A Remedy for Wooden Legs and Dead Hands: The Early Years of the Winnipeg Foundation

By Goldsborough, Gordon | Manitoba History, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview
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A Remedy for Wooden Legs and Dead Hands: The Early Years of the Winnipeg Foundation

Goldsborough, Gordon, Manitoba History

The man who dies thus rich dies disgraced

Andrew Carnegie, 1889 (1)

The Cleveland Connection

Scottish-American business magnate Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) may have set the tone for philanthropy in the early twentieth century when he advocated that it was the duty of wealthy people to donate for the benefit of society, especially in those communities where their money had been made. When, in 1901, Carnegie became the world's wealthiest man from the sale of his Carnegie Steel Corporation, he embarked on a worldwide campaign to donate his millions to worthwhile causes. Among the results was Winnipeg's first public library building that served the public on William Avenue until its replacement in 1994.


Winnipeg's Carnegie Library was not the first work undertaken in support of the city's social welfare. As early as 1872, civic-minded Winnipeggers organized a general hospital on the banks of the Red River, near the foot of present-day Lombard Street. (2) It led to the Winnipeg General Hospital in the vicinity of today's Health Sciences Centre. Other facilities that opened in those early days included a Women's Aid Society Hospital (1883), a Christian Women's Union (CWU) Maternity Hospital (1884), a CWU Children's Home (1885) and a Nursing School (1887). Benevolent associations included a Prisoners' Aid Association (1890), an Aberdeen Association (1892) to supply lonely settlers with reading material, a Free Kindergarten Association (1892), and a Winnipeg Lodging and Coffee House Association (1893) to provide low-cost accommodation for single men. In the 1890s, the Salvation Army established homeless shelters for women and men. The Women's Christian Temperance Union, always a considerable force for charitable work, founded the Door of Hope around 1897 to reform "the inebriate women we so frequently read of in the press reports of the police court and station." (3)

The Winnipeg Foundation, established in 1921, has the distinction of being the first community foundation in Canada but it was preceded as the world's first such entity by several American counterparts, including one in Cleveland, Ohio. Founded in January 1914, the Cleveland Foundation was the brainchild of banker and lawyer Frederick H. Goff who had concluded that greater good could be achieved by local philanthropists, living and dead, by pooling their cumulative resources. A novel concept at the time, the primary advantage of the community foundation was that:

"it provides a channel through which men and women of limited means, as well as those of large wealth, may directly and effectively combine their contributions to the welfare of the community, under a plan which gives flexibility of application together with efficiency, and at the same time enables those who give donations or bequests to the Trust to designate the type of charitable service to which their donations shall be devoted." (4)

Too often, good-intentioned philanthropic gifts could not achieve their desired ends due to restrictions placed on the funds by "dead hands," that is, by long-dead people who had decreed how their money could be used without making provision for changing circumstances. A Boston hospital, for instance, was prevented from using funds donated to give wooden legs to American Civil War veterans when the supply of deserving veterans inevitably declined. (5) In contrast, unencumbered donations to community foundations allowed fund administrators to apply them to the present, most pressing needs of the community.

William F. Alloway built his fortune first as a tobacco merchant, later as a freight agent and Metis scrip dealer, and finally as head of Alloway and Champion, the first private bank in western Canada. (6) By 1910, Alloway was among 19 Winnipeg millionaires. (7) Long-time Foundation employee Peter Lowe would later recount that Alloway became aware of the Cleveland Foundation and thought that it would be an appropriate vehicle for his own philanthropic intents.

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A Remedy for Wooden Legs and Dead Hands: The Early Years of the Winnipeg Foundation


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