Skip to main content

Walk down the halls of most downtown hospitals and you'll see signs of old Toronto money. Shiny plaques commemorate the Eaton Building at Toronto General, named in honour of contributions from the venerable but now-defunct retail chain, and a wing of the Hospital for Sick Children bears the name of Conrad Black's foundation.

But next time you pick up Aunt Sally from the outpatient ward, take a second look at the names on those plaques, because the face of philanthropy is changing, especially in the health-care sector.

Fundraising professionals say charities are looking beyond the old WASP war chest that has traditionally funded the city's hospitals and turning to a new group of philanthropists who come from outside the downtown core -- and reflect an ethnic diversity that hasn't been seen before.

Story continues below advertisement

Prominent among them are people such as Qasim (Chuck) Choksi, who runs the 75-outlet Everything For A Dollar Store chain, high-tech entrepreneurs Lee Lau and K.Y. Ho, Giovanni and Concetta Guglietti, who trace their wealth to lumber yards and construction-equipment firms, and real-estate developers such as the DeGasperis, Muzzo and Fidani families. Bay Street's financiers are still important, but Toronto's charities are no longer fuelled exclusively by old WASP money.

Mr. Choksi and his four brothers came to Canada from Pakistan in 1973 and settled in Markham, where they put down roots in the Sunni Muslim community. That small, suburban circle was their world until Mr. Choksi's father died of lung cancer a few years back.

The loss sparked a relationship with Princess Margaret Hospital, where their father was treated. Now, the facility is conducting an ambitious rebuilding campaign as part of the University Health Network that also includes Toronto Western Hospital and a brand-new Toronto General Hospital. The Choksi brothers tossed in more than $1-million, and Chuck Choksi stepped up as a fundraiser.

Twisting arms for donations is a new experience for Mr. Choksi, one he shouldered reluctantly. His father "always stressed being quiet about charitable work -- don't look for credit." But after being approached by the UHN team, he spoke with a number of friends, including leaders of his mosque, and decided to get involved.

"We decided it was important to have representatives of our community stepping forward. That was one of the driving forces in my joining the campaign," he says. "And this country has been wonderful to me and my family. I know I owe it to Canada to give something back."

Involving families such as the Choksis has made the UHN's $400-million campaign a breakthrough. It marks the first time a major Toronto charity campaign has reached beyond the downtown corporate community and attracted support from families of various ethnic backgrounds. "We recognized from the start that there were something like $3.5-billion worth of fundraising drives in the 416 and 905 area, all targeting the same people," says Bryce Douglas, a retired investment banker at RBC Dominion Securities who is heading up the UHN campaign. "So we recruited over 180 volunteers from all walks of life, a rainbow coalition, so we could focus on all the different communities that make up the city."

Most of these entrepreneurs have never made large personal donations before. They had given to community causes -- Villa Columbo for the Italian set, for instance -- but nothing more. In fact, many previously saw philanthropy as an extension of their business dealings. They would buy a $10,000 table at a charity ball -- or disease dinner, as they're known in corporate circles. Then brushes with mortality, typically in the form of cancer or heart disease, moved these individuals to make personal gifts to the hospitals.

Story continues below advertisement

The Choksi family favoured lung-cancer research in part because of the lack of Canadian public funding. "There's a stigma attached to this disease because of its connection to smoking," Mr. Choksi explains. "Because of that stigma, the government tends to give out money for research into other cancers, such as breast or brain, but not fund lung-cancer research."

The first families of real estate opening their wallets include the three DeGasperis brothers -- Alfredo, Angelo and Antonio -- and their offspring. They have built neighbourhood after neighbourhood from a corporate base near Vaughan and kept a low profile on the philanthropy front while doing it. That changed when the brothers decided to give $7-million to the UHN to support cardiac surgery.

"They felt that by supporting this department, they will not only ensure the preservation of the current level of excellence, but also aid in further great achievements over coming years," said Brian Wasserman, a spokesman for the brothers. "The DeGasperis family is proud to be able to give back to a community that has provided them with the opportunity for great success."

Gifts of a similar scale came from the Fidani clan, who own Orlando Corp. in Mississauga, one of the country's largest private developers. They gave $2-million toward radiation-therapy research at Princess Margaret Hospital and $6-million for a cancer centre at Credit Valley Hospital. The cheques get signed by Carlo Fidani, who runs a 70-year-old company founded by his Italian-born father, Orey Fidani. Cancer claimed the patriarch four years ago. Other real-estate types throwing seven-digit cheques at the UHN from outside the city limits include Burlington's Guglietti family and the Muzzos, who are north of the 401. The high-tech community up in Markham has seen Lee Lau and K.Y. Ho, co-founders of ATI Technologies, chip in millions for cancer research.

Which is not to say old-guard Toronto families, and the downtown types, are letting the hospitals down. Teamed up with Mr. Douglas in leading the charge for UHN are Loretta and Ted Rogers, the campaign's honorary co-chairs, and RBC Dominion Securities chairman Anthony Fell, who is head of the hospitals' board of trustees. Each has also given more than a million.

Leaving no stone unturned, the establishment figures running the campaign have also found million-dollar-plus support among Toronto's downtown entrepreneurs and newly wealthy. Raymond Chang, whose stake in CI Fund Management is worth more than $200-million, stepped up, as did fellow mutual-fund executive Bob Krembil, who sold his stake in Trimark for an even larger sum.

Story continues below advertisement

Other executives making their first large public donations include BCE chairman Richard Currie, Goldcorp founder Robert McEwan and retired BMO Nesbitt Burns president John MacNaughton. And from the city's Jewish community, the work of fundraisers who include Nancy Pencer and Joey Tanenbaum has wrung major contributions from the likes of Joseph Burnett.

For the hospitals, it doesn't take fundraisers who have roots in Hong Kong or are part of the Jewish social scene to bring in major donors from various ethnic backgrounds. Executives on the campaign say the urge to donate invariably starts with family medical problems. Mr. Douglas says, "If you've got cancer, got heart problems, this is where you go, and that's where we've drawn a great many of our donors."

The UHN can also thank all the renovations and expansion for a bit of vanity appeal. For major benefactors, there are seemingly endless opportunities for anything from a personalized surgical suite or atrium, yours for $5-million, up to a $25-million "naming opportunity" on a new clinical services building.

Of the $330-million now committed to the UHN campaign, $124-million has come from 52 individual donors, a departure from past campaigns that have leaned heavily on corporate support. All this individual giving, much of it from entrepreneurs, marks a cultural shift in Canada. "The United States has traditionally led Canada, proportionately, in philanthropic giving. Yet between 1996 and 2002, charitable giving in Canada increased by 62.5 per cent," says Malcolm Burrows, who runs charity and gift planning for the Bank of Nova Scotia. "Clearly, Canadians' attitudes towards giving are shifting."

In fact, an increasing number of wealthy Canadians -- 73 per cent of those with more than $500,000 in savings -- see a "vital need for private philanthropy, primarily because social priorities have not received adequate funding," according to an Ipsos-Reid poll released last week. The survey found the increase in private giving is also driven by favourable tax treatment of donations and the intergenerational transfer of wealth that's playing out, as the parents of the baby boomers pass on their estates.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • All comments will be reviewed by one or more moderators before being posted to the site. This should only take a few moments.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed. Commenters who repeatedly violate community guidelines may be suspended, causing them to temporarily lose their ability to engage with comments.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.
Cannabis pro newsletter