Manitoba History: A Remedy for Wooden Legs and Dead Hands: The Early Years of The Winnipeg Foundation
by Gordon Goldsborough
The Cleveland Connection
Scottish-American business magnate Andrew Carnegie (1835–1919) may have set the tone for philanthropy in the early twentieth century when he advocated that it was the duty of wealthy people to donate for the benefit of society, especially in those communities where their money had been made. When, in 1901, Carnegie became the world’s wealthiest man from the sale of his Carnegie Steel Corporation, he embarked on a worldwide campaign to donate his millions to worthwhile causes. Among the results was Winnipeg’s first public library building that served the public on William Avenue until its replacement in 1994.
Winnipeg’s Carnegie Library was not the first work undertaken in support of the city’s social welfare. As early as 1872, civic-minded Winnipeggers organized a general hospital on the banks of the Red River, near the foot of present-day Lombard Street.  It led to the Winnipeg General Hospital in the vicinity of today’s Health Sciences Centre. Other facilities that opened in those early days included a Women’s Aid Society Hospital (1883), a Christian Women’s Union (CWU) Maternity Hospital (1884), a CWU Children’s Home (1885) and a Nursing School (1887). Benevolent associations included a Prisoners’ Aid Association (1890), an Aberdeen Association (1892) to supply lonely settlers with reading material, a Free Kindergarten Association (1892), and a Winnipeg Lodging and Coffee House Association (1893) to provide low-cost accommodation for single men. In the 1890s, the Salvation Army established homeless shelters for women and men. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union, always a considerable force for charitable work, founded the Door of Hope around 1897 to reform “the inebriate women we so frequently read of in the press reports of the police court and station.” 
The Winnipeg Foundation, established in 1921, has the distinction of being the first community foundation in Canada but it was preceded as the world’s first such entity by several American counterparts, including one in Cleveland, Ohio. Founded in January 1914, the Cleveland Foundation was the brainchild of banker and lawyer Frederick H. Goff who had concluded that greater good could be achieved by local philanthropists, living and dead, by pooling their cumulative resources. A novel concept at the time, the primary advantage of the community foundation was that:
Too often, good-intentioned philanthropic gifts could not achieve their desired ends due to restrictions placed on the funds by “dead hands,” that is, by long-dead people who had decreed how their money could be used without making provision for changing circumstances. A Boston hospital, for instance, was prevented from using funds donated to give wooden legs to American Civil War veterans when the supply of deserving veterans inevitably declined.  In contrast, unencumbered donations to community foundations allowed fund administrators to apply them to the present, most pressing needs of the community.
William F. Alloway built his fortune first as a tobacco merchant, later as a freight agent and Métis scrip dealer, and finally as head of Alloway and Champion, the first private bank in western Canada.  By 1910, Alloway was among 19 Winnipeg millionaires.  Long-time Foundation employee Peter Lowe would later recount that Alloway became aware of the Cleveland Foundation and thought that it would be an appropriate vehicle for his own philanthropic intents. Alloway would later explain that “a meeting of public citizens was called at which [he] explained what had been done in other cities, and it was thereupon decided to ask the legislature for a charter.”  That group of citizens, convened at the Alloway home in February 1921,  included Hugh John Macdonald—son of Canada’s first Prime Minister, premier of Manitoba for nine months in 1900, and a police magistrate. Macdonald and four other members of Manitoba’s business and political elite were enlisted for a provisional Advisory Board and solicitor Charles P. Wilson drafted a petition of incorporation. They asked MLA Edith Rogers to sponsor the petition in the Legislature. With its powerful backers, the Foundation’s Act of Incorporation passed quickly and smoothly through first and second readings, and received Royal assent on 26 April 1921.  Six weeks later, at the Foundation’s first official meeting on 6 June 1921, Alloway delivered its first (and, for the next three years, only) donation, a cheque for $100,000, roughly equivalent to $1 million in today’s currency. 
