Did you know there are over 200 community foundations across Canada?

Community foundations play a pivotal role in addressing the unique needs of their home communities. They serve as hubs for philanthropy, channeling resources toward initiatives that directly impact residents. The full potential of their influence is made plain when foundations join forces across municipal and provincial boundaries to tackle big issues. Done thoughtfully, such partnerships can lead to the development of meaningful projects that add to the vitality of our communities.

If you’re from Greater Peterborough, have an interest in Canadian history, or enjoy spending time on our shared waterways, you’re likely familiar with the Canadian Canoe Museum. It’s a cultural jewel that could be located anywhere in Canada but it’s here in Peterborough thanks to the grassroots efforts of its passionate founders.

The Canoe Museum stands as a custodian of history, housing the world’s largest collection of canoes, kayaks, and paddled watercraft. Used for millennia by the First Peoples of Turtle Island, these vessels are responsible for the settlement of the vast lands we now call Canada. Little wonder then that when the Canoe Museum found itself in need of financing to complete its transition to a brand new, bespoke waterfront building, the promise of partnering with a consortium of community foundations came into focus.

Terry Cooke, CEO of Hamilton Community Foundation, was instrumental in bringing together the Lenders Consortium of six community foundations including the Community Foundation of Greater Peterborough. “I’ve long had an affinity for the Canoe Museum,” he said. “I grew up cottaging in Haliburton and would regularly visit in the summertime with my kids. I love the place.”

At the time the Consortium came together, Terry was serving on the board of Community Foundations of Canada alongside Victoria Grant, who was also board chair of the Canoe Museum. Knowing Hamilton Community Foundation’s history of investing in significant cultural projects – they were instrumental in financing the Evergreen Brickworks project in Toronto –Victoria saw a gap in the Canoe Museum’s finances that she thought could be filled by a partnership of community foundations.

“I was immediately struck by the fact that it was a project that was national in scale, and that had a deep commitment to reconciliation that I thought would resonate with my colleagues across the country,” remembers Terry. “My board was immediately enthusiastic about the possibility. We knew it was of sufficient size that we couldn’t take it on alone. So, I reached out from coast to coast to coast and very quickly had five or six foundation partners interested and involved in the process.”

In addition to the community foundations in Hamilton and Peterborough, the partners include Toronto Foundation, Victoria Foundation, Oakville Community Foundation, and Social Enterprise Fund (established by the Edmonton Community Foundation). In total, the partners extended loans totaling $6,250,000 to the Museum.

The loans are more than just financial support; they’re a manifestation of a collective belief in the transformative power made possible by community cooperation. In the words of Sandra Richardson, CEO of Victoria Foundation, “We all work better when we work in partnership. This project, in particular, really resonated with us because of our work with First Nations and reconciliation. When you look at the subject of canoes and waterways, it’s the link that binds Canada together. It’s part of our history and it comes from the First Nation’s way of being and this project just seemed like something collective that we could do to strengthen the community foundation network.”

“From the Museum’s perspective, we’re always looking for partners that are able to provide excellent guidance and advice, friendly terms, and a shared vision,” said Carolyn Hyslop, CEO of the Canadian Canoe Museum. “Working with this consortium has given us all of this in spades. It has been a real joy building relationships with all of the community foundations involved but I need to give a big shout out to the Community Foundation of Greater Peterborough! To have the support of our local Community Foundation really anchoring this lenders consortium has been so important. It should be a great source of pride for the community. We’re also so grateful to Terry Cooke for his vision and his leadership in bringing this consortium together. This financial investment is pivotal to a project and organization like ours.”

By combining forces to pool resources and finance social projects –whether that’s a cultural institution like the Canadian Canoe Museum, an affordable housing project, or a social enterprise – community foundations have the ability to drive meaningful change. Taking calculated risks, employing innovative financial models; the collaborative efforts of multiple community foundations in social finance not only has the potential to amplify the scale of positive impact but also showcase what unified action across geographic boundaries can do to create stronger, more resilient communities for all.

**This story first appeared in the Spring 2024 edition of “Foundation Focus,” our quarterly newsletter. Read it here and find out what else we’re up to.