The Sugar Bowl Fundraiser celebrates life and legacy of Calgary journalist

Mid-August in Calgary is a busy time for festivals, celebrations, squeezing in all of the summertime activities that you can before September and … fundraisers. Nestled in between all of these August events is one that strikes a chord with the city’s journalism community as well as with those who remember the person for which the event is held. The Sugar Bowl Lawn Bowling Fundraiser is a celebration of the life and creativity of Amber Webb-Bowerman — a talented young journalist whose life was tragically taken in May of 2008 in what became known as the Dalhousie tragedy — but mainly it is a fundraiser for the charity that was created by her friends in her name to help emerging journalists and writers in their careers.

Billie Rae Busby, a close friend of Amber’s and the vice president of the Amber Webb-Bowerman Foundation responsible for the Sugar Bowl, notes the increasing popularity of the event.

“We started out with a good handful of teams, and now we usually sell out,” says Busby, noting that “we’re between 16 to 20 teams now.

“The main reason we do it is just to have a fun time as our annual fundraiser.”

When it comes to the charitable organization, Busby explains that it came about after the tragedy and outpouring of public support.

“We were able to utilize the donations that were coming in to be able to put a charity together that could really recognize what Amber was all about. She was an emerging journalist at the time of her death, aged 30, and she was really big on mentoring students and being involved in the arts in Calgary, so we felt that there was a good connection that we could build a charity in which we could support emerging writers or journalists in different areas in the arts through her name.

“Being a volunteer-run not-for-profit, we make sure we are giving away all of the money that we raise,” continues Busby, “so we utilize the Sugar Bowl as our primary fundraiser … the money that we raise at Sugar Bowl goes back to supporting different organizations that we want to work with.”

Being able to support these organizations is pivotal to the foundation’s mandate, as is seeking out new programs to support, funds permitting. “The more we make at Sugar Bowl, the more we can support these organizations or are able to support new ones” states Busby. “Our whole goal is about emerging writers and trying to keep it in the Western Canada area, we’re always looking for new ideas – it’s really about working with groups that we know it’s really going to help.”

Some of the organizations and programs that the foundation has been able to work with and support include a scholarship in perpetuity at both SAIT and Mount Royal University, as well as the WordsWorth Creative Writing Residency hosted by the Writers’ Guild of Alberta, the Emerging Artists Intensive (Literary Arts) program at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, the Alexandra Writers Centre Society’s Residency Program and the UBC Okanagan’s annual Short Story Contest.

“Amber was a journalist, but she liked to write poems, stories … she was just all about being creative in writing, so that’s where we still feel like it fits with what we are trying to do. We are focusing on the ’emerging,’ ” says Busby.

The event, itself, couldn’t take place without generous contributions from sponsors, including Village Brewery, Tinhorn Creek, Rotary Park, and notably, SAITSA, one of the Sugar Bowl’s longest-standing sponsors.

“Amber worked for SAITSA at the time that she died, she was the editor at The Weal newspaper, with the students’ association at SAIT, so her death hit them just as hard,” explains Busby. “She was part of their family as much as she was with friends here, so they have been very generous every year by supplying the food for this event and they usually put in a team and have a lot of fun.”

And, while recognizing the reason for the fundraiser, the gravity of the matter, Busby emphasizes the fun of the actual event. “We want this event to be promising and have a future and be a legacy for Amber, and at the end it’s a pretty emotional day for us, so when we have people around that knew Amber and want to help out with it, it just makes us feel warm and happy that we can all be together and have a fun day, but also remember her too.”

Busby adds that, over the years, the Sugar Bowl has “adopted” previous winners, recipients of scholarships and those who just want to support the Foundation into their family.

“The tournament is not just for Amber’s friends and family to have a day to remember, it’s also that lawn bowling is fun! It’s a recreational event that is fun to do to get people involved. It’s a great combination of people that we don’t even know who just want to be part of it, and then those who have a connection to either journalism or writing in Calgary or to Amber herself.”

The Sugar Bowl takes place Saturday, August 12 at 1 p.m. at the Calgary Rotary Park Lawn Bowling Club (705 – 1 St NE). The deadline for registration ends on Monday, August 7, but there is always a (slight) chance at getting in a last-minute team. Direct donations to the Amber Webb-Bowerman Memorial Foundation can be made at

Kari Watson is a writer and former Listings Editor of FFWD Weekly, and has continued to bring event listings to Calgary through theYYSCENE and her event listings page, The Culture Cycle. Contact her at