Its Act of Incorporation stipulated that the new Foundation would be directed by an Advisory Board of five members, of which the Mayor of Winnipeg would be ex officio. The founding Board members were: judge Thomas G. Mathers, judge Robert M. Dennistoun, lawyer William E. Macara, baker (and Mayor) Edward Parnell, and Anglican cleric Robert B. McElheran.
Initially, the term of Board member service was two years although, in 1924, it was lengthened to four years, with the adoption in 1938 of staggered terms to ensure that only two Board members would be replaced at any one time. Their duty was to determine how income from the Foundation’s principal assets would be distributed, with the restriction that they were “… not to permit themselves to be privately solicited by or on behalf of any person or institution in connection with any of the matters within the jurisdiction of the Board.”  Initially, the Board met rarely, generally once a year. By the 1940s, increases in assets, and the necessity to keep abreast of investments, led the Board to meet more frequently.
The Advisory Board was a male bastion until 1943, when its first female member was appointed. She came with impeccable credentials. Muriel S. Richardson, matriarch of Winnipeg’s powerful Richardson family, had assumed the leadership of multi-faceted business interests on the sudden death of her husband, James A. Richardson. Richardson brought to the Foundation’s table not only her business acumen but also a deep knowledge of charitable work.
From its conception, the Board worked to make Winnipeggers aware of the Foundation, in hopes of garnering their support. Early financial records include fees paid to those who “had done a considerable amount of journalist work for the Foundation during the year,”  and through the years, the Foundation would commission articles explaining its virtues. The Foundation was careful to emphasize that donations large and small were welcome and, to illustrate, lists to this day in its Annual Report a contribution called “The Widow’s Mite,” received in September 1924. Delivered anonymously to the Alloway and Champion bank office, The Mite consisted of three, five-dollar gold coins that had been minted in 1912 but which were no longer in circulation.  Whether or not the gift was from a selfless widow, as was concluded at the time, the term was in common parlance long before 1924 and local clergy preached the biblical parable of how virtues would accrue from “a gift of seemingly little value if directed properly and given in the right spirit.” 
During his lifetime, William Alloway would remain the single largest benefactor of the Foundation, making periodic donations of company shares. But, by far, the largest single gift to the Foundation would come after his death, from his estate and that of his wife Elizabeth M. Alloway. Having no children to inherit their fortunes, the Alloways gave the bulk of their estates to the Foundation. By the time their estates were probated, the Alloways were worth slightly over $2 million, and careful management by their executors—all of whom were connected in some way with the Foundation—resulted in an annual revenue stream that enabled Foundation grants to leap ten-fold in 1931, from around $6,000 during the 1920s, to around $62,000 through the 1930s.
The increase in grant activity made possible by the Alloway bequests led almost immediately to the hiring of staff to handle day-to-day transactions of the Foundation.  Peter Lowe, an employee of the Alloway and Champion Bank who had voluntarily handled the increasing volume of work was induced to quit the bank and become the Foundation’s first paid employee, and to acquire dedicated office space in the McIntyre Block on Main Street, and from 1949 in the Childs Building at the corner of Portage and Main. The staff complement of the Foundation grew, first with a stenographer to deal with incoming and outgoing correspondence then, in 1948, with the hiring of war veteran Greville E. Winter to handle accounting and other office administrative matters.
The diverse portfolio of Alloway assets included large tracts of land southwest of the city limits. Over the years, the executors would raise funds from the sale of subdivided land as the municipalities of Tuxedo and Charleswood were developed. Yet some estate assets declined in value. Six shares of the Manitoba Free Press Company, which Alloway had directed not to be sold for less than $2,000 each, had no buyers willing to pay anywhere near this price by the 1930s. They were sold quietly for $225 each on the understanding that the buyer would make an anonymous donation of $10,650 (the balance on Alloway’s assessment of the shares) to the Foundation. The donation became known as the Good Will Fund, which is still held today by the Foundation.
