The Boat Rally for Cancer is returning to the waters of Lake Joseph and Lake Rosseau this weekend in support of Sunnybrook’s Odette Cancer Centre and Ronald McDonald House, and actor John O’Hurley is one of a dozen celebrities coming out to support the cause.
The boat rally launched in 2013 following the success of its sister event, the Car Rally for Kids. Combined, the two events have raised over $25 million for various charities over the years. This year’s boat rally on Aug. 19 and 20 is an outdoor event where fundraising teams will compete in an Amazing Race-style competition followed by a gala dinner on Saturday evening. The first five teams that raise more than $20,000 get to have a celebrity navigator along for the ride. One of those celebrities is actor John O’Hurley, best known for his role as J. Peterman on Seinfeld.
“It’s nice to be able to return to such a wonderful organization and such a wonderful event,” O’Hurley said. “We’ll be up on [the lakes of] Muskoka with our boat rally trying to raise money for the hospital there at Sunnybrook and also for the Ronald McDonald House here in Toronto, so it’s going to be a lot of fun, but most importantly, we have a good core objective by the end of the weekend.”
O’Hurley had been participating in the car rally for a few years when he decided to join the boat rally in 2017. Both events offer an obstacle course-style challenge where participants have to complete special tasks while solving clues in their race to the finish line.
In 2020, the boat rally was replaced with an online auction while 2021 had all participants on boats with their respective bubbles for a boat parade and concert on the water. The modified approach meant there were no celebrity meet-and-greets, so while he was sad to be away from the rally during COVID, it feels wonderful to be back at it now, O’Hurley said.
A dozen celebrities, including NHL player Sam Gagner and actor Billy Baldwin, have flown out for the event. Since many have participated in the rally before, it’s like seeing family, O’Hurley said, adding that it’s a way to express the community they feel with each other and do some good at the same time. The event is always a lot of fun, but more than anything, it’s about helping people, especially children, dealing with cancer and other chronic conditions.
“I’m lucky enough to be the father of a healthy 15-year-old who has just been a joy to raise,” O’Hurley said. “[Participating in the rally is] my thanks for the fact that God blessed me with a wonderful child and I don’t have to go through these incredible emotional and financial difficulties of having a child with some of the afflictions that Sunnybrook is able to pinpoint, with both their cancer treatment and their research.”
Sunnybrook’s Odette Cancer Centre provides care for a wide range of cancer patients while also working on cancer prevention, detection and education. The centre oversees clinical trials and research to help improve patient outcomes, and it’s one of the largest cancer programs in North America.
The other charity benefiting from the boat rally is Ronald McDonald House, which provides accommodations and other resources for sick children and their families. Their facilities allow families to stay together near the hospital where their child is receiving treatment, reducing the cost and complexity of an already difficult process.
Heading into the rally this weekend, O’Hurley is excited to see how much is raised for the two charities, and he encourages permanent and seasonal residents alike to support their fellow Ontarians through the event. Being a part of the boat rally is a summer tradition that O’Hurley plans to uphold for years to come, and it doesn’t hurt that the events bring him back to beautiful Muskoka.
“I see no end in sight,” he said. “I enjoy it and it brings me up to Muskoka, which I just think is one of the truly great lake vistas in North America. It’s just so much fun up there, and I can understand why people embrace it as their summer home.”