The Walrus Gala, Toronto
Thrown each January in the Fermenting Cellar of Toronto’s Distillery District, the Walrus Gala, serves as the Walrus Foundation’s most important annual fundraiser. The money raised by the evening, which this year topped $450,000, directly supports the independent fact-based journalism for which the Walrus is known. This year’s sold-out gathering on Jan. 22 (a rather impressive feat given the mid-winter date) served as the last under the direction of Shelley Ambrose, the foundation’s beloved executive director and publisher of the magazine, who will step down in June.
Leaders from politics and business, the arts, philanthropy and beyond were all out for the gala. Dotting tables throughout the space were devoted Walrus supporters, chief among them, Hugh MacKinnon, chairman and CEO of the law firm Bennett Jones, which has sponsored the gathering since its inception more than a decade ago. MacKinnon took to the stage mid-meal to underscore – in a rather amusing and roundabout way – the importance of the work that the Walrus does and how it benefits his fellow barristers and solicitors. “Sponsor Canadian journalists who love to muck about public policy issues” he said. “Encourage them to advocate for change – any change. Then encourage them to advocate for their ideas in the magazine, hoping to generate political action.” Then, he added, nature will inevitably run its course, culminating in what he called “the magical product of it all: litigation!”
Later on, the Allan Slaight Prize for Journalism was given by Slaight’s wife, Emmanuelle Gattuso, to Corey Mintz, in recognition of his story titled The History of Food in Canada is the History of Colonialism, which appeared in the April, 2019 edition of the magazine and outlined the country’s destruction of Indigenous food systems.
Across from me at dinner was the Honourable Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario; on her right was the artist Charles Pachter, who contributed a work titled Handmaid of Honour to the silent auction. The portrait’s subject, Margaret Atwood, was seated to her left and at the table too, was Julia Johnston and photographer Ed Burtynsky, who also contributed to the evening’s auction and has lent his spectacular snaps to past Walrus covers. To my right was Jessica Johnson, executive editor and creative director of The Walrus, and former National Arts Centre CEO Peter Herrndorf, and his wife, Eva Czigler. Also out: philanthropically minded couples including Ira Gluskin and Maxine Granovsky-Gluskin, Gretchen and Donald Ross, Valerie and Andy Pringle and Janelle and Pierre Lassonde; Helen Burstyn, chair of The Walrus Foundation board of directors and her daughter, Amy; and Toronto Mayor John Tory.