The Alloway bequest was not the only large acquisition of the early 1930s. In December 1931, another member of the 1910 list of Winnipeg millionaires, Winnipeg real estate and insurance executive Andrew R. McNichol suffered a fatal heart attack while walking down Portage Avenue. During his life, he had taken a philanthropic interest in a wide range of organizations. The Foundation had been the vehicle by which McNichol delivered his support to several of these charities, so it fell to the Foundation to continue its support through bequests from the McNichol estate. In 1933, Winnipeg businessman William Harvey died, leaving his wealth to his wife but “expressing the hope that she would have in mind his oft expressed desire to benefit the needy and deserving of the City of Winnipeg through the medium of the Winnipeg Foundation.”  Mrs. Harvey dutifully acted on her late husband’s request and named the Foundation as the primary beneficiary of her estate, including real estate in Alberta, two apartment blocks in Winnipeg, and the Harvey residence in the city’s prestigious Armstrong’s Point. 
Through the 1940s and early ‘50s, the Foundation received assets from the estates of deceased Winnipeggers. A 1942 bequest from the estate of E. F. Haffner gave “furniture, crockery, silverware and articles of personal use” to his widow and the residual value to the Foundation. A difficult estate disposition occurred after the death of University of Manitoba botanist Reginald Buller, who bequeathed the residue of his assets to the Royal Society of Canada and the Foundation. Having no family in Canada, there was no one to take possession of Dr. Buller’s cremains, which, in theory, were part of estate assets. (The dilemma was solved when Buller’s former students took possession of Buller’s urn and eventually entombed it in the wall of the federal Department of Agriculture building in Winnipeg.)  And sometimes an estate bequest to the Foundation was challenged in court. One such case in 1935 involved a man whose late wife was claimed to be of unsound mind when she donated to the Foundation. (In this case, the claim was upheld but the widower subsequently left one-half of his estate to the Foundation.) Some donations would come many years after the person to be memorialized had died. In 1951, the John Rickard Clements Memorial Fund was established by Clements’ son, though Clements (who had made a fortune in the Winnipeg real estate boom of the early 1880s) had died 25 years earlier. The donated stocks and shares had a market value of a quarter million dollars. 
Bequests were not the sole source of Foundation income; it also received donations from the general public. In 1935, the Foundation followed the lead of American community foundations by establishing a “flower fund” to which those wishing to memorialize a deceased friend or relative could make a donation in lieu of a wreath or flowers. In 1948, the Foundation established its first fund for an anonymous donor; there would be 55 such funds by 2009. From the initial Alloway donation in 1921, by 1950 there were 73 funds under Foundation administration. There was a corresponding growth in the total value of Foundation assets from the initial $100,000, to $3.6 million by 1950.
The Foundation did not manage its own assets, instead distributing them to various trust companies, which, in return for an annual fee, used trained professionals to invest for the highest possible annual income, which formed the basis for grants distributed annually. Foundation support was given only to organizations, never to individuals, and only to those which had a charitable mandate. This criterion was interpreted broadly to include:
Revenue from the Alloway donation amounted to slightly over $6,000 by the end of 1922. After careful deliberation at a meeting on Boxing Day 1922, the Foundation Board selected six organizations to receive grants of $1,000 each: Margaret Scott Nursing Mission, Home of the Friendless, Knowles Home for Boys, Victorian Order of Nurses, Children’s Hospital and Children’s Aid Society. 
In November 1922, the Federated Budget Board spawned the Community Chest of Winnipeg—precursor to today’s United Way—as a way to fundraise more efficiently on behalf of its thirty constituent welfare organizations in one coordinated campaign.  Its first campaign in 1923 was successful, as it was through the remaining 1920s. However, the stock market crash of 1929 led its campaign in the Fall of 1930 to fall far short of its target. For the next two years, the Foundation increased its contributions to help make up the shortfall for the charitable organizations.  From 1931 to 1938, Peter Lowe served on the budgeting, executive, and general committees of the Community Chest, learning first-hand the “strengths and weakness of our community agencies and services as they related to enlightened social practices.” 
