Supporting innovative social programming

Photo: Sister Celestine with Foundation Executive Director Alan Howison, 1978. Celebrating a grant in support of a new van for Holy Family Nursing Home. Source: Winnipeg Foundation files.

By the 1970s, The Winnipeg Foundation had a well-established reputation for supporting charities that worked to help those in need. The Foundation celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1971 and in a full-page article in the Saturday edition, The Winnipeg Tribune Associate Editor wrote: “Mr. Benham [Executive Director of The Winnipeg Foundation] can say with pride and justification that there has been little in the field of social welfare in the community that has been started over the years without some involvement in the part of the foundation.”38 It was both a celebratory and resounding statement about the work of The Foundation.

In its 50th anniversary publication in 1971, The Foundation noted,

“As more and more of the basic welfare needs have been provided by the public purse, the role of the Foundation has changed from one of ‘filling the gap’ to a more innovative approach that in a modest way allows for the community to experiment with new ideas or new services.”39

However, The Foundation also yearned to do more. In that same year it wrote:

“…the wealth is here in Winnipeg to do a great deal more that is experimental and innovative, but as costs mount each year, quite frankly, in The Foundation we have only the funds that permit us to swim with the tide and pick up some of the flotsam and jetsam as it floats by. To get upstream and build a dam with which the community can stem the flood of misery, poverty and despair is still well beyond our means.”

The Foundation’s call to do more was clearly heard. In 1972, The Foundation’s asset base surpassed $10 million and in 1977 it set a record, exceeding the $1 million mark for grants to the community. Bequests, donations and additions to prior gifts also hit a record high at $1.6 million that same year.

Many agencies and programs working for the betterment of the community were established or encouraged to grow with support from The Foundation during this period. Many are still proudly supported in 2021 by The Foundation including, Community Education Development Association (CEDA), Main Street Project and Rossbrook House.

The decade also saw the growth of the cultural and recreational scene in Winnipeg. In 1974, The Foundation made a significant contribution ($21,500) to the Wildlife Foundation of Manitoba to build the Fort Whyte Nature Centre and in 1978 made a substantial ($75,000) contribution to help establish the Reh-Fit Centre, a new organization focused on heart attack recovery. Almost 50 years later, Reh-Fit is a renowned fitness and recovery facility and FortWhyte Alive is still connecting humans to nature, and to the culture and heritage of the prairies, while serving as a major tourist attraction in the South End of Winnipeg.

The 1970s also saw a changing of the guard at The Winnipeg Foundation. After 19 years as Executive Director, Hugh Benham retired in 1976 and was succeeded by Alan Howison. Howison was a vocal advocate of keeping families together during his time at The Foundation, proposing innovative ideas such as a defensive marriage course, similar to defensive driving classes, and approaching social issues from a family unit perspective. Howison served at the helm of The Foundation until 1989.


In 1978, the Central Volunteer Bureau was established to support the local volunteer sector. Originally a joint initiative of The Winnipeg Foundation and United Way Winnipeg, the organization is now known as Volunteer Manitoba and provides information, training and resources on all aspects of the voluntary sector across the province. Over the years, its programs, services and partnerships have expanded to help non-profit organizations and individuals to enhance their capacity to meet the needs of their communities.

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