The predecessor to the Weston Family Foundation was first established in the 1950s by Willard Garfield Weston and his wife Reta, with a donation of shares from the family company, George Weston Limited. The Founders believed that because the funds were generated through the hard work and success of Canadian businesses, the Foundation’s donations should be given in Canada for the benefit of Canadians.
At the outset of the Family’s charitable giving, grants were mainly directed towards innovative community efforts, medical research, hospitals, universities and projects for children and young people. Many of the grants were given anonymously.
In the 1970’s and 1980’s, Garfield and Reta’s children assumed more responsibility for the Family’s philanthropy. Through this work, the daughters and sons were given the opportunity to contribute to a better society and develop personal judgment and potential. Miriam Burnett, the eldest of Garfield and Reta’s nine children, became Chairman and along with her siblings, began to take leadership in giving.
During this period, grants focused on community outreach, the environment, arts and culture and medical research. Exemplary grants within these areas have shaped the Foundation’s mandate today.
In 1976, during a visit to the McMichael Canadian Collection at Kleinberg, Ontario, Garfield Weston saw “Woodland Waterfall”, a painting by Tom Thomson, which was on loan to the Gallery. He was so taken by this great work of art that he immediately purchased and donated it to the McMichael collection, ensuring that all Canadians could enjoy the work of one of Canada’s most influential 20th century artists. At the time, the $285,000 purchase price was the most ever paid for a Canadian painting.
The Family has a long history of supporting cultural institutions across Canada, both by providing educational opportunities and capital support. 1968 began a long-term relationship with the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) which continues to this day. In March 2004, the ROM received a special gift to mark its 90th birthday. The Hon. Hilary M. Weston, Chair of Renaissance ROM, announced a donation of $20 million, consisting of $10 million from Hilary and W. Galen Weston and $10 million from The W. Garfield Weston Foundation.
The Foundation has contributed to the structural expansion of many cultural institutions. This includes the Weston Family Learning Centre at the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Weston Family Innovation Centre at the Ontario Science Centre and the Garfield Weston National Heritage Centre at the Canadian Canoe Museum.
In 2005, W. Galen Weston joined the campaign for the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 in Halifax, becoming one of seven Nation Builders. These donations ensure that the lives and times of those who passed though Pier 21 on their way to making Canada their home, will never be forgotten.
The Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum, the Banff Centre’s Arts Building and the Mendel Art Gallery represent just a small number of the many arts and culture projects that have been supported by The W. Garfield Weston Foundation.
In 1960, the Family donated $1 million to the Dr. Charles H. Best Foundation to support the Banting and Best Institute located at the University of Toronto and its innovative medical research. Dr. Best noted in his biography how much he enjoyed the visit when, with his wife, daughter and grandson, Garfield personally came to present the gift.
Funding medical research continued through the 1980’s. In 1984, the Family established the first Canadian Chair of Nutrition at McGill University. Grants for pediatric research at the Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg as well as juvenile diabetes research at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal, are representative of the Foundation’s support to major medical centres and research facilities across the country.
Outreach to communities has provided support to those in need. Through the Salvation Army, the Foundation has helped fund family resource centres, residential support homes and emergency relief, providing unprecedented assistance where the need was greatest. Funding though YWCA and YMCA branches and Boys and Girls Clubs has touched the lives of many Canadians.
A belief in the power of education and literacy has lead the Foundation to support libraries with grants to build their collections as well as programs for children. It was this passion that resulted in a grant in the early 2000’s, which made it possible for more than two million children to take a light-hearted literacy guide home to their families. This guide reminded parents and guardians of the importance of reading, not just to ensure their children have a solid start in school but an advantage in facing life’s challenges.
In 1989, the Garfield Weston Chair of Landscape Horticulture was established at the Royal Botanical Gardens. In the early years, the Foundation provided support to a range of environmental organizations such as the Young Naturalists Foundation allowing them to pilot and then produce OWL Television, a nature program for children.
Since the 1980’s, the Foundation has donated in excess of $100 million to conservation organizations across Canada, resulting in the protection of over 100,000 acres of significant natural habitats.
These projects are spread across Canada and include large landscapes such as 35,000 acres in Waterton, Alberta which will be preserved for generations to come. This project signifies the Foundation’s commitment to restoring biodiversity and helping Canadians connect with the natural world.