The Stars Behind the Stars

Through promotional events, the team running Canada’s Walk of Fame seeks to regularly recognize and inspire the nation’s creative talent

The 2012 Canada’s Walk of Fame Awards Show took place at the Ed Mirvish Theatre, in Toronto.

If there’s one thing Mary Pompili wants you to know, it’s that Canada’s Walk of Fame is much more than a list of stars on the sidewalk. As the nonprofit organization’s chief operating officer, Pompili, who joined in 2010, is charged with building awareness and understanding of the brand amid expansion plans. And as she takes the Walk of Fame past its 15th anniversary, she sits poised to harness its full potential, but to do so has involved widening its format with new programs.

“We’re building from a one-day-event model to an organization that celebrates Canadian achievement year-round,” Pompili explains. The transformation is important because it’s turning the Toronto tourist attraction into something that can truly celebrate the nation and inspire its people.

Pompili, a Toronto native and passionate marketing executive, is the perfect person to lead the charge. She spent seven years as vice president of marketing at Holt Renfrew, where she enhanced the company’s leadership role in Canada, led a successful rebranding, and pioneered emotional branding programs such as “retail as theatre” events. From there, the executive moved into the arts and culture industry and joined Luminato, a 10-day arts festival. She helped the event attract renowned artists and bigger audiences by developing domestic and international awareness.

Mary Pompili, COO.
Mary Pompili, COO.

Today, Pompili’s focus is on Canada’s Walk of Fame. “I have been very fortunate in that I’ve been able to do what I love,” she says. “I’m here to engage people and create great experiences.” And her expertise in marketing and brand building are paying off, as she and her team have worked to scale a feel-good brand that resonates with Canadians.

While the Walk of Fame annually inducts Canadian icons (recent inductees have included Phil Hartman, Russ Jackson, Sarah McLachlan, and Team Canada 1972), Pompili is focused on adding other initiatives and programs that will build awareness and understanding of the site and the nonprofit behind it throughout the year. For instance, the Canada’s Walk of Fame Festival, held each September since 2010, features 100 percent Canadian content with three days of music programming and pairs emerging artists with iconic Canadian headliners. “Crowds come to see the well-known artists, and we are also giving a platform to aspiring young Canadian musicians,” Pompili says. Other programs further engage and recognize youth; one, the Allan Slaight Award, recognizes young Canadians for achievement in the arts, sports, or philanthropy. Past winners include Melanie Fiona, Drake, and Nikki Yanofsky.

In 2011, Canada’s Walk of Fame launched “A Song for Canada.” The competition asked entrants to write an essay or poem that would capture the essence of the Canadian identity. Submissions, totaling more than 600, came pouring in from all parts of Canada. “We received submissions from entrants aged 9–91,” Pompili says. “The common thread is that we’re all Canadian and we’re proud.” The winner, Calum Graham, from High River, Alberta, collaborated on writing the song “I’m Here” with Raine Maida of Our Lady Peace, Chantal Kreviazuk, and Stephan Moccio. Kreviazuk performed the anthem on the Canada’s Walk of Fame’s Awards Show later that year.

Under Pompili’s leadership, big ideas are welcomed. As a registered charity, Canada’s Walk of Fame has 16 board members, eight staff members, and a number of key corporate sponsors and individual supporters. According to Pompili, each part of the organization is integral to generating and implementing new programs and events. “We are never short on ideas,” she says.

One such idea was the RBC Emerging Artist Music Mentorship Prize, designed to “inspire and support young, gifted Canadian music artists.” The winner will receive $25,000, performance opportunities at major venues, private recording-studio time with established mentors, and introductions to agents, managers, lawyers, and industry executives. Secondary winners will receive smaller cash prizes and the chance to perform at Canada’s Walk of Fame events.

Through such programs, Canada’s Walk of Fame is emerging as the nation’s foremost outlet honouring and celebrating excellence across music, sports, film, television, literature, visual and performing arts, and science and innovation. Last year saw 30,000 nominations from 130 different countries. “People all over the world want to have a voice in the nominating process, and it’s very exciting to us,” Pompili says. For her and her team, it’s validation that their efforts are raising awareness not just locally but around the globe.

In the geographically expansive and culturally diverse nation of Canada, the Walk of Fame helps reinforce the common ground that unites the country’s people. “It’s incredibly important to recognize the wealth of talent in our country,” Pompili says. “The achievements of the inductees and the artists we spotlight are an inspiration to Canadians in their own pursuit of excellence.”