This spring, when Canadians file their taxes, many will write a number on line 34900 of their return for “donations and gifts.” The aggregate total gives us a sense of our fellow citizens’ generosity. And the good news is that the number, despite recent economic turmoil, keeps going up. According to data released by Statistics Canada last April, total donations in 2020 increased by almost 3 per cent to $10.6 billion.
The more concerning trend? The number of donors, those filling out line 34900, keeps dropping. A 2022 report from CanadaHelps (a public foundation advancing philanthropy through technology) confirms that fewer Canadians in their peak earning years are feeling charitable these days. Almost 28 per cent of tax filers 40 to 54 years old gave to charities in 2006, compared to 21.5 per cent in 2019, while the percentage of those 55 and over who donated fell from 30.6 per cent to 24.2 per cent over the same period.
One person bucking the downward trend, and not waiting until his golden years to give back, is B.C. real estate developer Ryan Beedie. “I remember reading an article in Canadian Business magazine in 2010 on Seymour Schulich, a noted Canadian philanthropist,” Beedie recalls. “And he was basically saying, ‘Look, there’s a lot of these successful Canadian families who say they give, but they really don’t, compared to the U.S., which is several steps ahead.’ And I read that as a bit of a call to action.”
Ryan’s late father, Keith, established Beedie Construction in 1954, and the Beedie group of companies now bills itself as the largest private industrial landowner, developer, and property manager in Western Canada. The Burnaby-based firm builds everything from distribution facilities to dairy plants, from jet turbine repair hubs to office parks, with over 35 million square feet of industrial construction in B.C., Alberta, and Ontario completed during the past seven decades.
Ryan Beedie joined the family firm in 1993, shortly after completing an MBA at UBC, and in 2001 was named president of the company. But it was his first alma mater—SFU, where he earned an undergraduate degree in accounting and finance in 1991—that sparked Beedie’s philanthropic bent: a $22-million donation on February 9, 2011, to establish the Beedie School of Business.
It was, to that point, the largest gift ever received by SFU, and in addition to securing the renaming of SFU’s school of business, the money created an endowment that supports students, professorships, and research chairs. It also stoked the younger Beedie’s enduring interest in access to education—and specifically, ensuring all those who want to pursue postsecondary education can: “Not just the A students, where scholarships already exist, but maybe the A minus or B students who come from a very challenging background or face adversity that makes educational opportunities next to impossible.”
Beedie Luminaries launched with 50 Grade 12 students from across the Lower Mainland. Over the past four years, it has helped around 470.
Beedie was 42 at the time of the SFU gift and says that as he approaches personal milestones, he reevaluates his commitment to giving. “When I was about 48, I started thinking, okay, what do I want to do for my 50th?” He discussed the possibilities with one of his mentors, the late Joe Segal, and soon hatched the idea for Beedie Luminaries, a scholarship program geared toward removing barriers to education.
In 2018, starting with a personal donation from Beedie of $50 million, Luminaries launched with 50 Grade 12 students from across the Lower Mainland. Over the past four years, Beedie says, it has helped around 470. In 2022 alone, 140 scholarships were offered, averaging $44,000 for a four-year undergraduate degree or $22,000 for a two-year college diploma, certificate, or trade-school program. The focus is not just on financial support, he notes, but also on providing services such as mentorship and support groups to ensure each student succeeds.
In recent years, Luminaries has also expanded its mandate to others. Former premier Christy Clark (a friend and SFU classmate) recommended that he include single parents, because they can’t afford to go back to school and lose income—it’s just too big a cost to upgrade their skills. In 2021, Beedie launched SPARK (Single Parent Award for Resilience and Knowledge), providing support for single parents to embark on postsecondary studies. And last year, Luminaries added the RISE Awards (Refugee and Immigrant Student Education) in recognition of the educational challenges facing recent arrivals to Canada.
Beedie expects all the Luminaries programs to scale up in the coming years. And while he spends most of his days concerned with the money-making side of his business, he increasingly sees philanthropic endeavours, including Luminaries, as core to the family legacy.
As time goes on, he expects his personal assets to decrease, while the foundation grows, he says. (Luminaries is just part of Beedie’s personal philanthropic commitment, which now totals some $125 million.) “Our corporate ethos is Built for Good, and more and more, this company, this machine, will be used for the benefit of our community.”
Read more from our Spring 2023 issue.