Should all Toronto’s ritzy charity galas require guests to wear goofy outfits? Probably not, but last Thursday’s Wellspring Henderson Hoedown had a Western theme, and the well-worn party cliche transformed what could have been just another stuffy fundraiser into a rollicking good time. Monied philanthropists came dressed in their best Western threads—for most, that meant blue jeans, a vintage plaid cowboy shirt and, of course, a big ol’ cowboy hat (though we did spot one woman packing a gun holster with pink cow splotches)—at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel for the 20th annual event to support Wellspring’s efforts to provide relief for individuals, family members and professional caregivers touched by cancer. Guests included a number of media personalities, including Wellspring chair and CBC anchor Nancy Wilson, TVO’s The Agenda’s Steve Paikin, Canada AM’s Beverly Thomson, the CBC’s Wendy Mesley and City TV’s Cynthia Mulligan. Also in attendance were Jim Treliving, chairman and owner of Boston Pizza and noted dragon on the Dragon’s Den, roaming comedian Ali Badshah, Olympic gold medallist Tessa Bonhomme and Blue Rodeo frontman Jim Cuddy, who provided entertainment—and a little romance—during the dinner portion of the evening.
All told, the event raised upward of $1 million for Wellspring. Guests could bid on more than 50 items in the silent auction (our favourite: a lunch date and “lowdown” with Doug Ford) during the pre-dinner cocktail, which featured a number of Western-themed activities. Naturally, the mechanical bull ride proved to be the main attraction—once the first rider broke the bull-riding ice—but there was also a shootout in the lobby, and wannabe prospectors busily sifted for gold in a makeshift trough. When guests were ushered into the dining hall, Badshah toured the crowd with a camera crew and hammed it up for all to see on two large video screens on either side of the stage. Wellspring CEO Lynda Morrison shared an impassioned—and touching—speech before dinner was served, and after the meal, the main draw finally took to the stage. Cuddy strummed on his guitar and even presided over a live auction—he offered one lucky person the chance to for a personal serenade. Swoon.