Donner Canadian Foundation



Toronto, Canada

Tax-Exempt Status:





Private foundation

Executive Director:

Helen McLean

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The Donner Canadian Foundation is a philanthropic institution founded by steel magnate William H. Donner (1864-1953) to support projects in Canada. It has funded public-policy projects related to arms control, free-market public policy at the provincial level in Canada, and international environmentalism.


Steel magnate William H. Donner (1864-1953) founded what was to become the William H. Donner Foundation in 1932. In the 1940s, Donner moved to Montreal and became interested in the research of pioneering McGill University neurologist Dr. Wilder Penfield. In 1947, Donner donated C$232,000 to McGill to construct the Donner Building for Medical Research, which stood until 2001. Three years later, Donner created the Donner Canadian Foundation, one of Canada’s oldest philanthropies. The foundation currently has six descendants of Donner on its nine-person board.1

Foreign Policy Giving

The foundation spent its initial years supporting think tanks analyzing Canadian foreign policy. From 1969 through 1989, the foundation spent C$12 million creating foreign-policy think tanks, including the North-South Institute in 1976 and the Canadian Centre for Arms Control and Development in 1984. The Canadian Centre’s chief accomplishment was to successfully argue against a 1987 proposal of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney to purchase 10-12 nuclear submarines to protect Canada against Soviet aggression in the Arctic. Neither of the Donner-funded foreign policy think tanks now exists.2

Center-Right Giving

In 1993, the Donner Canadian Foundation moved towards the center-right. In 1997, a C$420,000 grant helped to establish the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, a free-market think tank for Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.3 Other Donner grants helped to establish the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies in Nova Scotia and the Montreal Economic Institute. It made a C$700,000 grant to the Society for the Advancement of Educational Research for early research into establishing charter schools in Canada.4

“We changed emphasis in 1993,” Donner Canadian Foundation executive director Patrick Luciani told the Toronto Star. “It [the foundation] had been a classic Canadian foundation, quite liberal.  But the Donner family saw the country going through a financial crisis and they wanted to fund projects that looked at more competition, less government.”5

The Donner Canadian Foundation continues its support of center-right Canadian think tanks today. Its 2019 grant recipients included grants to the C.D. Howe Institute, Fraser Institute, Institute for Liberal Studies, MacDonald-Laurier Institute. Montreal Economic Institute, and Additional public policy grants went to Hillsdale College for general support and for an award sponsored by the New Criterion and the University of Delaware for a program of Radio America supporting entrepreneurship. 6

Environmentalist Giving

The Donner Canadian Foundation donates more to environmental and human rights causes than it does for public policy. Among the 2019 recipients of Donner Canadian Foundation grants are the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Ecotrust Canada, Nature Conservancy of Canada, World Wildlife Fund Canada, Doctors Without Borders Canada, the Jane Goodall Institute of Canada, and RAVEN (Respecting Aboriginal Values and Environmental Needs).  In addition, Tides Foundation Canada received two grants totaling C$105,000.7

In 2019, the Donner Canadian Foundation, collaborating with the Canadian federal government, the British Columbia provincial government, the Nature Conservancy of Canada, Patagonia, and the Wyss and Wilburforce Foundations, purchased 70,000 hectares of land from Glacier Resorts, which gave up an effort to built a ski resort in the Jumbo Valley of British Columbia after 30 years of legal wrangling. The land will become a protected wilderness area under control of the Ktunaxa Nation Council.8


  1. “William H. Donner,” biography at the McGill University Archives website, (accessed October 26, 2020).
  2. Gerald Wright, “Why Think Tanks Should Seek Philanthropic Funds,”, September 21, 2018, (accessed October 27, 2020)
  3. Mike Byfield and Philip Hope, “Pulse of The Province,” Alberta Report, January 5, 1998.
  4. Donald Gutstein, “Where School Choicers Got Started,”, March 8, 2004, (accessed October 27, 2020)
  5. Thomas Walkom, “Canada Too ‘Liberal,’ So Donner Family Taking Foundation Down A More Controversial Path,” Toronto Star, October 25, 1997.
  6. “Donner Canadian Foundation 2019 Grants,” (accessed October 27, 2020)
  7. “Donner Canadian Foundation 2019 Grants,” (accessed October 27, 2020)
  8. Megan Michelson, “The Controversial Ski Resort That Will Never Exist,” Outside Online, January 21, 2020, (accessed October 27, 2020).
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Donner Canadian Foundation

8 Prince Arthur Avenue, third floor