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When Canadian wine icon Harry McWatters passed suddenly last summer, the sense of loss that so many felt went well beyond his extensive personal relationships. At McWatters’ service in Penticton, many of the 1,500 in attendance wondered just who might fill the void in the British Columbia wine industry which he helped invent, then cultivated for more than 40 years.
“Harry’s mentorship is rightly legendary,” says Jonathan Rouse, Associate Dean of the Okanagan School of Business; and Director of Food, Wine and Tourism at Okanagan College. “He always had his eye on emerging talent in the business, and vigorously mentored young people, through his roles as founder of the BC Wine Institute and his many ongoing industry affiliations.”
Rouse recalls an overseas trip that McWatters helped arrange. “Years ago Harry and I discussed the importance for students to experience different regions of the world with rich histories of food and wine. Harry arranged for me to visit Italy’s Castello Banfi, and of course, at the highest level.”
“My visit coincided with a Banfi-sponsored scholastic tour,” Rouse says. “So I had the opportunity to meet students from a wide range of American universities, such as Cornell, famous for its hotel and hospitality disciplines. Without Harry’s introductions, we would likely not have a number of new wine student exchange agreements in place with European universities.”
The Chefs’ Table Society of BC quickly recognized the need to salute Harry’s enduring legacy. “Our member chefs serve hundreds of bottles of B.C. wines every day,” says Robert Belcham, president of Chefs’ Table, “and I like to think there’s a little bit of Harry in every one of them. In retrospect, it’s astounding what Harry and his fellow pioneers accomplished in just over three decades — B.C. wines are securely on the global map.”
In honour of McWatters, Chefs’ Table is launching a new scholarship through the Okanagan College Foundation with an initial contribution of $2,000 per annum for a minimum period of five years. Students enrolled in a Wine or Tourism program at Okanagan College and are participating in an international education experience will be eligible for the scholarship.
“The operative word is ‘Fund’ says Belcham. “We’ve donated first, but it’s really a call to action: We invite industry associations, wineries and private individuals to enhance our gift by donating online or contacting the Okanagan College Foundation and pledging their support.”
“This is a very special award that honours Harry, his passion for mentoring students and his connection to Okanagan College,” says Helen Jackman, Okanagan College Foundation Executive Director.
Jackman notes that Harry taught at the College and was bestowed an Honorary Doctorate from Okanagan University College for his vast contributions in putting B.C. wine on the map and as a steward of wine education in and beyond the region.
“Now, his legacy will continue as students get the opportunity to experience and learn from other cultures and infuse those insights into the unique food and drinks of the Okanagan Valley.”
Lisa Lalonde, Harry’s wife for many years, together with Harry’s children, Christa-Lee and Darrien McWatters, commented jointly. “Out of tragedy can arise positive outcomes. We are very grateful, and honoured, that the Chefs’ Table Society and Okanagan College have joined in this positive partnership to honour Harry and salute his legacy. It’s a perfect fit and much in keeping with Harry’s profound interest in global wine connectivity.”
Lalonde added “Harry collected experiences. He loved nothing more than planning trips based on where we would dine, what we would drink and who we would visit. We think Harry would love the creative use of these funds, and our family is pleased to add to CTS’s initial contribution in the amount of $1,000 per annum. Now we hope that others will see the benefit in adding to this Fund and bringing international wine experiences and knowledge back to the Okanagan.”
To donate to the Harry McWatters Scholarship Fund, visit Okanagan.bc.ca/mcwatters or contact Anne Kirkpatrick at the Okanagan College Foundation at 250-492-4305 ext. 3254 or email@example.com.