While there were several organizations that received annual support from the Foundation, especially when identified by a donor as warranting special consideration (for example, the Alloways specifically identified the Children’s Home of Winnipeg, Margaret Scott Nursing Mission, Victorian Order of Nurses, and the Winnipeg General Hospital), in most cases other than where an explicit multi-year commitment was made, the Foundation was careful to give no assurance that ongoing support should be expected. 
Most Foundation funds were unencumbered in the ways they could be used, although in a few cases, restrictions were suggested. An April 1950 bequest stipulated that it be used “for the benefit of old folk of Protestant religion.”  An endowment for the Margaret Scott Fund from the McNichol estate provided an annual $100 donation for “hospital care and attention of needy nurses or retired nurses who are employed or were employed by the Victorian Order of Nurses” and $200 for “hospital care and attention of needy retired Protestant Clergymen and their wives, including the wives of deceased Protestant Clergymen.”
Religious criteria were rarely invoked in selecting grant recipients. In 1937, minutes of the Advisory Board recorded that an estate bequest of $1,000 from Moses Finkelstein, deceased proprietor of the Northwest Hide and Fur Company, was “the first donation received from a member of the Jewish Community,”  though the Jewish Old Folks Home and Jewish Orphanage had been receiving annual Foundation support for several years by this time. On the other hand, a 1932 request for support from the Student Christian Movement was rejected because no donations to the Foundation had been “specifically earmarked for religious purposes”  and, in 1952, a request to contribute to a campaign raising funds for renovation and expansion of the St. Boniface Hospital was turned down in view of “our past contributions to Roman Catholic charities and the entire lack of capital contributions to us by citizens of this denomination.” 
Other requests that were likewise rejected included a 1939 proposal to endow a retirement home for coloured senior citizens (there were only three eligible occupants of such a facility) and a 1946 request from the Women’s Musical Club of Winnipeg for a scholarship fund for “needy music students” (apparently on grounds the students did not fit the Foundation’s definition of needy). But the Foundation was inclined to be flexible when asked to contribute to work that was not necessarily overtly charitable, but was undeniably worthy. In 1950, it contributed $25,000 to the Manitoba Flood Relief Fund. And as the incidence of poliomyelitis among Manitoba children reached epidemic proportions in the early 1950s, it gave a $9,000 grant to the Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg to help it deal with a financial shortfall arising from its polio treatment services.
In the early twentieth century, children whose parents had died, or who could not (or would not) provide for them, were often institutionalized in facilities operated by churches and social agencies. A Royal Commission on Child Welfare under social activist Charlotte Whitton proposed sweeping changes to the child welfare system. A report tabled by Whitton in November 1934 recommended the establishment of a family case working agency to absorb several existing agencies that dealt, directly or indirectly, with family welfare matters, staffed by trained social workers. Arising from these studies on how best to raise children as wards of the state was a move away from institutionalized care in favour of community-based programs such as foster homes. In 1939, Winnipeg’s Council of Social Agencies, acting on a suggestion from Foundation secretary Peter Lowe, struck a committee to look into home placement of children from the Jewish Orphanage and Children’s Aid Society.  In 1945, the Children’s Home sold their buildings on Academy Road because the number of children in its care had dwindled due to the policy of “having normal children cared for in normal family homes.” 
Another facet of the Foundation’s support for child welfare was its contributions in aid of the healthy children of poor parents. In 1930, with the onset of the Great Depression, the Foundation embarked on a campaign of “character building” to prevent juvenile delinquency via the establishment of community clubs for boys and girls, operated by the YMCA and YWCA. It was recognized that parents were the primary source of moral training for their children,  but family life was disrupted when an unemployed breadwinner disappeared, or when both parents had to work. So there was a growing public need to ensure that unsupervised children did not get into trouble. Support for youth programs would comprise the single-largest allocation from Foundation income up to 1950. This work in urban Winnipeg was a logical counterpart to another initiative, started around the same time, to fund Fresh Air Camps on Lake Winnipeg.
