John Wilson McConnell is born

John Wilson McConnell was born in Muskoka, Ontario in 1877, the youngest of seven children. His parents had emigrated to Canada from Ireland in 1863, seeking to make a new life for their family.

JW McConnell as a teenager.

The J.W. McConnell family

J.W. McConnell's family, prompted by the failure of their Muskoka farm, moved to Toronto. McConnell worked as a delivery boy, and later as a bookkeeper.

Nine members of the McConnell family posing for a family portrait. The women are wearing long long dresses with puffy sleeves, the men are in suits, vests and bowties.

J.W. McConnell joins the Standard Chemical Company

J.W. McConnell joined the Standard Chemical Company, and a year later moved to Montreal, to establish its office there. When he first arrived, he roomed at the YMCA in Montreal. Within a year, he was selling the company's shares in Europe, which gave him a facility with brokering relationships that formed the basis for the financial success that characterized the rest of his life.

JW McConnell as an adult, looking towards the distance away from the camera.

J.W. McConnell becomes a regular and generous contributor

J.W. McConnell had become a regular and generous contributor to several major Montreal institutions, notably McGill University, the Royal Victoria and Montreal General hospitals, and the YMCA. He also assisted several churches (Catholic and Protestant), youth initiatives, missions, and individuals — both English and French-speaking — usually anonymously.

Black and white image of McGill University: a large building, with a turret and a flag, with an entry with steps and columns.

J.W. McConnell's chief interests

J.W. McConnell was involved in numerous businesses, but his chief interests in his early years were Goodwin's Department Store (later sold to Eaton's), the Borden Company of Canada, Ogilvy's Flour Mills, Inco, Brazilian Traction (later Brascan), Canadian International Paper, and the St Lawrence Sugar Co., of which he was president from 1914. By 1920, he was one of the wealthiest people in Canada.

Black and white image of the Hudson's Bay building in downtown Montreal in the early 1900s. The roads are cobblestone, there are men in wool coats and fedoras.

The McConnell Foundation is established

The McConnell Foundation is established, the second family foundation created in Canada, following the Massey Foundation. Run by J.W. McConnell with the help of a secretary, early grants reflected his long-standing interests and commitments, including McGill University and its affiliated hospitals (notably the Montreal Neurological Institute), the YMCA, Salvation Army, Old Brewery Mission, the Victorian Order of Nurses, and a number of churches and agencies caring for Montrealers in need.

JW McConnell in his sixties, wearing a suit and tie. His hair is grey and his eyebrows are bushy.

Patriotic War Fund and the Victory Loan Campaigns

During the First and Second World Wars, J.W. McConnell was a tireless fundraiser and instrumental figure behind a number of successful war efforts, including the Patriotic War Fund and the Victory Loan Campaigns.

Illustration of a 1940s male farmer in a straw hat, holding some hay, a woman in a dress holding a chicken, and a teenage boy in a straw hat holding a baby pig. Underneath the illustration reads: Buy Victory Bonds with cash and produce.

J.W. McConnell passes away

J.W. McConnell passes away. Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson observed: “Mr. McConnell was a man of large spirit, great generosity, and above all, abiding Canadianism.”

JW McConnell as an older gentleman. Wearing a dark suit and tie, his white hair has thinned and he looks seriously at the camera.

Total grants made by the Foundation pass the $100-million mark

By 1974, total grants made by the Foundation passed the $100-million mark. The Foundation was a mainstay for many important health, educational, and cultural organizations in Montreal, and supported innovative programs such as the pioneering Palliative Care Centre at the Royal Victoria Hospital.

Royal Victoria Hospital viewed from the sky, looking towards Mount Royal.

The foundation’s focus expands to include all of Canada

After more than four decades of work centred on Montreal, the Foundation’s focus expanded to include all of Canada. We supported influential research into early childhood development the major expansion of the McCord Museum, and we granted to numerous postsecondary and health care foundations, as well as youth-serving organizations like the YMCA.

Afternoon sun shines through maple leaves in the autumn.

Tim Brodhead becomes President

Tim Brodhead became the first non-family member to be named President. While continuing to respond to requests for funding, during Brodhead’s term the Foundation began to initiate its own programs, often engaging intermediaries to administer them.

Tim Brodhead smiles and laughs at the camera.

Early national initiatives (1996-2016)

Starting in the mid-1990s, the Foundation created and managed several national initiatives across multiple domains, including strengthening the community sector, youth, social inclusion, and the environment. Despite the diversity of their sectors and approaches, all aimed to increase resilience and inclusion in communities across the country. Initiatives from this period included environmental programs, ArtsSmarts, CEDTAP, Supporting Family Caregivers, GreenStreet, Vibrant Communities, Community Service Learning, ALLIES and Sport for Development. Funding for these initiatives totaled a combined over $65M. See our past initiatives.

Young children holding a full recycling bin.

Funding in reconciliation begins

The Foundation first began funding reconciliation activities in 2003 with the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society’s Caring Across the Boundaries, an initiative that fostered partnerships between First Nations’ communities and voluntary sector agencies, bringing outside support to communities on communities’ terms. This funding helped to launch our reconciliation journey, which has expanded through our work with partners in communities across Turtle Island. As an organization we have also taken steps to gain a deeper understanding of the realities faced by First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples in Canada.

Spirit bear is a stuffed animal dressed in traditional Indigenous clothes and mocassins; waving his left paw.

