Late Manitoba philanthropist Gail Morberg 'expected very little in return' for championing most vulnerable

Gail Morberg, 79, championed some of the most marginalized populations in the province. Her death has shocked some local non-profits that work with the homeless.

Founder of Calm Air grew her wealth in northern Manitoba then gave back to the province

A celebration of the life of philanthropist Gail Morberg will be held on April 15, which would have been her 80th birthday. (Marianne Klowak/CBC)

The death of Manitoba philanthropist Gail Morberg, who championed for some of the most vulnerable populations in the province, has shocked some local non-profits that benefited from her support.

Morberg died on Feb. 27 at age 79, according to an online obituary. The young Prairie girl grew up with her parents and three sisters in Wakaw, Sask. She leaves behind a large blended family, including her four children, grandchildren, step-grandchildren and step-great-grandchildren.

In her obituary, she is described as an "explorer, adventurer and entrepreneur" who worked hard, with enthusiasm and a smile, at a Black Lake fishing lodge where she developed her "personal brand of northern hospitality." 

She and her late husband of 44 years eventually moved to Lynn Lake, Man., and built one of Canada's largest privately owned airlines — Calm Air. When the airline was sold, Gail decided to retire and give back to the province where her family made their wealth.

For example, she financed a new kitchen at Siloam Mission and purchased a St. Boniface house for the homeless.

The creator of Morberg House, which is named after the philanthropist, and St. Boniface Street Links, a charitable organization helping people with housing and addictions issues, says both Winnipeg projects would be unimaginable without the support of the Morberg family.

Take a video tour through Morberg House:

Tour of Morberg House

CBC News: Winnipeg at 6:00

5 years ago
New home for St. Boniface homeless commemorates 'homeless hero' Faron Hall. 1:39

Morberg House founder Marion Willis says she was shocked and deeply saddened by the news.

"Gail Morberg was first and foremost a very, very dear friend. She was also, though, one of the best champions of the charitable sector in this city and likely throughout the province," she said. "I think the North is really going to miss her."

Willis recalls her late friend quietly donated $100,000 to a woman who was struggling to flee an abusive relationship to help her start her life over again.

"Gail was somebody who expected very little in return," she said, adding she was a humble contributor who was rarely influenced by or brushed shoulders with other wealthy donors.

"She was a rare woman of her generation and era, and we're all going to miss her."

Her love and appreciation of ordinary people made her so unique, Willis said. "She always just took such an interest, and she was a deeply caring woman … it was from her heart."

A nest in her memory

A longtime supporter of Siloam Mission, Morberg was a major factor in its expansion and development of a new 54,000-square-foot space for providing care, advocacy and support for some of the most vulnerable people in the city.

Her experience also inspired a new kitchen and dining hall.

Raven's Nest is a drop-in community hall in the main building at 300 Princess St. that provides meals and a gathering space. Kathi Neal, who is the mission's director of development, says it gets its name from a bird that used to visit Morberg at the lake, where it would return to its nesting place each year.

Watch community members celebrate the opening of Raven's Nest:

Siloam Mission's new dining hall

CBC News Manitoba

4 years ago
Thanksgiving came early today at Siloam Mission. The charity unveiled their brand new dining hall and celebrated with a fall supper. 1:57

The two shared chats and lunches together there. The first things that come to her mind when she thinks of Morberg are her wonderful sense of humour and her genuine connection with different communities and nature. "I think she was most at home in a natural environment," Neal said.

"Our sincere condolences to Gail Morberg's family and friends," she said. "I know this is a tremendous loss for them, as it is really for our entire community."

A celebration of her life will be held on April 15, which marks her 80th birthday.


With files from Marianne Klowak and Nicholas Frew


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