History of Giving 

Early Years

Garfield and Reta Weston established The W. Garfield Weston Foundation with their shares in the family company. The Founders believed that because the funds were generated through the hard work and success of Canadian businesses, the Foundation’s donations should be given in Canada for the benefit of Canadians. Grants were mainly directed towards innovative community efforts, medical research, hospitals, universities, and projects for children and young people. Many of the grants were given anonymously.

Some exemplary grants from the early years include:

In 1960, the Foundation donated $1 million to the Dr. Charles H. Best Foundation to support the Banting and Best Institute located at the University of Toronto and its innovative medical research. Dr. Best noted in his biography how much he enjoyed the visit when, with his wife, daughter and grandson, Garfield personally came to present the gift.

In 1976, during a visit to the McMichael Canadian Collection at Kleinberg, Ontario, Garfield Weston saw “Woodland Waterfall,” a painting by Tom Thomson, one of Canada’s most influential 20th century artists, who influenced and inspired Canada’s Group of Seven artists. This painting was on loan to the gallery. He immediately purchased and donated it to the McMichael collection.  At the time, the $285,000 purchase price was the most ever paid for a Canadian painting. 

Building Momentum

In the 1970’s and 1980’s, Garfield and Reta’s children assumed more responsibility for the work of the Foundation. Through this work, both the daughters and sons were given the opportunity to contribute to a better society and develop personal judgement and potential.  Miriam Burnett, the eldest, became Chairman and along with her siblings, began to take leadership of the Foundation.

In these years grants focused on community outreach, the environment, arts and culture, and medical research.

Community Outreach

Building on support in the early years, the Foundation continued to work with the Salvation Army.  This partnership enabled them to serve innumerable citizens who used their community centres and relied on the Salvation Army’s outreach to meet basic needs.

An Environmental Focus

In 1989, the Garfield Weston Chair of Landscape Horticulture was established at the Royal Botanical Gardens. The Foundation provided support to the Young Naturalists Foundation to pilot and then produce OWL Television, a nature program for children. With donations from the Foundation, Conservation Authorities from across Canada were able to augment and expand facilities and programs.

Medical Research

Funding medical research was a priority during the 1980s. In 1984, the Foundation established the first Canadian Chair of Nutrition at McGill University. The Foundation also contributed to ground breaking work related to stroke, juvenile diabetes, eye research, neurological disorders, and spinal cord injuries.

Arts and Culture

In 1968, the Foundation began its long-term relationship with the Royal Ontario Museum which continues today. In March 2004, the ROM received a special gift for its 90th birthday. The Hon. Hilary M. Weston, Chair of Renaissance ROM, announced a donation of $20 million, consisting of $10 million from Hilary and Galen Weston and $10 million from The W. Garfield Weston Foundation.

The Weston Hall at the Art Gallery of Ontario and the George Weston Recital Hall at the Toronto Centre for the Performing Arts were both built with donations from the Foundation. Yo-Yo Ma in speaking about the George Weston Recital Hall stated that: 

“It was extraordinary to be able to play the Bach Suites in such a visually and acoustically inviting hall. The hall is both intimate and spacious. I look forward to many more happy occasions there.”

A gift in the late 1980s established a Professional Performance Studies program at the Canadian Royal Conservatory of Music. The Canadian War Plan Heritage Museum, the Banff Centre’s Arts Building, and the Mendel Art Gallery is a short list taken from the many arts and culture projects supported by The W. Garfield Weston Foundation.

Defining the Mandate

Recently, the Board of the Foundation decided to become more proactive and more narrowly focused in its grant-making. It was felt that by defining its mandate, the Foundation would be able to maximize its impact and promote more innovation within the charitable organizations that it supports.


Education has always been held of high value in the Weston family. Reta was a school teacher as were several of her daughters and grandchildren. Education has been seen as the cornerstone of a productive, happy and just society. Considered to be one of the best investments for a secure future, this became one area of focus within the Foundation’s giving.

Land Conservation

A love of the land and sense of urgency to protect it, instilled by their parents, lead the second and third generations to focus on land conservation. Protecting the biodiversity of sensitive areas across Canada became part of the Foundation’s mandate.

Science in Canada’s North

The launch of the International Polar Year in 2007 was a response to a widespread concern about the decline of research in the North.  It was at this time that the Foundation entered into a dialogue about Canada’s North.  In response to this growing concern, the Foundation has adopted a goal of advancing northern science and research in Canada’s North as part of its mandate. 

Trustee Initiated Grants

Innovation, excellence, leadership and a sense of community are at the core of Trustee giving in this area. Trustees direct funds to specific causes that reflect the overall values and perspectives of the Foundation.

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