Early-stage impact investing (2007-2010)

We began our impact investing journey in 2007, with early investments in clean energy, sustainable food systems and fair trade. The Board approved allocating 10% of our endowment to impact investing, which we achieved in 2018. Over the course of 15 years, we formalized our investing approach with many partners accessing capital through Mission-Related Investments and Program-Related Investments. Learn more about how we invest for impact.

Repurposed factory surrounded by trees and a pond. The space is used by social purpose organizations and for events.

Social Innovation Generation (SiG)

Social Innovation Generation (SiG), was founded in 2007 with a mission to create a culture of continuous social innovation in Canada. For 10 years, SiG celebrated social innovators and social entrepreneurs around the world, working to highlight the creativity and determination of non-profits and businesses that are devoted to transformation. The initiative ended in 2017, totalling $27.5M in funding. Learn more.

Line drawing of dandelion seeds.

Major Initiatives (2010-2021)

For just over a decade, the Foundation managed five major initiatives aimed contributing to diverse and innovative approaches to address community resilience, reconciliation, and climate change. The initiatives took systems change approach, using a mix of funding, social innovation approaches, convening and multi-sectoral partnerships to tackle the root causes of complex challenges. Initiatives from this period include, Sustainable Food Systems, Cities for People, the McConnell Reconciliation initiative, Renew, Re-Code and WellAhead. The combined funding for these initiatives totalled over $72M. See our past initiatives.

A view of a verdant Vancouver city at the base of some mountain at dusk.

Stephen Huddart appointed President

The Board appoints Stephen Huddart the Foundation’s President and CEO. Huddart had joined the Foundation in 2003 as a Senior Program Officer.

Stephen Huddart wearing a button shirt, blazer and round glasses. He smiles slightly at the camera.

The Innoweave initiative launches

This initiative is dedicated to providing access to the tools of social innovation to civil society organizations. In cooperation with a network of coaches, Innoweave helps non-profits and social entreprises clarify their goals and obtain the support they need to achieve their desired outcomes. They work alongside a range of partners—including content experts, foundations, and governments—to leverage our resources in pursuit of greater impact in our communities. Learn more about Innoweave's offering.

Innoweave logo composed of overlapping squares and rectangles.

McConnell became signatory of the Philanthropic Community’s Declaration of Action

Coinciding with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) holding its closing events in Ottawa, a group of Canada's philanthropic organizations (The Circle on Philanthropy and Aboriginal Peoples in Canada, Community Foundations of Canada, Philanthropic Foundations Canada, The Counselling Foundation of Canada) prepared The Philanthropic Community's Declaration of Action (The Declaration) committing to ensuring that positive action on reconciliation will continue. Read the Declaration.

The declaration of action for the philanthropic community on a white and orange background.

New branding

The J.W. McConnell family Foundation becomes the McConnell Foundation, with a modernized branding. Our multicoloured branded logo, circular in shape, known as the Hub is a symbol of McConnell. A continuously growing circle with a strong foundation, and an ever growing and developing outer shell, a symbol of our dedication to growth and exploration. The many unique pieces of the Hub represent diverse perspectives coming together in unity, but there are pieces missing. These represent the work that remains to be done and the future of our work with our partners.

McConnell logo: a multicoloured circle with pieces missing from the edges.

Our first Impact Investing Report is published.

After more than a decade of practice in impact investing, we published our first Impact Investing Report and have continued to do so annually. In 2019, our impact investment portfolio totalled $106 million in commitments and represented 16% of total assets. Find out more.

A rising line on a graph with a line drawing of a branch in a circle, followed by another rising line on a graph.

Lili-Anna Pereša appointed President

The Board appoints Lili-Anna Pereša the Foundation’s President and CEO. Trained as an engineer, she brings 25 years of experience heading agencies that aim to empower vulnerable populations – including Centraide of Greater Montreal, YWCA of Montreal, the One Drop Foundation, and Amnesty International France. Learn more about Lili-Anna.

Lili-Anna Peresa wearing a blazer, a scarf, standing in front of a colourful abstract painting.

New Strategic Direction Launched

McConnell’s strategic direction is announced, guiding the allocation of resources over the coming decade. The strategy includes support for partners working in the three focus areas: Communities, Reconciliation and Climate. It also reaffirms the Foundation’s commitment to its Montreal roots. Innovative approaches are transitioned and integrated within focus areas.

A red, pink and yellow version of the McConnell logo.

Our first Year in Review is published.

We have committed to publishing annual Year in Review reports with a view to increased transparency and accountability. These reviews shine a light on the work of our partners and share an overview of our finances, including both our charitable giving and impact investments. Find out more

A young girl hugs a woman from behind. Behind them is a green plant and the McConnell logo. At the centre of the McConnell logo is a picture of the trees in the woods.

Commitment to 100% impact investing

In recognition that significant public and private capital is necessary to create lasting positive impact in our three focus areas of Communities, Reconciliation and Climate, our Board approved the transition of our endowment towards 100% impact investing over five years. By 2028, we will deploy the entirety of our endowment in the form of charitable funding and investments that generate measurable, intentional positive impact in our communities and for the environment.

A pie chart divided into three. In the centre of the pie chart is $655M.

Net-zero carbon emissions in our operations and investments (2050 or sooner)

Given the scale and urgency of the climate crisis, and with Climate as a core focus area, we have committed to reaching net-zero carbon emissions in our endowment and in our operations by 2050, with interim milestones that align with the accelerated European Union objective of a 60% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 and 36% by 2025. As a first step in this journey, we divested from fossil fuels in 2023.

A field of wind turbines in front of a deep sunset.