible staff and volunteers focus on what our kids can do. ” The proof of that can-do attitude came just before dinner, when a gaggle of young people involved in the CAN music program, which is given in partnership with the Sarah McLachlan School of Music, took to the stage to perform for the more than 600 guests who dotted tables on the usually icy surface of the arena. English actor Freddie Highmore, who plays an autistic surgeon on The Good Doctor, a television program heralded for its fair and compassionate representation of autism, lent his star power to the live auction after dinner, which included lots for swish trips, a painting by contemporary Vancouver artist Athena Bax and plenty of Vancouver Canuck gear and experiences.
Among those out: Canucks alumni including goaltender Kirk McLean, forward Cliff Ronning and defenceman Dave Babych; Hamid Eshghi, president of the Djavad Mowafaghian Foundation; CAN supporters and mining equipment suppliers Lawrence and Sandi Thiessen; Pretivm vice-president and chief exploration officer Ken McNaughton and his wife, Kelly; Jennifer Muench, B.C. regional president at BMO, a top sponsor of the evening; and Britt Andersen, CEO of Canucks Autism Network.