The School of Social Work
As the need for trained social workers grew in the 1930s and ‘40s, the University of Manitoba responded by proposing, in early 1942, a School of Social Work to be situated within its Faculty of Arts and Science. University administrators approached the provincial government for the funds needed to hire staff but were turned down, being advised instead to make an appeal to a private American foundation endowed by business tycoon John D. Rockefeller Sr.  When the Rockefeller Foundation likewise rejected the University’s appeal, The Winnipeg Foundation stepped forward. It provided $3,750 per year for three years, to hire Clarence E. Smith, a professor from the University’s Faculty of Education as the first Director of Social Work, and Helen M. Mann as a Field Supervisor to oversee students in their practical work.
The new one-year diploma program began in October 1943, with an initial group of 23 students, 22 of whom were women.  Bursaries for needy students were provided by grain company executive W. A. Murphy, the National Council of Jewish Women and the Junior League of Winnipeg. By all the accounts, the program was immediately successful and, by 1945, demand for enrolment was said to exceed the School’s capacity. However, a lingering concern was that support for the program was temporary. By 1946, when the Foundation funds ran out, the provincial and federal governments stepped in to keep it running, so the Foundation then provided another three years of support to hire an Assistant Professor. And when the School switched to a two-year program in 1952, something it had planned to do from the very beginning when resources permitted, the Foundation provided the funds to hire more staff. Thus, it can justifiably be said that the present Faculty of Social Work, and the field of social work generally, owes a debt of gratitude to the Foundation for its pioneering support.
A Broader Mandate
The Winnipeg General Hospital, established in 1872 by a group of civic-minded Winnipeggers, operated for many years on public and private donations.  Some patients were indigent or otherwise unable to pay, so it was logical that the Foundation would extend its charitable mandate to include annual support for hospitals, including the Children’s Hospital (1922), the Winnipeg General Hospital (as of 1924), and Grace Hospital (1931). Initially, these grants were used for general maintenance of the facility but, in 1935, a $1,500 grant to the Winnipeg General Hospital was intended for “certain urgent requirements of a non-ordinary character.”  Four years later, the Foundation helped the General Hospital to purchase diagnostic X-ray equipment. In 1950, the Foundation provided a $5,000 grant to assist the hospital to furnish and equip its new Women’s Pavilion, where generations of Winnipeg children would be born.
The notion that medical care was not, by strictest definition, compatible with the charitable focus of the Foundation, caused Advisory Board members to seek legal counsel when, in 1939, they were approached to support the construction of a Medical Research Laboratory on the medical campus of the University of Manitoba. A legal opinion from the Foundation’s solicitor advised that “I think that the institutions who may receive assistance from the Foundation must be limited to those having charitable objects … I do not think either the University or the Department could be considered a charitable institution.” 
Foundation support for medical care would be considered again in mid-1944 when a group of Winnipeg physicians and medical practitioners proposed the establishment of a medical research fund. The growing interest in support of medical research and treatment, combined with increasing numbers of Foundation donations that specified uses beyond its traditional mandate, led, in the late 1940s, to a growing awareness that it was probably time to widen the Foundation’s original mandate.
Ultimately, it was a change in Manitoba’s tax laws that spurred a change in the focus of Foundation support.  In 1950, new laws required provincial foundations to disperse at least 90% of their assets to qualify for exemption from income tax.  By this time, the Foundation’s prospects were looking good; after two decades of modest growth in its principal assets, the heady days of the 1950s and ‘60s would see them grow by leaps and bounds, with a corresponding increase in the magnitude of grants. So, in 1951, the Foundation would redefine itself as a vehicle for community support in a far wider range of areas, still with a core of charitable work, but expanded to include medical research, recreational and “character building” activities, work by religious groups, and cultural projects.
Death and taxes are jokingly described as life’s two certainties. For The Winnipeg Foundation, they were factors that led to profound changes to its operations. The death of William Alloway in 1930 increased dramatically the endowment of the Foundation, beginning its growth into one of the largest community foundations in the world. Changes to Manitoba’s tax laws in 1950 helped to broaden its distribution policies to include a wide range of social and cultural activities. The Winnipeg Foundation began in 1921 as a small organization for local good works and, 30 years later, was poised to become the sophisticated, multi-faceted community booster that it is today, ensuring that wooden legs and dead hands have no place in Manitoba.
