June 7, 2020

Winnipeg
13° C, Light rain showers

Full Forecast

Help us deliver reliable news during this pandemic.

We are working tirelessly to bring you trusted information about COVID-19. Support our efforts by subscribing today.

No Thanks Subscribe

Already a subscriber?

Advertisement

Advertise With Us

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>

SUPPLIED

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>

MELISSA RAE GRABOWSKY / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

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@freepress.mb.ca

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason
Reporter

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.

Read full biography

Advertisement

Advertise With Us

Your support has enabled us to provide free access to stories about COVID-19 because we believe everyone deserves trusted and critical information during the pandemic.

Our readership has contributed additional funding to give Free Press online subscriptions to those that can’t afford one in these extraordinary times — giving new readers the opportunity to see beyond the headlines and connect with other stories about their community.

To those who have made donations, thank you.

To those able to give and share our journalism with others, please Pay it Forward.

The Free Press has shared COVID-19 stories free of charge because we believe everyone deserves access to trusted and critical information during the pandemic.

While we stand by this decision, it has undoubtedly affected our bottom line.

After nearly 150 years of reporting on our city, we don’t want to stop any time soon. With your support, we’ll be able to forge ahead with our journalistic mission.

If you believe in an independent, transparent, and democratic press, please consider subscribing today.

We understand that some readers cannot afford a subscription during these difficult times and invite them to apply for a free digital subscription through our Pay it Forward program.

The Free Press would like to thank our readers for their patience while comments were not available on our site. We're continuing to work with our commenting software provider on issues with the platform. In the meantime, if you're not able to see comments after logging in to our site, please try refreshing the page.

You can comment on most stories on The Winnipeg Free Press website. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

By submitting your comment, you agree to abide by our Community Standards and Moderation Policy. These guidelines were revised effective February 27, 2019. Have a question about our comment forum? Check our frequently asked questions.

Advertisement

Advertise With Us