Responding to urgent needs

Photo: Peter Lowe retirement notice, June 4, 1957. Source: Winnipeg Foundation scrapbook.

The only thing that is constant is change. The Winnipeg Foundation experienced the essence of this concept in the 1950s – many of the changes proving to be formative in the operations of The Foundation for years to come.

There were many “firsts” during the decade, and it began with a fundamental shift in Manitoba’s tax laws that spurred a change in the focus of Foundation support.18 In 1950, new laws required provincial foundations to disperse at least 90 per cent of their assets to qualify for exemption from income tax.19 The Foundation was in a good financial position for the transition.

In 1951, The Foundation would redefine itself as a vehicle for community support in a wider range of areas, expanding to include medical research, recreational and “character building” activities, work by religious groups, and cultural projects.

While changes were taking place in the Tyndall Stone government buildings, Mother Nature was proving to be great force of change. The 1950 flood that devastated neighbourhoods along the Red River and the 1953 polio outbreak – the last and most virulent strain of a three-decade epidemic – tested the resolve of Winnipeggers. The Winnipeg Foundation stepped up, establishing itself as a leader in responding to urgent needs in emergent times. A grant of $25,000 was made to the Flood Relief Fund in 1950 and the balance of 1953’s undistributed income was pledged to assist in the polio epidemic. These supports laid the groundwork for quick responses, most recently coming in the form of $12.8 million in emergency and stabilization grants to organizations at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Read more – COVID-19-related grants

In 1957, Peter Lowe, close friend of William Forbes Alloway and the inaugural and long-time director of The Winnipeg Foundation, retired. It marked the end of an era and the beginning of the next with newly appointed Executive Director Hugh Benham. Benham would serve 19 years and was to make his own mark on the operations of The Winnipeg Foundation.

The Foundation made several grants later in the decade to fledging organizations aligned with human rights and social justice. These included grants in 1957 to start what would become Addictions Foundation of Manitoba; in 1958 to start the John Howard and Elizabeth Fry societies; and in 1959 to start the Indian and Métis Friendship Centre.

The decade closed with two more significant firsts in the history of The Foundation. While The Foundation was well versed in granting scholarships and bursaries to post-secondary students, 1958 saw the first direct grant to the University of Manitoba and United College: $2,500 for library and reference books.20 And in 1959, the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra Endowment Fund was created, the first endowment fund supporting the operations of an arts and culture institution. Learn more about Agency Funds, read Promoting sustainable futures for charities.

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