After a two-year drought, Toronto’s elite finds social sustenance at the Biblio Bash

They came, they saw, they gala-ed.

Like Bedouins traveling vast stretches of desert in search of water, they arrived for social sustenance at the Raymond Moriyama-designed Toronto Reference Library on Yonge Street one night last week. Capital-S Socialites. The intelligentsia. Both business mucky mucks and the fashion flock.

Destination: Biblio Bash. The first big gala that most were attending in over two years: a tent-pole charity dinner that had been nixed in 2020 and then again in 2021 — it was a splash, all right. And all that pent-up yen for hobnobbing and peacocking in Canada’s largest metropolis? Good for the phila-bottom line. The event wound up raising northwards of $800,000 for the Toronto Public Library — in particular, the library’s Internet Connectivity Kit program, which in helping to bridge social inequality provides free laptops and WI-FI to some of the city’s most vulnerable.

Held, as it always is, in the curvaceous bosom of the Moriyama — a building that still gives design high (initially inspired by the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, did you know?) — the Biblio Bash was bathed this year in a neon-pink light, with Jack and the Beanstalk-scale single red roses sprouting from each table. An effective centrepiece, giving good Instagram indeed (beauty being in the eyes of the scroller these days).

They came, they saw, they walked the red carpet with their decorator.

Hey…why not?

The chair of this event, social powerhouse Victoria Webster, did anyway. Reading the footnotes of this gala — it was a bookish event, after all — it was not lost on some of us that Webster was without his long-time partner in crime, Gabe Gonda of the Globe and Mail. For years, a dependable twosome and among the most invited to all the important functions — they brought a thrill of glamour, money and smarts on the social circuit — their union fractured during the pandemic. Talk of the town in those Rosedale-Summerhill-Annex-ish corridors!

Webster, dressed this night in a boldly petaled yellow gown made by Canadian designer Narces, not only had the room in the palm of her hands when she took the stage, but the subtext of some of her words as she rattled off thank-yous and the importance of the library was not lost on some of us. (OK, me). Reflecting on the difficulty of the last couple years — “personally, professionally, financially and around our midsections” — she went on to say, “during this time, we have all realized how important it is to stay connected.”

Earlier in the Eve, she was seen posing with her friend and interior designer, the internationally in demand Colette van den Thillart. It was hard not to miss since they are also seen posing together on the new cover of Canadian House & Home (a cover revealed just earlier that week in a kind of serendipitous one-two socialite punch, the heiress pictured with a cat-ate -the-canary expression on her face). “She’s never done vanilla, and she’s not about to start,” the story inside reads about her supercharged, vibrant home, with one aside that has her saying, “I was lucky to grow up with beautiful china from Germany and lace from Ireland. ”

Making my way through the event, as I mentally checked the names in the room, clocking newcomers and old guard-ers alike, I recalled what I wrote about the bash the year before the pandemic (which is even more true now): how marquee galas like the Biblio make up a kind of rolling shoreline of the social set.

“You attend these things and you see all the rock formations,” I wrote then. “Weight shed. Marriages stalled. Resentments banked. Friendship circles reconfigured.”

Changing hairlines, of course, too. “I joke that I gave Mark all my greys!” Vanessa Mulroney, a social staple, told me re: her husband when I ran into her.

I laughed, too, when one of my dinner companions told me, asking me to read the menu for her, “One of the things that happened to me during the pandemic is that my eyes are gone!”

With a crowd giving a good ribbon of color — the dress code had asked for a hint of floral — some standouts included Christi Himmelheber (in the most voluminous gown of the night) and theatre-maker Andrew Kushnir, who gave a fabulous crown of yellow flowers (a traditional Ukrainian flower crown that in recent years has become a symbol of protest and pride, he constructed his with sunflowers and wheat). Among the boldface spotted, too: celebrity chef Cory Vitiello, defense attorney Marie Henein, philanthropist Sylvia Mantella (in a kind of Village People-go-glam getup), broadcaster Gurdeep Ahluwalia (giving good turtleneck), novelist Ashley Audrain (one of innumerable writers in the room), guy-about-town Jay McCauley, Tricon CEO Gary Berman and Olympian Perdita Felicien.

They came, they saw, they left their FOMO in the bin.

Shinan Govani is a Toronto-based freelance contributing columnist covering culture and society. Follow him on Twitter: @shinangovani

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