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Open-secret philanthropy

True level of Kathleen Richardson's financial support of Manitoba organizations will never be known

During her life, Kathleen Richardson was both omnipresent and a shadowy figure.

While it was well-known Richardson, who died at 91 on Sept. 14, 2019, was generous in her philanthropy in support of organizations such as the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Winnipeg Art Gallery, and Dalnavert Museum, she preferred to give quietly and anonymously.

SUPPLIED</p><p>The Nellie McClung statue in Manitou.</p></p>


The Nellie McClung statue in Manitou.

No one will ever know exactly how much Richardson gave in personal donations during her lifetime. The Richardson family was contacted for input into this story, but declined, saying it would continue to respect the wish to remain anonymous.

Richardson was a leading member of one of the city’s most prominent families. Daughter of James Richardson (eponym of Winnipeg’s airport) and sister to George Richardson (who for almost three decades headed the family’s company James Richardson & Sons Ltd.), she served on the company’s board from 1954 to 1998, and is credited with guiding the expansion of Pioneer Grain and helping steer the company into an international brokerage.

On May 7, 1977, Richardson created the Kathleen M. Richardson Foundation Inc., and the charity’s annual reports filed to the Canada Revenue Agency are open to the public. (The foundation wound down operations in 2006.)

However, the CRA, following its retention and disposition policies, has destroyed all the foundation’s fiscal documents up until 2002. The 2005 fiscal period filings are not currently available, but those for 2003, 2004 and 2006, offer an interesting window into the wide philanthropic good Richardson did in Winnipeg, in the province and other parts of the country.

The records show to the dollar how much the foundation gave to each organization, but out of respect for her want of anonymity, the Free Press has decided not to publish an individual breakdown.

The records show the foundation’s donations were both high — up to $2 million for one institution — but also low, with three $250 donations in 2003, and two $200 donations in 2004.

In between, there were many medium-sized donations which helped numerous groups, small and large. There were 167 organizations that received a total of $2.9 million in donations in 2003, and 158 getting a total of $4 million in 2004.

Organizations contacted, who benefited from Richardson’s past generosity, were pleased with the chance to finally thank her publicly.

MELISSA RAE GRABOWSKY / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>Kathleen Richardson with Royal Winnipeg Ballet dancers Cindy Marie Small (from left), Evelyn Hart and Tara Birtwhistle in a 2008 photo.</p>


Kathleen Richardson with Royal Winnipeg Ballet dancers Cindy Marie Small (from left), Evelyn Hart and Tara Birtwhistle in a 2008 photo.

Lindy Clubb, a founding member and current executive director of the Mixedwood Forest Society, said the foundation’s donation helped it buy the old church camp at Wellman Lake in the Duck Mountains.

Clubb said the purchase allowed the society, which was founded in Swan River in 1996 to help people understand the mixedwood forest ecosystem in the Duck Mountain Provincial Park area, to turn it into a field station to house researchers from four universities.

"The students and advisers produced research on burns, insects, wetlands, tree-ring growth, climate records, etc., all to do with logging in a boreal forest we knew little about," he said.

"Now that station is being supervised by a local band, Wuskwi Sipihk First Nation, used for their own outdoor education and ceremonies, part of our commitment to reconciliation."

Clubb said other donations from the foundation helped create the booklet The Manitoba Mixedwoods, as well as publishing a protected areas report which was instrumental in the provincial government creating the Porcupine Provincial Forest.

"For a dedicated group of volunteers, she was an important supporter, contributor and a believer in our work, which boosted our morale as much as her financial donations became a foundation for our accomplishments," he said.

"The environmental community will miss her sorely... Her passions were as wide as the valleys and rivers she helped us keep intact."

The foundation’s 2003 donation to the Nellie McClung Statue Committee helped create a statue of the author and feminist in the community of Manitou.

Barb Biggar said her co-chairwoman of the Nellie’s Homes of Manitou project, Bette Mueller, was the driving force behind the push to have a statue created in McClung’s honour in the town where she got married, lived for 20 years, and wrote her Canadian bestseller Sowing Seeds in Danny in 1908.

"The amazing part of Kathleen Richardson’s generosity is that it knew no geographic bounds, as her support of the Nellie McClung sculpture in Manitou demonstrated that she supported the entire province," Biggar said.

"Her contribution validated the importance of Nellie’s sculpture, as she was the only donor not directly connected to Manitou. To this day, the Nellie McClung Heritage Site is proud to have had the support of one of Manitoba’s leading philanthropists."

Shirley Render, former executive director of the Western Canada Aviation Museum (executive director emeritus of the Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada), said the foundation not only helped mount a Wright brothers exhibit that had to be housed in museum climate-control standards, but also helped update the organization’s antiquated computers.

"As usual, her name is not on the list of sponsors," Render said. "She always wanted to work behind the scenes.

"She was just such a good woman, and she had such a broad spectrum of what needed to be helped along... She got the museum through a couple of tough spots. She was an incredible woman."

Prairie Theatre Exchange director of development Carman Johnston said Richardson always gave the Winnipeg group an annual gift, as well as a "nice-sized gift" to its capital renovation campaign.

"She was always there for organizations which needed help," Johnston said. "She had such an impact on so many.

"She was always consistent with what she gave us. And she did it without needing anything in return. She left it up to us to put it where we wanted it to go."

In 2006, after the foundation made a total of $215,500 worth of donations to organizations including the Brandon University Foundation, Manitoba Opera Association, and Nature Conservancy Canada, it gave for a final time.

The Kathleen M. Richardson Foundation transferred its remaining assets, measured in the millions of dollars, to rest in perpetuity with The Winnipeg Foundation.

After 29 years of service, Richardson’s public foundation was no more.

It also meant, once again, the privacy curtain had been drawn.

While the principal is with the Winnipeg Foundation — as an endowment fund, the foundation spends only a portion of the interest generated — it is not known whether Richardson put the money into a fund she continued to direct or whether it entered the foundation’s general fund, letting it decide where the money would best be used.

Whichever way, in a real sense, she had become an anonymous donor again.

And, thanks to Richardson’s generosity, anonymous will continue helping the community for generations to come.


Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.

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