More than 50 years ago, John Daniels got a helping hand from the University of Toronto when his part-time wages weren't enough to cover his fees at the school's faculty of architecture.
Mr. Daniels, 81, returned the favour yesterday, with a $14-million gift to his former faculty. The donation includes $5-million for scholarships, with preference going to budding architects who, like Mr. Daniels, are the first in their family to go to university.
"Education is the foundation of so much that I have been able to accomplish," the Toronto businessman and developer told a crowd in a basement room at the faculty's century-old building. "Today, we return a great debt."
Yesterday's donation also includes a $9-million contribution to a major renovation and expansion of the school's College Street site. In recognition of the gift, the school will be renamed the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design.
"What we desperately need is more space," architecture dean George Baird said. "We would like this to be the premier school in the country."
The renovation of the building, he said, will help with that goal. The faculty has been in its existing home since 1960, when the faculty of dentistry moved out.
Mr. Daniels, who graduated in 1950, spent his first year in architecture at a makeshift campus in a munitions plant in Ajax, Ont., because the university was crowded with returning soldiers. Still, he said, he was surprised by the space available to today's students. "They are crowded together like cattle," he said. "The conditions are terrible."
The proposed building project will include energy-efficiency upgrades, an additional floor and more studio space, and is expected to cost about $21-million. The university has agreed to contribute $4-million to the project and the rest will be raised through private donations. Construction is expected to begin in about three years.
Prof. Baird said the new money for scholarships is equally important to the school and will double the funds available.
Mr. Daniels said his wife, Myrna, deserves credit for that part of the gift, an acknowledgment of his own humble background. A first-generation Canadian, Mr. Daniels arrived from Poland when he was 12 on the eve of the Second World War. He told the crowd yesterday that he knew no English and spent his first months in a kindergarten class before moving to Grade 5 and then Grade 8 that year.
After graduating from the University of Toronto, Mr. Daniels became a key player in the Canadian building industry. He played a role in landmark projects including Toronto's Eaton Centre and the Toronto-Dominion Centre. He is the chairman and chief executive officer of Daniels Corp., a residential development company he founded in 1983.
"It really is the Canadian dream," said prominent Toronto architect Bruce Kuwabara, who was at yesterday's announcement. Mr. Kuwabara said the school has been working for several years to attract a major donation for its building project. "With something like this, everything is timing."
Mr. Daniels said he decided to make the gift now while he is able to enjoy it and because he saw the need. His nephew, former U of T law school dean Ron Daniels, also played a key role in arranging the gift.
David Palmer, U of T's chief fundraiser, called the donation "utterly transformative," noting it is the largest to a Canadian architecture school.
Earlier this year, Montreal developer David Azrieli gave $5.5-million to Carleton University's architecture school, taking his total donations to that school to more than $8-million.