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Killam awards a magnet for attracting brightest scholars, says trustee and former Chancellor Jim Dinning

Unique Canadian trust fund supports exceptional scholarship that contributes to global understanding
October 31, 2016
Jim Dinning,

Jim Dinning, Killam trustee and former chancellor of the University of Calgary, gives remarks at the Killam award celebration. Photo by Photographik

The Killam Trusts support top-ranked Canadian post-secondary students and professors who are making exceptional contributions to society. The pathfinding work of the nearly 7,000 Killam Laureates from Canada and around the world promote international understanding — fulfilling the Killam dream of a better world.

It may not be a household name like the Nobel Prize or get the media attention of Oxford University’s Rhodes Scholarships but, on university campuses across Canada, the Killam Awards are synonymous with research and scholarship excellence. Since 1967, Canada’s Killam awards have been supporting the work of researchers and academics across the country. This includes 400 scholars from the University of Calgary, allowing them to pursue innovative research and teaching that pushes boundaries, challenges assumptions and inspires new ways of thinking about the world.

“The Killam awards make it possible for our top students and professors to come together to make a significant and lasting contribution to our university and for the betterment of Canada, as Dorothy Killam envisioned in her will,” said Dru Marshall, provost and vice-president (academic). “As one of only five Killam-supported universities in Canada, we are honoured by this recognition and welcome the trustees to our campus to meet our outstanding Killam laureates for this year.” 

On Oct. 26, the UCalgary community gathered to celebrate the university’s 31 Killam award recipients for 2016 who are working across disciplines in areas ranging from the health of space travellers and stroke patients, to how music shapes cultures.  

UToday talked to Jim Dinning, former chancellor of the University of Calgary and one of four trustees of the Killam trust, about the significance of the awards that have been called one of Canada’s national treasures.

Q: What impact do you see the Killam awards having on research and scholarship in Canada?

A: When Dorothy Killam set up the Trust, in memory of her late husband Izaac, she wanted to support advanced study in Canada — in other words, the work of graduate, doctoral and postdoctoral students and faculty — and, on top of that, she said she wanted [the awards] to reach out beyond Canada so that Canadians would have a better understanding of their role in the world. So as we come to the 50-year anniversary of the awards in 2017, my sense is, if we were to take the Killams away, it would leave a mighty hole in the funding for professors and postgraduate students to do what the Trust intended of building Canada by encouraging advanced study.

Q: What makes the Killams unique among all the funding and scholarship programs available?

A: The Killams are the largest private awards program in Canada. When it started, there was $100 million divided among the institutions receiving support from the Trust. Today it is worth well over $450 million among the five universities and one institution — the University of Calgary, Dalhousie University, University of Alberta, University of British Columbia, McGill University and the Canada Council for the Arts.

Q: Beyond the dollar figures, what makes the Killams unique?

A: I think what’s so special about the Killams is their origin. Mr. Killam was born in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia and became one of the great industrialists of the 20th century, and when his wife provided these funds in the Trust, there wasn’t anything bigger in Canada at that time and today the Killam Trust is larger than the Rhodes Trust.

Q: The international component that Mrs. Killam included in the vision for the Killams seemed ahead of its time in terms of the importance placed on global reach. How do you see the international component benefitting Canada?

A: Because these awards are available to scholars regardless of their citizenship, it gives universities added flexibility that they might not have with other awards to magnetically attract scholars in any field. Imagine being able to attract a person from anywhere else in the world, like a world-class physicist, to  work with other physicists, and work with grad students and even undergrad students to entice, to excite and to energize their interest in physics, or in whatever field that person specializes in. Some other grants are given only to Canadians so universities can’t create that funding pool to reach for a shooting star from somewhere else in the world to bring them here.

Q: As a former chancellor of the University of Calgary, how do you see the Killams supporting UCalgary’s aspirations?

A: When you’ve got over $1 million a year available for advanced study that other institutions don’t have, clearly this fits hand in glove with the university’s Eyes High strategy to become one of Canada's top five research universities. Cumulatively, the Killams have provided $5.5 million in student awards at the University of Calgary since they were established. That makes a difference.

Q: What makes you proud to be associated with the Killam Trust?

A: Mr. Killam was an early leader at Calgary Power, now TransAlta. He was involved in power generation, pulp and paper, and he at one time owned the Globe and Mail. He grew Royal Securities, which was later taken over by Merrill Lynch, from nothing into a Canadian institution that financed resource development that led to the creation of wealth in this country.

That’s what makes me proud. The fact that this Canadian industrialist whose sole purpose in life was to grow Canada, that he and his wife generously financed this Trust that’s making a difference at six institutions. He is an inspiration for so many other successful business people across Canada to use their wealth to grow our intellectual capabilities. He’s a perfect example of what others need to do.

About the Killams

Established in 1965 by Izaak Walton Killam and his wife Dorothy J. Killam, the Killam Trusts fund scholarships to help build Canada's future by supporting advanced education and research at five Canadian universities and the Canada Council for the Arts. The Killam Trusts are one of the only private philanthropic trusts for higher education in Canada. To date, there are close to 7,000 Killam laureates in various parts of the world.

Killam funds at the University of Calgary are used to support exceptional doctoral students, postdoctoral fellows and faculty members in several award categories in the five disciplines of Health Sciences, Natural Sciences, Engineering, Social Sciences and Humanities.