Manitoba

'Larger than life' Winnipeg philanthropist, hospital donor dies

Paul Albrechtsen, a Manitoba transportation industry entrepreneur who gave nearly $30 million to Winnipeg organizations and was the single largest donor to the charitable branches of St. Boniface Hospital and Winnipeg's Health Science Centre, has died.

Paul Albrechtsen donated $13.4M to Winnipeg's Health Science Centre, $7M to St. Boniface Hospital

Paul Albrechtsen died on Sunday. He was invested as a Member of the Order of Canada during a ceremony at Rideau Hall in January 2018. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

A Manitoba transportation industry entrepreneur who gave nearly $30 million to Winnipeg organizations and was the single largest donor to the charitable branches of St. Boniface Hospital and Winnipeg's Health Science Centre has died.

Paul Albrechtsen, who donated $13.4 million to the Health Sciences Centre Foundation and $7 million to St. Boniface over the past 30 years, died on Sunday. He also gave $8 million to the Reh-Fit Centre in 2006.

"He was larger than life," said Tina Jones, chair of the HSC Foundation board and president of Banville & Jones Wine Co.

"Through his exceptional philanthropy, he has allowed HSC to acquire leading edge medical equipment that saves lives. He was always eager to learn what he could do next to make a difference."

Albrechtsen was a mechanic who earned his fortune in the transportation industry.

He immigrated from Denmark in 1954 with $50 to his name and settled in Virden, Man., where he and Jones's father, former TransX founder and owner Louie Tolaini, met and became friends.

In 1957, Albrechtsen founded Paul's Hauling Ltd., a small Manitoba transportation operation that hauled salt water and oil for the petroleum industry. The business grew over the years and today has branches in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Ontario.

"Both my dad and Paul started from one truck in Virden," said Jones. "My dad and Paul were very close."

Charitable work

Albrechtsen began giving money to the HSC Foundation in 1993. Over the years his donations have gone toward purchasing new interventional angiography equipment for stroke survivors, the foundation said.

A $5-million donation in 2017 enabled the hospital to buy a sophisticated stereotactic radiosurgery system that targets and destroys some tumours while leaving healthy tissue safe.

HSC Foundation president and CEO Jonathon Lyon said Albrechtsen was generous, passionate, curious and engaged.

"He took the time to understand the technology and understand the impact of his giving," said Lyon. "He was fascinated by medical research and wanted Manitobans to benefit from the latest advances in patient care."

Albrechtsen also gave about $7 million to St. Boniface Hospital over the years, making him the most significant donor in the hospital's history, said St. Boniface Hospital Research media spokesperson Karen Hiebert.

In 2015, he provided $5 million in support of pioneering cardiac research at the St. Boniface Hospital Research Centre, which was renamed the Albrechtsen Research Centre in his honour.

Paul Albrechtsen told CBC News that he owed a lot to the staff at the Reh-Fit Centre who jumped to the rescue and revived him when he collapsed while working out there in the 1990s. Albrechtsen donated $8 million to the centre in 2006. (CBC)

In 2006, he put $8 million toward renovating the exercise space at the Reh-Fit Centre as a way of saying thank you. Eleven years earlier, on Valentine's Day, Albrechtsen's heart started beating irregularly while he was working out at the centre. He collapsed while running on the track there and staff revived him.

"I'm very, very fortunate that I could do whatever I can now," he told CBC News in 2006. 

Albrechtsen was invested into the Order of Manitoba in 2016, and in 2017 he was appointed to the Order of Canada, the highest distinction in Canada's honours system.

In addition to his contributions to the HSC Foundation, Albrechtsen gave a $1.5-million gift to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in 2015.

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