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The Donor: Shane Baghai

The Gifts: More than $1-million and climbing

The Causes: education, the arts, health care, recreation and many others

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When Shane Baghai was studying engineering in Britain in the 1970s, he picked up a pamphlet about Canada.

Mr. Baghai had been in Britain for a decade and felt almost at home there. He was born in Iran but his father, who owned a trucking business, sent him to boarding school and university in England. Somehow the pamphlet about Canada struck a chord and Mr. Baghai moved to Toronto in 1973 with his wife and two children. He got into the real estate business and soon became one of Canada's largest builders of luxury homes.

"I read about Canada and I became a fascinated," recalled Mr. Baghai, 63, who was born "Shahab" but got so teased at boarding school over the name the principal changed it to "Shane" after the movie western.

Mr. Baghai did more than start a business: He has also become one of Toronto's leading philanthropists, donating to dozens of causes and helping raise money for many more. His many gifts have included $300,000 for a chair in surgical oncology at Sunnybrook Health Science Centre and $150,000 for a diagnosis sharing system. He has given $300,000 to the University of Toronto for graduate scholarships in English literature, one of his passions. And he helped the university raise $329-million.

Other gifts have gone to the Stratford Festival, the Hospital for Sick Children and Princess Margaret Hospital, which has regularly received homes worth roughly $500,000 from Mr. Baghai's company for an annual fundraising lottery. In total, he estimates he has given away more than $1-million, but friends put the figure at more than $3-million.

Mr. Baghai practises the Baha'i faith and he has helped fellow Baha'is in Iran. The religion, which believes God manifests His will through many messengers including Jesus and Muhammad, has been persecuted in Iran and Mr. Baghai has brought several Iranians facing execution to Canada. "I'm happy to say that I made a difference to the ones I could," he said.

For Mr. Baghai, charity is a duty. "It's true we pay our taxes," he said. "But that may not be enough, particularly in cases where this county has been very, very generous to most immigrants … I guess it's very selfish – I get my high out of this."

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