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Philanthropic couple made lasting impact

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Our immense gratitude to Ben and Hilda Katzz”l is enduring and profound. Ben and Hilda’s portraits, as seen above, are proudly displayed in the building that bears their names.

Ben and Hilda Katz are remembered as the “heart and soul” of Baycrest.

For those that knew the couple, this reputation is as fitting as it is well earned.  Born in Poland, Ben was orphaned at a young age and raised by his grandmother before he moved to Canada as a teenager in the 1920s.  At a similar time, Hilda’s family also emigrated from Poland.  Though their paths did not cross until years later, their similar pasts filled with parallel challenges made for a swift and strong connection that would last a lifetime.  After marrying, the newlyweds settled in a small town called Chesley, Ontario, where they remained for 25 years.  Here, they undertook the first of many ambitious endeavours and opened clothing stores to serve surrounding communities. 

When they moved to Toronto many years later, their ambitions followed and Ben turned his attention to building. With his robust experience and a reputation of honesty and integrity preceding him, Ben found fast success and quickly created a thriving building and development business. However, business was not the couple’s only passion. In fact, their greatest calling had always been to help those in need. Amid their success, they did not forget the poverty and anti-Semitism that shaped their childhoods, and felt compelled to give back. Ben and Hilda were always helpful and social – traits that made them a natural fit in the world of philanthropy, said Harold Shneer, Hilda’s nephew and dear friend of the couple.

“After the Holocaust, they helped every one of their remaining relatives immigrate to Canada and supported them as they started their new lives. They touched a number of causes in their early work, but two distinct passions emerged: children and the elderly.”  

The couple first got involved with Baycrest in the 1960s when Hilda’s mother was a resident. After seeing the quality of care her mother experienced, it didn’t take long for Ben and Hilda to extend their generosity to Baycrest.  When plans were announced in the early 1980s for a new hospital, the couple stepped forward with a substantial leadership gift to help fund what is now known as the Ben and Hilda Katz Building.

When it opened in 1986, the 300-bed hospital was one of the most advanced modern geriatric hospitals in North America and the first chronic care hospital to incorporate short-term services.  The Ben and Hilda Katz building was designed to specifically serve the geriatric population and was constructed so that every patient had a window.

Two years later, The Ben and Hilda Katz Charitable Foundation was created and quickly established itself as a transformative force in the philanthropic world. In the years that followed, the Foundation left its mark on a variety of worthy organizations and causes, yet its support for Baycrest never wavered.

Ben and Hilda were particularly interested in projects that would benefit the general public in addition to the residents who lived at Baycrest, Shneer said.

In the 1990s, they established several extremely generous multimillion-dollar endowment funds that continue to support care, education and scientific inquiry at Baycrest to this day. After the couple’s passing in 2000, the Foundation remained dedicated to their mission. Over the next several years, the Ben and Hilda Katz Foundation made significant investments to the Centre for Memory and Cognitive Neuro-Rehabilitation at Baycrest. In a true testament to their commitment to the organization, when Baycrest was faced with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the Foundation made an additional contribution to help safeguard seniors and frontline staff. 

Ben and Hilda Katz are an integral part of the Baycrest story.  Their extraordinary generosity has impacted countless lives on our campus and in the larger community and will continue to do so through the Katz endowment funds. Through their incredible life and legacy, they have shaped the aging experience of Canadians.

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