Setting the tone

Photo: A large group shucks corn at Knowles School, 1940s. Credit: Knowles Centre.


The Foundation’s first six grants, made in 1922, set the tone for its future work by addressing inequities and supporting those in vulnerable situations. Today, The Foundation’s activity and mandate remain firmly focused on social justice and human rights.

Those first six grants, which were each valued at $1,000, went to Margaret Scott Nursing Mission, Victorian Order of Nurses, Children’s Hospital, Home of the Friendless, Children’s Aid Society, and Knowles Home. They helped ensure those experiencing poverty, including children and seniors, had access to shelter, food, education and healthcare.

After taking in a homeless boy in 1907, Wilfred Knowles soon opened Knowles Home on Broadway to accommodate the growing number of boys seeking shelter. Word spread quickly, and the Home moved twice to accommodate a growing number of residents before finding a permanent residence in 1912: a 40-acre site in North Kildonan with room for 70 boys. In 1924, the Home changed its name to the Knowles School for Boys. The Winnipeg Foundation was a significant benefactor of the Knowles School, granting nearly $45,000 between 1921 and 1950. It was also a recipient of The Foundation’s first Designated Fund, which was started in 1925 by Mr. A. R. McNichol. Support for Knowles Centre continues to this day.

Since then, the definition of human rights has expanded significantly. Today, human rights pertain to specific individual or group characteristics as listed in the Manitoba Human Rights Code. These include ancestry, including perceived race; nationality; ethnic background or origin; religion; sex; gender identity; sexual orientation; marital or family status; physical or mental ability; or social disadvantage.

The Foundation supports programs and projects that promote the inclusion of these rights, and many are covered in specific stories later in this publication. For example, reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities is a prominent priority for us (read Committing to learning and growing on our shared journey of truth and reconciliation). The Foundation has also provided significant support for refugees and asylum seekers (read Welcome to Winnipeg). We take serious interest in gender equity, the rights of the 2SLGBTQ+ community (read Building an equitable society for all) and the growing importance of the environment as a human right (read Creating eco-conscious citizens).

The Foundation has also made many grants that support the promotion of human rights more broadly. With the opening of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR), Winnipeg has defined itself as a City of Human Rights. The largest grant in The Foundation’s history – $6 million – was to CMHR, which is devoted to exploring human rights and engaging people to discuss and commit to taking action against hate and oppression. This grant was made in 2004 and was paid out over 10 years.

Common Ground Human Rights Symposium, held in 2019 by The Winnipeg Foundation in partnership with CMHR, aimed to ensure community foundations across Canada are well-informed about human rights issues citizens face every day.

“It is important that community foundations are aware of the human rights challenges happening in the communities they serve,” Jennifer Partridge, The Foundation’s Strategic Projects Associate and organizer of the symposium, said in an interview following the event. “In this way, community foundations can take a leadership role in supporting programs that address local human rights challenges, building an equitable society, and helping create more empathetic citizens.”

The Foundation has also supported Manitoba Association for Rights and Liberties in many ways. A five-year commitment, which was completed in 2012, supported a school-based youth leadership program which aimed to create resources for human rights education in high schools, as well as create a youth leadership group to organize and implement human rights initiatives within Winnipeg high schools.

This story was informed by research done by Conrad Sweatman (Manitoba Historical Society) and Keith Black (Executive Director of the Knowles School for Boys, 1967–1974), which appeared in The Foundation’s 90th anniversary publication.

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