Ever since selling DBRS, the fourth-largest credit rating agency in Canada, in 2015 for a reported $500 million dollars, Walter Schroeder and his wife, Maria, have been giving back. Through the Walter and Maria Schroeder Foundation, the couple has given generously to high schools in disadvantaged neighbourhoods in Winnipeg – where they both grew up – and healthcare organizations in Toronto, where they now live. Their gift of $20 million to the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, the largest donation ever to a rehabilitation hospital in Canada, has led to the creation of the Walter and Maria Schroeder Institute for Brain Innovation and Recovery. We spoke with Walter about his family’s passion for change.
We believe in quality of life over quantity of life. We wanted to do more in this area: not just saving lives, but making sure people can live better. Toronto Rehab helps people with conditions like dementia, stroke and multiple sclerosis have a better quality of life. We know that the two things that are most important to people are mobility and pain. Toronto Rehab is a hospital that gets people moving and walking as much as possible, and it deals with their pain.
We’ve seen friends dealing with dementia in loved ones. We know it’s one of the most difficult and painful diseases out there, and you’ll live a long time with it. The caregivers are so hard hit. Your loved one is still with you, but you have to watch them fade away. Toronto Rehab, and its research institute KITE, does important work and research with dementia, and we want to support that.
There are three major projects. The first is related to CRANIA, the CenteR for Advancing Neurotechnological Innovation to Application, which we helped found with a $500,000 gift in 2016. This group does research around understanding and treating neurological conditions. The second develops new therapies to restore function for people with nervous system disorders; projects that do things like help stroke survivors move their hands. The third is about helping people no matter where they are by using technology to do things like deliver rehab at home.
We want to see people getting treatment right away, and we want to see lives benefited right away. This is why we’re donating our money – we could pass it onto our children, but we want to see it working right now to change lives.
There’s a musical we helped develop called No Change in the Weather, about Newfoundland and the unfairness of equalization payments to the province. We did 70 performances of the musical in Toronto, and part of the proceeds went back to Toronto Rehab, three other hospitals and Winnipeg high schools. We’re using the musical to help publicize our foundation and get the word out about the things we’re passionate about: addressing inequality and quality of life.