1. A. Carnegie, “Wealth,” North American Review, June 1889. (accessed at http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5766)
2. “Historical sketch of the charitable institutions of Winnipeg” by Marion Bryce, MHS Transactions, Series 1, No. 54, February 1899.
4. The Winnipeg Foundation (hereafter, TWF), Minute Books, “Community Trusts or Foundations.”
5. TWF, Minute Books, “Taxation has brought the charitable instrument of Rockefellers and Carnegies within the reach of thousands”
7. Winnipeg Telegram, 29 January 1910.
8. “Noted Winnipeg resident is here,” Ottawa Journal, 13 September 1929. [TWF, Press Clipping Album, p. 35]
10. Legislative Library of Manitoba, Statutes of Manitoba, 11 George V, Vol. II – Private Acts, Chapter 165, 1921, “An Act to Incorporate the Winnipeg Foundation”
11. Measuring Worth, www.measuringworth.com/calculators (accessed 27 March 2011).
12. TWF, Minute Books, 20 June 1921.
13. TWF, Minute Books, 31 December 1924.
15. “King Memorial Church notes,” MFP, 20 May 1916, p. 12.
16. TWF, Minute Books, 25 February 1930.
17. TWF, Minute Books, 26 April 1933.
18. TWF, Minute Books, 28 December 1934.
19. “Reginald Buller: The poet scientist of mushroom city” by Gordon Goldsborough, Manitoba History, No. 47, Spring/Summer 2004.
20. TWF, Minute Books, 22 March 1951.
21. TWF, Minute Books, “Community Trusts or Foundations”
22. TWF, Minute Books, 26 December 1922.
23. “The Budget Appeal,” MFP, 11 November 1922, p. 11. The thirty welfare organizations supported by the 1922-23 Community Chest campaign were: Anti-Tuberculosis Society, Benedictine Orphanage, Boy Scouts Association of Winnipeg, Canadian National Institute for the Blind, Children’s Aid Society of Winnipeg, Children’s Home of Winnipeg, Children’s Hospital, Convalescent Hospital, Federate Budget Board, Fresh Air Camps for Children, Winnipeg General Hospital, Home of the Good Shepherd, Jewish Old Folks’ Home, Jewish Orphanage, Joan of Arc Home, Kindergarten Settlement Association, Knowles Home for Boys, Misericordia Hospital, Mothers’ Association of Winnipeg, Old Folks’ Home, Red Cross Society, St. Boniface Orphanage and Old Folks’ Home, St. Joseph’s Orphanage, Social Welfare Association of Winnipeg, United Hebrew Relief Association, Victorian Order of Nurses, Winnipeg Boys’ Club, Winnipeg Humane Society, YMCA, and YWCA.
24. TWF, Minute Books, “Distribution policies,” 30 April 1951.
27. TWF, Minute Books, 19 April 1950.
28. TWF, Minute Books, 30 December 1937.
29. TWF, Minute Books, 22 September 1932.
30. TWF, Minute Books, 25 September 1952.
31. TWF, Minute Books, 27 April 1939.
32. TWF, Minute Books, 26 January 1945.
33. “Parents largely responsible for crime among youth of today, psychologist says,” WFP, 27 December 1932. [TWF, Press Clipping Album, p. 81]
34. University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections (hereafter, UMA), University of Manitoba, Board of Governors Minutes, May 1942 – April 1946, p. 703.
35. UMA, The University of Manitoba, President’s Report for the Year Ending 30th April 1944.
36. “Historical sketch of the charitable institutions of Winnipeg” by Marion Bryce, MHS Transactions, Series 1, No. 54, February 1899.
37. TWF, Minute Books, 10 May 1935.
38. TWF, Minute Books, 28 September 1939.
39. TWF, Minute Books, “Distribution policies” by Peter Lowe, 30 April 1951.
40. TWF, Minute Books, 5 October 1950, 22 March 1951, 29 May 1951.
Page revised: 2 June 2023