FOUNDING: In the last year of the 20th century a group of philanthropic rugby supporters had a passionate dream and saw the need to establish a foundation for the game of rugby in Canada. Among these supporters, who showed great vision, were George Jones, John Lecky, Gren Thomas, Mark Wyatt, and Mike Holmes, whose contributions, in the early days were vital to the development of the Foundation. The crucial step in the Foundation’s history came through Gren Thomas, a long-time supporter of Canadian rugby, who recognized the need for a long-term vision and agreed to provide a founding pledge of $1,000,000.00.
After a difficult legal and political process over the course of almost 3 years, and after a joint submission by Roger Smith and Mike Holmes to the fledgling new Rugby Canada Board, the Foundation ( then called the Rugby Canada Foundation), was finally approved in 2003.
The first President of the Foundation was Mike Holmes and over the course of the next 3 years, the Foundation grew to just over 1 million dollars in assets. The first years were difficult, as there were no funds for administration whatsoever and the pledge by Gren Thomas required matching funds to be accessed. The leadership of initial contributing members Bob Hager and Bruce McFarlane followed shortly by Gerald McGavin, John Woodward, the estate of John Lecky, Woody McLaren, Pat Aldous, and others gave the Foundation the solid footing it needed to survive the initial years. The Foundation made a significant leap of faith when, with limited funds, former National Team player Aaron Abrams was hired as Executive Director. Under Aaron, the Foundation was an important contributor to the Under 20 Canadian program and established solid ongoing relationships with donors and Rugby Canada. After Aaron chose to move onto a different field, and under President Pat Aldous, then recently retired, the Foundation continued to prosper. Matthuw Ronald Jones was hired as Executive Director and helped establish some of the more significant scholarships and funds within the Foundation. Mike Holmes as chair with Mark Wyatt as vice-chair stepped back to the Board in 2009. In 2010 in light of the financial challenges facing the Foundation, and in order to keep administration costs below the level that would encroach on the capital of the Foundation, the difficult decision was made to return to a volunteer-run organization.
GROWTH: From 2003 to 2020, the Foundation saw steady growth in the number of its Funds which numbered 50 as of December 31, 2020. Assets had grown from $0 to $5.9 million over the same period.
In 2010, John Wrafter, a retired banker and long-time supporter of rugby, was reluctantly convinced to become Treasurer, and a long period of financial restraint and solid performance followed. Assets grew from $1.7 million in 2010 to almost $6 million over the next ten years whilst grants exceeding $2 million were made, all whilst being run entirely by volunteers. Included were grants to the first Canadian Men’s and Women’s Club Championships run by Hans de Goede, long-time Director, and Davine Burton respectively; the funding of the first Women’s World Cup team led by Barry Giffen and Steph White; the establishment of the Canadian Men’s University Rugby Championships founded by Jeff Chan, Mike Holmes, Doug Tate, and Keith Labbett; the funding of the first BC boy’s and girl’s tour to Ireland; the funding of over 1 million to the Canada Men’s 7s Team led by director Randy Heward; the funding of the Women’s University 7s Championship organized by Director Colette McCauley; and the establishment of the Canadian U20 fund by Dr. Pat Parfrey and Mike Holmes. In addition, over a hundred awards were given out to student-athletes, teams, and coaches through the various award funds established. Many bearing the names of great Canadian rugby community members, including the Gerald McGavin Award, the Courtenay Taffe Award, the George Jones Award, the Thomas family Award, the Jack Patrick and Nick Mathers Awards Fund, the Don Whidden Award, the Lt. Col. W.D.C. Holmes University Awards, the Frank Deacy, Noel Browne and Pat Parfrey Fund, the Colette McCauley Award, and the John Cannon Award.
Key donors and fundraisers over this decade included Dr. Pat Parfrey, Rick Bourne, Andrew Purdey, Gerald McGavin, Mark Wyatt, Mike Holmes, Hans de Goede, Barry Giffen, Bob Hager, Gren Thomas, Tim Powers, Peter Cannon, Steph White, Jay Johnston, Sally Dennis, Onni Corporation, Pat Aldous, Rick Powers, Benj O’Connor, Brenda Parfrey, Mark McCarthy, Randy Heward, and many others. In addition, countless committed monthly donations, and smaller donors helped grow the burgeoning number of club and award funds.
The Foundation has proven to be an effective mechanism to solicit provincial and local donations that will generate income to support the growth of rugby in Canada outside the normal operating budget and requirements of Rugby Canada and other rugby organizations. The Foundation allows visionary members of the rugby community who do not necessarily want to be involved in day-to-day decision-making to participate in the broader vision of a charitable organization set up specifically for rugby in Canada. This campaign is a chance for all rugby supporters to make a difference to help answer the enormous financial need in this sport.
2021 INFLECTION: More recently, the Foundation has grown significantly in assets, number of Funds, and its’ geographic footprint in Canada. Mike Holmes continues as Chair, and Jeff Chan was brought on board as Executive Director with a mandate to grow the Foundations Funds and assets. 15 new Funds were established in 2021. Most notably, a historic agreement with Fletcher’s Fields Limited (Markham, Ontario) was made to accept a donation of $11.65 million and to create 6 new Funds (Aurora Barbarians, Markham Irish, Rugby Ontario, Toronto Nomads, Toronto Saracens, Toronto Scottish, and the Fletcher’s Patrons Fund). As of December 31, 2021, these 15 new funds held $12.2 million in assets. These new funds and assets contributed to the Foundation’s asset growth of 321 percent year over year (from $5.9 to $19.0 million).
With the addition of the new Funds in 2021, the footprint of the Foundation has expanded dramatically and started to move from a BC-centric organization to more of a pan-Canadian one, currently present in 7 Provinces.