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Alumni donate horse farms, gas wells, cottage property

Several times each year, alumni or their families donate property to the University of Toronto or its three federated universities -- St. Michael's, Trinity and Victoria.

Usually there is a specific direction as to what to do with funds raised by its sale. Most recently, an alumnus left a house in Toronto's Beaches neighbourhood with the proviso that proceeds from its sale go to the School of Dentistry.

"We usually just take ownership and sell as soon as we can," says John Bisanti, the university's chief capital projects officer.

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Some properties outside Toronto, however, whether acquired as gifts or through funds raised from alumni, are incorporated into the university's real estate portfolio. One example is Joker's Hill, an 860-acre farm in King Township north of Toronto, complete with a 16,000-square-foot mansion, stables, cottages and outbuildings. It was given to the university by Shoppers Drug Mart founder Murray Koffler and his wife Marvelle in 1995.

"We have the departments of biology, zoology and forestry studying there all the time," explains Don Beaton, the university's director of real estate.

As a redevelopment site, the property's 400 western acres would be worth millions, he says. However, "we have no intention of selling at this time."

U of T also owns 150 acres with 300 metres of frontage on Gull Lake near Minden, Ont. Bought 80 years ago, the faculty of engineering uses it as a camp to train undergraduates in surveying.

Victoria College is the envy of its sister institutions when it comes to real estate. It owns and leases out the land under the Lillian Massey Building on the southeast corner of Bloor Street West and University Avenue, the Colonnade next door, the Britannica building next door to that, and the Cadillac Fairview office building at the corner of Bloor and St. Thomas streets. It also owns much of St. Thomas Street, plus properties along Charles Street.

"The university acquired the Bloor Street lands starting in the 1920s," says Larry Kurtz, Victoria's bursar. "It was sheer gut instinct on their part. They thought the land would be needed some time in the future or would be extremely valuable." Rents from the land leases are used to support programs.

Victoria also has a mixed bag of holdings outside Toronto. On a donated property near Weyburn, Sask., for example, natural gas wells pump cash into its coffers.

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