The Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation

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The Walter and Duncan Foundation was founded in 1965 by Walter L. Gordon, his wife, Elizabeth (née Counsell), and his brother, Duncan Gordon. It continues today as a private charitable foundation trying to improve public policy in Canada.[1] Walter Gordon was a Canadian businessman and politician. Walter Gordon was the Minister of Finance from 1963- 1965 and the president of the Privy Council 1967-1968. Later on in his life Walter Gordon was the Chancellor of York University. Duncan Gordon was a chartered accountant at various Toronto firms.

The foundation continues to operate in Toronto, Ontario having two major areas of focus: the Arctic and Water Security.

Early years[edit]

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s Walter and Duncan Gordon were committed to healthcare, the arts and public policy. Many hospitals, hospices and art programs in and around the Toronto area benefitted from the Gordon's commitment. Various Canadian think tanks such as the Canadian Institute of International Affairs (now the Canadian International Council) were supported by the Foundation. In addition the Foundation endowed the Walter Gordon Forum on Public Policy in 1990, which continues as an annual event at Massey College with the School of Public Policy and Global Governance at the University of Toronto.[2]

The 1970s brought a refocus of funding towards peacekeeping as well as economic independence. Walter Gordon was cognizant of Canada's increasing economic interdependence with the United States. With this in mind the Foundation helped create the Committee for an Independent Canada.[3]

During the 1970s and 1980s the Foundation focused much of their attention on peacekeeping, peacemaking and nuclear disarmament. There were many recipients of grants from the Foundation. A few of those receiving grants were Science for Peace, the Club of Rome, Amnesty International, Physicians for Social Responsibility, United Nations Association of Canada, and the Canadian Institute of Strategic Studies. The Foundation was also a key contributor to fighting Acid Rain in 1981 that later inspired amendments to the U.S. Clean Air Act of 1990.

After the death of Walter Gordon in 1987, Duncan Gordon asked Pierre Trudeau's former primary secretary and speechwriter Thomas Axworthy to help develop a focus for the foundation with regards to peace-building. After the death of Duncan Gordon later on that year, Walter Duncan's children took over the foundation and headed the board of directors. They also expanded the Foundation from a family to a private foundation model. With the overhaul of the foundation the directors decided to refocus the Foundation's mandate to concentrate on four areas of interest: secondary education; peace, security and conflict management; the environment and the Arctic.


With the success of the amendments to the U.S. Clean Air Act the Foundation was interested in uphold its commitment to the environment. The Foundation started to focus on environmental policy and incorporating it into the federal government. The Foundation narrowed its environmental to focus air quality and water issues. In the 1990s the Foundation also was instrumental in creating the multi-million dollar initiatives:[citation needed] MiningWatch Canada, People for Education and the Manitoba School Improvement Program.

The other pillar of the Foundation was on peace, security and conflict management. Eventually this focus melded with their concentration on the Arctic. The Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation along with Science for Peace and Finnish researchers worked to initiate movements towards the creation of the Arctic Council. With the help of prominent Arctic scholars such as: Franklyn Griffiths, John Lamb and Bill Fox, politicians such as: Tony Penikett, and help from people from indigenous champions such as: Rosemarie Kuptana, Mary Simon, the Inuit Circumpolar Conference the Canadian government moved towards the creation of the Arctic Council and the creation of the Canadian Ambassador for Circumpolar Affairs in 1994. The Foundation also supported Sheila Watt-Cloutier during her leadership as the Chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference.


In 2009, Dr. Thomas Axworthy became CEO and President of the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation. The Foundation has a continued interest in two pillars: Fresh Water and the Arctic. Both pillars are continually being developed and shaping the direction of the Foundation. The Foundation also has an active voice in advocating for a University in Canada's North. 2009 was a year of change at the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation, due to economic restraints some of the programs the Foundation had been involved in were wound down.

The Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation funded a legal analysis to allow First Nations to be eligible recipients of grants from foundations. Often, charities were unsure of whether or not they were legally allowed to make grants to First Nations and aboriginal organizations. The analysis supported by the Foundation led to a clarification of First Nations as legal donees under Canada Revenue Agency's Income Tax Act.[4]

The Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation helped create the IBA Community Toolkit which is a resource to First Nation, Inuit and Métis communities to educate them about the benefit agreements in their areas. Though based around the mining sector the Toolkit aims to act as a guideline for communities "negotiators, and consultants to achieve positive agreements for Aboriginal communities" [5] within the natural resource industry.

The Union of BC Indian Chiefs, Ecotrust Canada and the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation came together to fund and publish Living Proof. This book is aimed to be "a how-to manual to help readers design and run the data-collection component of a successful map project".[6] "Living Proof" written by Terry N. Tobias is aimed to be a tool for indigenous use and occupancy map surveys.

In the 1990s the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation established a long standing relationship with David Schindler a limnologist at the University of Alberta. Most recently, the Foundation along with Tides Canada helped fund a study which "counter[s] the reports by a joint industry-government panel that the pollutant levels are due to natural sources rather than human development" [7] in the Alberta Oilsands.

The Circle on Philanthropy and Aboriginal Peoples is another collaboration that the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation has made a commitment to. The Circle on Philanthropy and Aboriginal Peoples is an "open network to promote giving, sharing, and social investing in Aboriginal communities across the country" [8]

Global Citizenship[edit]

The Global Citizenship Program was suspended in 2010 after the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation's budget was restructured. The Global Citizenship Program ran from 2005-2010 by the former President and CEO of the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation Patrick Johnston. The aim of the program was to examine Canada's foreign aid architecture and to discuss Canada's role in the world.

