Mr. Robert A. Laidlaw established the Laidlaw Foundation in 1949 with an endowment of $50,000 to benefit charitable, educational, conservation and cultural organizations in Ontario. Further capital contributions in excess of $11 million were made to the Foundation by R.A. Laidlaw, his two sons, Dr. Nicholas and Mr. Roderick Laidlaw and his brother Walter C. Laidlaw. The Family drew its wealth from the R Laidlaw Lumber Company founded in 1886, by the father of R.A. and Walter C. Laidlaw. The Lumber Company was sold to MacMillan-Bloedel in 1972.
Family members assumed leadership roles in many community agencies: Mr. R. A. Laidlaw served as chairman of the Board of Directors of the Hospital for Sick Children for 18 years and headed the hospital’s 1947-51 capital campaign. He was also a founding director of the National Ballet of Canada, the National Ballet School, served as a director of Upper Canada College, the Royal Ontario Museum, the McMichael Gallery and the Quetico Foundation. Mr. Walter C. Laidlaw served on the Board of Central Neighbourhood House (CNH) between 1912 and 1962. He bought an estate on Lake Simcoe known as The Gables and turned it over to CNH as a summer camp for the impoverished residents living in the Ward. Mrs. Katharine Smith, R.A. ‘s daughter also served for many years on the CNH Board. Mr. Roderick Laidlaw was involved in the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto and other community organizations. Dr. Nicholas Laidlaw served for many years as a director of the West End Crèche, the National Ballet School and the Ontario Psychological Foundation.
In its early years, the Foundation’s income was disbursed primarily to institutions of national stature in the areas of health, education, culture and the arts, and to institutions in which the Founders and Directors had a long-standing interest. As the value of its assets grew in the late 1960s and into the 1970s, the Foundation developed broader public interests in response to emerging public concerns, e.g., in children’s mental health, graduate fellowships in social work, nursing, child psychiatry and law, the arts, social welfare research and policy, and land/habitat conservation. In 1963, advisors, who were recognized leaders in their respective professional disciplines, were recruited to assist the Board and provide peer assessment for project grant decisions and to advise the Board on strategic program development. In addition, the Directors appointed a professional staff to work with applicants and co-ordinate the Foundation’s activities. The Board decided that the majority of the Foundation’s Directors would be drawn from the community and not be members of the family.
During this period the Foundation convened a number of expert workshops in the areas of child development and children’s mental health and seeded a number of major studies, professional development activities and demonstration projects.
In the 1980s the Foundation established a focused program in the arts. Through this program it contributed to the Canadian cultural sector by funding the creation of new works for the performing arts. In 1981, the Foundation’s Board was expanded and two of the Founder’s grandchildren were invited to join. The majority of the Board members continued to be independent directors. Towards the end of the decade the Foundation identified and launched its Great Lakes Conservation Program. The Foundation ended the decade as an active advocate for social assistance reform in Ontario.
In the 1990s the Foundation adopted an ambitious $5 million seven-year Children at Risk Program that set to improve the life chances of children from a research, practice, policy and theoretical perspective. A number of important national and local initiatives were supported.
In the late 1990s the Foundation expanded the Board to twelve members and invited young people to serve on the Board and program committees. Funding was set aside for a new youth engagement program and youth recreation initiative.
In 1997 the Foundation established a new environmental initiative to replace its former Great Lakes program. The new program, Environmental Contaminants and Child Health aimed to broaden the environmental constituency by linking health professionals and environmentalists in areas of air quality, and the reduction if not the elimination of toxins in the food supply.
In 1999, Building Socially & Economically Inclusive Communities became the latest program initiative within the Foundation’s Child & Youth fund.
In 2001, to mark its fiftieth anniversary the Foundation published Making Change: 50 Years of the Laidlaw Foundation (ECW Press).
2005 marked a year of change for the Foundation. The board and staff began developing a strategic focus that would effectively direct our efforts to affect change. The focus would be on enhancing the well-being of Canada’s young people. In 2007 the Board adopted a new five year strategic plan that would see us investing in innovation, convening and catalyzing change, generating and communicating knowledge and building strong internal operations. The Foundation renewed its commitment in 2013 and continues to strive towards affecting change in systems and institutions that affect the lives of young people.