Algonquin College hosts 50th anniversary gala to celebrate past, present and future

Evening features live music and culinary delights, raises funds for college's new innovation, entrepreneurship and learning centre

Making it to half a century does deserve more than just cake and ice cream. Algonquin College called on some 300 alumni and business partners to help it celebrate its milestone birthday while also raising funds for DARE District, its new innovation, entrepreneurship and learning centre.

Its student commons building was bathed in its signature green school colour and filled with the sensational sounds of live music. Guests visited multiple food stations and checked out memorabilia during Thursday's Walk Through the Ages-themed gala.

While Justin Lavigne, a graduate of the Music Industry Arts program, gave a beautiful performance on the Steinway grand piano — a legacy gift from CBC — it was the powerful voice of Jamie Fine, accompanied by fellow Algonquin College alumnus and musician Elijah Woods, that rocked the house that night. The duo recently won the inaugural season of CTV’s reality music competition series, The Launch.

Algonquin College
Jamie Fine performs at Algonquin College's 50th anniversary gala with Elijah Woods (not seen). Photo by Caroline Phillips

The room heard from Algonquin College president Cheryl Jensen, Deputy Mayor Mark Taylor, and Ron Smith, from presenting sponsor Yorkville Asset Management, a Toronto-based boutique money manager with an office in Ottawa.

Smith recalled how, at the recent West Ottawa Business Excellence Awards, the college was recognized with the prestigious Chair’s Award. Algonquin College Foundation acting director Peggy Austen had inquired, during her acceptance speech on behalf of the college, how many people in the 400-plus crowd were alumni, taught at the school, or had hired a graduate.

“No less than two thirds of the room put their hands up,” said Smith. “This is what builds great communities.”

Algonquin College
Ron Smith, managing director of sales in Canada for Yorkville Asset Management, with Algonquin College president Cheryl Jensen and Christina Tessier on the main staircase overlooking the school's 50th anniversary gala held at the college on Thursday, May 3, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips
Algonquin College
Algonquin College Foundation board chair Rodney Wilson with Peggy Austen on the staircase overlooking the school's 50th anniversary gala held on Thursday, May 3, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillip

Attendees included former college presidents Robert Gillett, after whom the student commons building is named, and Kent MacDonald, president of St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia; Invest Ottawa CEO Michael Tremblay; and the foundation's founding board chair, Barbara Farber, along with its current board chair, Rodney Wilson.

From the culinary community were such well-established alumni chefs as Michael Moffatt, now with Thyme & Again, and Katie Brown Ardington. She recently left her position as personal chef to the prime minister to re-join the Beckta group, assuming Moffatt's old position as executive chef of the Beckta, Play Food + Wine, and Gezellig restaurants.

Algonquin College
Well-known Ottawa chefs Michael Moffatt and Katie Brown Ardington, both graduates of Algonquin College’s culinary management program, participated in the school’s 50th anniversary gala, held Thursday, May 3, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips
Algonquin College
Barbara Farber, president of Leikin Group — which owns the neighbouring College Square shopping complex — with former Algonquin College president Kent MacDonald, at the school's 50th anniversary gala. Photo by Caroline Phillips
Algonquin College
From left, Jeffrey Dale, president of Snowy Cloud Inc., with former Algonquin College president Robert Gillett, and Michael Tremblay, at the school's 50th anniversary gala. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Alumna Christina Tessier hadn’t been satisfied with her career in high-tech and government when she made the decision to go back to school. She noticed that Algonquin College was offering a program in museum studies. It had never previously dawned on her that museums — which she loved — could be a career choice. She enrolled in the program that same year.

“And, the rest is history,” said Tessier, who’s now director general of the Canada Science and Technology Museum. She's also on the board of directors for the Algonquin College Foundation.

Award-winning Ottawa-based photographer Michelle Valberg told how she’ll always be grateful to the school for its guidance and support. She's also one of the more than 175,000 people to have graduated from Algonquin College.

“Without them I don’t think I would be a photographer,” she said. “They were just so instrumental in me getting my career off the ground, with pushing me along and giving me encouragement, and being there to say, ‘You have talent. Do something with it’.”

Algonquin College
From left, Scott Warrick, chef, professor and culinary coordinator at Algonquin College with adventurer and wildlife photographer Michelle Valberg and fellow alumnus Jeff Turner, who’s on the board of directors for the Algonquin College Foundation. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Jacqueline Belsito had been stuck at a crossroads at the end of high school, not knowing which level of post-secondary education to pursue. She enrolled in business administration at Algonquin, with a major in marketing and advertising. She immediately excelled and found her potential. "I flourished as an individual,” said Belsito, who’s now vice president of philanthropy and community engagement with the CHEO Foundation. “I also made friends that I went to school with that I’m still friends with today.”

Algonquin College
Angie Poirier and fellow Algonquin College alumna Jacqueline Belsito at the school’s 50th anniversary gala, held Thursday, May 3, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips
Algonquin College
From left, Shannon Doyle from Yorkville Asset Management, with alumnus Steve McBurney from sponsor Robert Half, and his wife, Melanie Adams, along with married couple Penny Reklitis and Jim Reklitis, both of whom are graduates of Algonquin College. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Radio personalities Jeff Mauler and Scott Rush, as well as Angie Poirier and ‘Stuntman’ Stu Schwartz, helped to emcee the evening. Gord Brown from TSN 1200 auctioned several items, including a trip to the Grand Isle Resort & Spa in Bahamas. It was bought for $4,500 by restaurateur Nick Bouris of Chances R, located just down the road in College Square.

Algonquin College
From left, Mike Bouris, George Bouris and Sophie Bouris with their dad, Nick Bouris at Algonquin College’s 50th anniversary gala, held Thursday, May 3, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips

The school is lucky to count Pierre Santoni among its former grads. He’s now director of strategic partnerships and alliances for VIA Rail, which was generous in its support of the evening.

A VIA Rail trip for four this summer to see a Blue Jays versus Yankees game in Toronto, with hotel, sold for $1,800 to former NHL player Jim Kyte, who's now dean of Algonquin College’s School of Hospitality and Tourism. A VIA Rail return trip to Halifax for four, in a sleeper car, sold at $4,000 twice — to the two highest bidders: Wayne French, director of public affairs for Waste Management, and Jeff Darwin, executive director of Ottawa Markets.