Parents, alumnae and friends of Elmwood School, a 370-student, all-girls private school located in Rockcliffe Park, gathered under one big, beautiful roof Saturday night to raise money toward improving learning facilities for its future scientists, engineers and innovators.
The 31st Annual Elmwood School Gala, called Growing the Good, netted $320,000 for STEM programs at Elmwood, specifically to help with the renovation of the chemistry lab in the middle and senior schools and with the creation of a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) centre in the junior school.
“We have over 50 per cent of students going into STEM,” Elmwood School head James Whitehouse told OBJ.social at the start of the evening. While Canadian women are among the most educated in the world and even more likely than men to hold post-secondary degrees, they make up only 23 per cent of Canadians working in science and technology, according to Statistics Canada.
“They should be following their passions, regardless,” said Whitehouse. “It so happens our girls are going in to those (STEM) fields. It’s their choice; it’s not a deliberate school drive. The kids love it.”
Guests mingled over cocktails before sitting down for dinner in the school gymnasium, which was transformed into an elegant venue through the use of sheer white fabrics draped from the ceiling and along the gym walls.
At 186 attendees, it was a smaller crowd than in past years. Organizers wanted it that way, recognizing that the world is still coming out of a pandemic.
Returning to serve as gala patron was alumna and Ottawa businesswoman, philanthropist and mother Jamilah Taib Murray.
The evening was significant for at least two reasons: it was the first time supporters of the school have come together in more than two years, and it marked the first gala for Whitehouse since he was promoted to head of the school in 2019. He was deputy head for seven years of Elmwood’s middle and senior schools and, prior to that, worked as an assistant head at a top-ranked school in the United Kingdom. He also used to play professional rugby in England. He was there that night with his wife, Nicola Whitehouse, a vice-principal at St. Peter Catholic High School in Orléans.
Whitehouse was a natural at the podium as he officially welcomed everyone and got the crowd pumped for a night of celebrations that later included dancing to Montreal band Electrik.
The evening was long overdue for the Elmwood community, said Elmwood School board chair and parent Jacqueline Palumbo-Sugunasiri, senior general counsel with the Department of Justice.
“This is a spectacular evening for Elmwood, to bring everyone back together after two-plus years of the pandemic preventing us from celebrating together in this way,” she told OBJ.social. “At this event, you see the generosity, the love for this school and its students. I couldn’t be happier to be here. We’re going to have a really good time and we’re going to celebrate because it’s been long in coming.”
On stage, Palumbo-Sugunasiri thanked the “extraordinary” Elmwood moms who worked “tirelessly” to put the evening together, with assistance from the school’s director of development and alumni relations, Andrea Thomson. She also expressed her gratitude to Whitehouse and the senior leadership staff and faculty.
“Our beloved school, our beloved daughters are in such good hands with you, and we are are so grateful,” said Palumbo-Sagunasiri. “And James, the school continues to completely thrive under your leadership. Anyone can throw anything at this person and he can handle it.”
Whitehouse did light-heartedly ask the crowd when he returned to the stage not to actually throw anything at him that night.
He also reminded everyone what the gala was truly about: the students.
“All these wonderful people that come through these doorways every day, making us laugh and smile (sometimes cry). It’s all about them because they are our future and they’re quite incredible. It is a complete honour to lead this school every day.”
Major supporters included Antonia Betts and her husband, Solace founder and director Craig Betts; Dentons partner Andrea Johnson and her husband, David Little, Ottawa managing partner at Dentons; and Aileen Conway and her husband Ted Woodhead, chief regulatory officer and government affairs at Rogers Communications.
Conway was on the gala team with Antonia, Jennifer Bouchard, Elmwood vice-chair Denise Carruthers (who recently joined the board of The Ottawa Hospital Foundation), Alice Fyfe, Simran Kochar, Clara Nehme, Juliana Nightingale, Julie Petit, Tracy Pratte, Michelle Ruel, Janice Saunders, Sandra-Lynn Thomson and Karen Turner.
Ryan Watson from Raising the Bid led a cash call for direct donations and auctioned off fun experience-based packages, including a night of scotch tasting for 25 from Spirits Canada and a backyard BBQ for a dozen guests hosted by Muckleston & Brockwell fine butchery and craft beer Stray Dog Brewing Company. Guests can also cool down in an adult-sized inflatable pool by LYKKE Pools.
Jacobsons gourmet food shop on Beechwood Avenue offered up a French cheese and champagne night for 25 while Howard Fine Jewellers on Sparks Street donated a gift certificate for $2,500.
Also sold off was the opportunity to fill Whitehouse’s big shoes for a day as head of Elmwood. It came with a lunch at Earnscliffe with Britain's charming high commissioner to Canada, Susannah Goshko, who was in attendance that night with her husband, Matt Goshko, a U.S. state department officer.
As well, there were trips to Barbados and Jamaica and a night at the National Arts Centre for four that featured dining at 1 Elgin restaurant followed by a broadway show. Rogers Communications offered up some primo seats in the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto to watch a Raptors game, a couple of Blue Jays games, a Leafs game and a Bryan Adams concert.