A soup kitchen, a vision and $20 – the history of the Victoria Foundation

The story of the Victoria Foundation began in 1936 in a soup kitchen – the Sunshine Inn on Pandora Avenue. The man who ran it, Burges Gadsden, knew this community could be improved by an organization with a solid source of funds that would provide support to charities across all sectors.

“So fine an undertaking…”

During the darkest days of the Depression, Burges founded the Victoria Foundation. Established through an Act of the B.C. Legislature, the Victoria Foundation became a registered Canadian charity and Canada’s second community foundation (after Winnipeg). Its first financial gift was received in April 1937 from Burges’ mother, Fannie Gadsden. She gave $20 “with the wish that I could afford one hundred dollars to so fine an undertaking” as she wrote in the letter enclosed with her donation.

Fannie may have worried that her gift was small, but that $20 changed a community forever. Today, over 85 years later, the Victoria Foundation still stewards that first gift – and the many others that followed.

Sunshine Inn inspires a future donor

One of those gifts came from a woman who first visited Victoria from England in 1936. At that time, Dorothy Wells (note, name changed to preserve her anonymity) had never seen a soup kitchen. When she discovered the Sunshine Inn she thought it remarkable that this community cared enough to look after its homeless and out-of-work citizens.

In 1960, Dorothy immigrated to Canada where she became a music teacher in Victoria. Making a difference became her passion, and she looked for ways to become involved in her community. She became a Girl Guide leader and she also lent her musical talent as an accompanist to many children’s choirs throughout Victoria.

And then the unthinkable happened: Dorothy was diagnosed with cancer in 1984. She began to consider the future. She was making a difference today, but what about tomorrow? She wanted to help support this community that had become her home and leave a legacy for the future. She learned about the Victoria Foundation and discovered its humble beginnings in the soup kitchen that had impressed her so many years ago.

The legacy continues

Dorothy decided the Victoria Foundation’s mission, connecting people who care with causes that matter®, fit exactly with her own and she established a donor-advised fund. Dorothy lost her 22-year battle with cancer in 2006 but not before creating an endowment ensuring that the 15 Victoria charities she designated will benefit from her generosity in perpetuity. From arts and education to the environment and health care, Dorothy made a lasting difference indeed.

It is thanks to the foresight and generosity of people like Dorothy Wells and Burges and Fannie Gadsden that the Victoria Foundation now administers assets of more than $448 million – making it the sixth largest of over 200 community foundations in Canada. Since 1936, the foundation has granted over $313 million to thousands of organizations.

The Victoria Foundation is fortunate to be associated with so many people who share our founder’s commitment to the ongoing betterment of our community. We are committed to building on Burges Gadsden’s legacy and carrying forward his commitment to improve our community – forever.