Kingston resident A. Britton Smith recently donated $10 million to Queen’s in thanks to a school that he said has greatly influenced his life.
Nine million dollars will go to the Faculty of Health Sciences, the largest donation the faculty has ever received. The remaining $1 million will go towards the Richardson Stadium revitalization fund.
The money donated to the faculty will be used to help establish the Smith Chair in Surgical Research, the Sally Smith Chair in Nursing and the Britton Smith Chair in Surgery. A portion of the gift will go towards a chair in orthopaedic research and a nursing endowment.
Smith founded Homestead Land Holdings in 1954, which is now one of Canada’s largest landlords. Smith, a World War II veteran who won the Military Cross for bravery on the battlefield, graduated from the Royal Military College in 1940.
He’s previously backed the School of Business, Athletics and Recreation, the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts, Student Assistance and the Human Mobility Research Centre. He also donated funds to help construct the New Medical Building.
Although he didn’t go to Queen’s, the school has still been influential on his life, Smith said. His three children and six grandchildren all went to Queen’s, and Smith received an honourary degree in 2009.
“I have great respect for what Queen’s does for the City of Kingston — it is the heart and soul of the city. I do a lot of business in cities with universities, and none of them compare to the spirit of Queen’s,” he said.
He said one reason for the donation was to give back to the students who rent from his company, he said. Homestead Land Holdings leases to about 1,000 students who pay at least $10,000 a year.
“I thought I would return a little bit of that as a rebate to keep the students coming, and hopefully convince them to take it easy on my buildings,” he said with a laugh.
He added that his donation will inspire others to give gifts to Queen’s.
“They were using me as their decoy. I used to hunt ducks, so I would use decoys to bring other ducks within range to get shot.
“I figured if they showed one person giving a large donation, it would prop them up a bit for others to follow suit. But they still want to have a large donation. I said, ‘Why don’t we just have the picture?’,” Smith said, laughing.
The donation towards Richardson comes from his history with the old stadium on main campus, where Queen’s played until 1971.
“I thought it was a dreadful shame when it was abolished for a parking lot. Football inspires alumni to give money,” he said.
The donation to the faculty comes from Smith’s appreciation of medical professionals.
“I have always been surrounded by nurses — army nurses, my family, my wife’s friends. They were good to my wife, Sally. I would say the nurses in this country are wonderful, almost as great as the lawyers,” he said.
Vice Principal of Advancement Tom Harris said he’s appreciative of Smith’s gift.
“There are very few Mr. Smiths in the world, very few people who are able to do two things: one, amass that kind of wealth, and two, have the disposition to share it,” Harris said.
The donation goes toward the overall goals of the Initiative Campaign, which began in 2006 as an effort to raise $500 million for the University over 10 years. Donors contribute to one of 12 priorities, which include the Faculty of Health Sciences and Athletics and Recreation.
“The Dean [of Health Sciences] is happy because nursing doesn’t normally attract big resources,” Harris said.
There’s an emotional aspect to the gift for Smith.
“Having a chair in his wife’s name is very special,” Harris said, adding that philanthropy is a collective effort.
“There is a collective benefit and a collective satisfaction.”
— With files from Sebastian Leck
This article has been changed to reflect the following correction:
A. Britton Smith donated nine million dollars to the Faculty of Health Sciences, not the School of Nursing. Incorrect information appeared in the Oct. 9 issue of the Journal. The Journal regrets the error.
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