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The property, worth about $2-million, includes 19 hectares and sits along the Kennebecasis River in Saint John, N.B.

The Donor: Kenneth Irving

The Gift: A $2-million house in New Brunswick

The Cause: Waterkeepers Canada

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The Reason: To establish a national water centre

When Kenneth Irving received an invitation last year to the inaugural fundraising gala for Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, he wasn't sure what to make of the organization.

There are nine Waterkeeper chapters across Canada and they are all part of Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s Waterkeeper Alliance, which promotes clean water. The 2012 fundraiser in Toronto attracted an impressive collection of people from the arts, sports, business and academia.

Mr. Irving, former chief executive officer of Saint John-based Irving Oil Ltd., was impressed by the dedication of the people he met. "Since they were also committed to making a difference through Waterkeeper, I thought to myself, 'There has to be something special about this organization,'" he said in an e-mail.

Within a few months of that event, Mr. Irving decided to donate his five-bedroom home in Saint John to serve as a national water centre. The property, worth about $2-million, includes 19 hectares and sits along the Kennebecasis River.

The yet-to-be-named centre "will be open to anyone who is truly committed to the cause of swimmable, drinkable, fishable water," said Mr. Irving, who spends most of his time in Maine with his wife, Tasha. "I believe that it can be a collaboration between organizations and individuals who share that vision."

Mr. Irving, who is a grandson of industrialist K.C. Irving, added that he finds peace in the wilderness, usually on water.

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"I've also travelled to places where disease, not peace, is what you're likely to find if you decide to swim in the water. And it's not always been places abroad. The contrast to my life's special moments in the outdoors is jarring."

pwaldie@globeandmail.com

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