Edmonton

Edmonton charity's biggest donors revealed after decades of anonymity

The Edmonton Community Foundation revealed its biggest donors Wednesday after two decades of keeping its fund anonymous. Eldon and Anne Foote donated $164 million to the foundation, yielding a net worth of $206 million.

Eldon and Anne Foote donated $164 million to the Edmonton Community Foundation

The Eldon and Anne Foote fund has helped charities in the arts, education, health and wellness, social and community services, recreation and leisure, and the environment. (Edmonton Community Foundation)

The Edmonton Community Foundation revealed its biggest donors on Wednesday after two decades of keeping the fund anonymous.

Eldon and Anne Foote donated $164 million to the foundation over that timeframe — the largest charitable gift to a community foundation in Canadian history, said ECF chief executive officer Martin Garber-Conrad.  

The Footes' contributions go beyond money, he added.

"It's rare to find donors that have such substantial interest in a whole variety of fields," he said.

Many donors tend to focus on a specific area, like helping homeless people, children, and arts and culture, Garber-Conrad said.

But the Footes had an interest in "everything from athletics to a downtown arts program for street kids, and kind of everything in between," he said. 

The Eldon and Anne Foote fund has grown to a value of more than $206 million for the Edmonton Community Foundation. (Edmonton Community Foundation)

The Footes' contribution reached groups such as the Centre to End All Sexual Exploitation (CEASE), iHuman, Women Building Futures, and the Edmonton and Area Land Trust, a non-profit preserving natural areas in the Edmonton region.

The University of Alberta's Foote Field is named after Eldon Foote, who donated $2 million toward construction of the sports complex.

"For the donors' own reasons, they had made the gifts anonymously," Garber-Conrad explained. "Now, it was finally time to add it all up and tell the world how cool it is."

Edmonton Community Foundation CEO Martin Garber-Conrad says the Footes were always willing to take a risk on a good idea. (Edmonton Community Foundation)

To date, the Footes' donations have allowed the foundation to grant $43 million to hundreds of charities in the arts, culture and heritage, education and learning, health and wellness, social and community services, recreation and leisure, and the environment.

Born in Hanna, Alta. in 1924, Eldon Foote attended the University of Alberta and worked as a lawyer in Edmonton.

In 1967, he moved to Australia and grew a cleaning-product company into a business empire based mainly in Japan and Hong Kong.

"He revolutionized the lives of thousands of homemakers by hiring them as active sales personnel," the foundation said. "However, the Footes never lost their affection for Alberta."

Foote died in 2004.

Anne Foote continues to have an active role in deciding where the money goes, Garber-Conrad told CBC News on Wednesday.

iHuman Youth Society is one of several non-profits benefitting from the Foote fund. (Gareth Hampshire/CBC)

"They were remarkably plugged in to the community," Garber-Conrad said of the couple. 

"They didn't need to wait until everybody else was already at the table and all the other money was there and just fill in the last piece," Garber-Conrad said.

Garber-Conrad sees the Footes as an inspiration to other donors.

"They were willing to take a risk on a good idea and support an organization when it was starting up, rather than saying, 'You must be a well established successful organization and then maybe we'll help you.'"

Since 2000, the funds have grown to a value of more than $206 million, making up almost half of the ECF's total $500 million assets.

The foundation, the fourth-largest community foundation in Canada, acts as a bridge between donors and charities.

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