Arctic Program[edit]

The Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation have continued their commitment to the Canadian North by expanding their programming to the North. The Arctic Security Program in conjunction with the Canada Centre for Global Security Studies at the Munk School of Global Affairs has a 4-year mandate and is projected to continue until June 2014.[9]

In January 2011 the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation along with the Canada Centre for Global Security Studies at the Munk School of Global Affairs released a public opinion poll focused on the global perceptions of Arctic Security called “Rethinking the Top of the World” The survey "included phone interviews with close to 2,800 Canadians, including 744 residents of the territories"[10] along with residents of the seven other Arctic Council states (Russia, United States, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland and Greenland/ Denmark) totaling 9,000 people.[11] The survey findings garnered substantial media attention globally.[12][13][14]

The Arctic Program focuses on Nunavut, Yukon and the Northwest Territories, as well as Northern Quebec (Nunavik) and Northern Labrador (Nunatsiavut). Other areas of focus for the Arctic Program are to encourage new leadership by a younger generation of Northern Canadians, greater equity in the North in terms of benefitting from natural resources, promoting the role of Northerners in all levels of government and lastly, "Supporting an agenda on Arctic Security that meets the needs of residents of the Arctic, and includes issues such as food security, search and rescue, and human and capital infrastructure" [15]

Fresh Water Program[edit]

The Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation is also working towards "the development of a comprehensive legal, regulatory and citizen action framework for the purpose of protecting the quality and quantity of fresh water resources for future generations of Canadians."[16] The Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation helps organize Canadian Water Week. The first annual Canada Water week took place in March 2011. From March 21–23, 2011 the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation along with the Inter-Action Council held a conference discussing global water security. The conference was chaired by Jean Chrétien the former Prime Minister of Canada, Olusegun Obasanjo the former President of Nigeria and former Chancellor of Austria Franz Vranitzky. Experts from all over the world were invited to discuss water security in the future and policy options.[17] In May 2011, Tom Axworthy was appointed Secretary General of the InterAction Council further strengthening the ties between the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation and the InterAction Council.

The Fresh Water Program would like to influence a legal, regulatory and citizen action framework to protect Canada's water resources. The Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation support the implementation of a National Water Strategy to ensure access to drinking water to all Canadians. This includes the development and implementation of Regional Water Governance Frameworks. The Foundation would also like to strengthen "Canada's role in advancing Global Water Security, including issues related to conflict, development and human rights" [18]

The Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation are active funders of the Forum for Leadership in Water (FLOW) and Tides Canada. Both Tides Canada and FLOW are committed to water security and education for Canadians.

Jane Glassco Arctic Fellowship Program[edit]

With the passing of Jane Glassco, the daughter of Walter and Elizabeth Gordon in 2010 an Arctic Fellowship Program was created. The fellowship program was created to help build a stronger North guided by Northerners. The recipients are young Northerners, many of which are of Aboriginal descent between the ages of 25-35. The J.M Kaplan Fund co-funds the Program.

Elizabeth L. Gordon Art Program[edit]

During her lifetime Elizabeth Gordon was dedicated to the arts and supported the local arts. Her past contributions included funding to the Shaw Festival and the Art Gallery of Ontario. The goal of this Program is to help Ontario galleries expand their collections.[19] The Elizabeth L. Gordon Art Program has been suspended for 2010 and 2011 but will be reintroduced in 2012.


  1. ^ WWF Canada Water Week 2011
  2. ^ "2011 Walter Duncan Gordon Symposium" School of Public Policy and Governance: University of Toronto 2011 accessed Feb. 16,2011
  3. ^ "Gordon, Walter Lockheart" The Canadian Encyclopedia 2011 Accessed Feb. 16,2011
  4. ^ Susan Manwaring "First Nations as Qualified Donees"
  5. ^ IBA Community Toolkit
  6. ^ Ecotrust Canada "New Book on use and occupancy map surveys"
  7. ^ CBC News "Oilsands mining linked to Athabasca River toxins"
  8. ^ "The Circle on Philanthropy & Aboriginal Peoples in Canada"
  9. ^ The Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation "Arctic Program: Arctic Security"
  10. ^ "Canada's North, South Agree on Arctic: Study" CBC News Jan. 25, 2011 Accessed Feb. 16, 2011
  11. ^ Boswell, Randy "Tory focus on Arctic Sovereignty Buoys poll results" The Vancouver Sun Jan. 25, 2011. Accessed Feb. 16,2011.
  12. ^ Huhta, Kari " Pohjoismaat ovat suosikkeja kumppaneiksi arktisilla alueilla" Jan 25, 2011 Accessed Feb. 16, 2011
  13. ^ BBC News Jan. 25, 2011 Accessed Feb. 16, 2011
  14. ^ Comte, Michael "Canadians prepared to fight for Arctic: survey" AFP Jan. 25, 2011 Accessed Feb. 16, 2011
  15. ^ The Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation "Arctic Program" Jan. 2011 Accessed Feb. 15, 2011
  16. ^ "About Canadian Water Week" Canada Water Week 2011 Accessed Feb. 16,2011.
  17. ^ RENATA D'ALIESIO "Chrétien's call to Canada: Don't be afraid of water-exporting debate" The Globe and Mail Accessed March 25, 2011
  18. ^ The Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation "Fresh Water Program" Jan. 2011 Accessed Feb. 15, 2011
  19. ^ The Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation, History

See also[edit]