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Former Shaw CEO donates record-setting $19 million to Shawnigan Lake School

Jim and Kathryn Shaw have donated a record $19 million to Shawnigan Lake School. - courtesy Shawnigan Lake School
Jim and Kathryn Shaw have donated a record $19 million to Shawnigan Lake School.
— image credit: courtesy Shawnigan Lake School

Jim Shaw of the Shaw Communications empire and wife Kathryn are pouring $19 million into Shawnigan Lake School, making it the largest single gift in the history of Canadian independent schools.

"It's absolutely momentous,'' said Shawnigan Lake School Headmaster David Robertson.

Jim Shaw is a 1977 Shawnigan alumnus and has long been one of the school's most ardent supporters.

"Shawnigan is one of the top schools in North America, and we are delighted to be able to offer our support with this gift,'' he noted in a statement. "I know my time at the school had a profound impact on the man I am today. Kathryn and I believe in the school, its vision and, most importantly, in the possibilities it offers young people. It is an honour to help Shawnigan continue in its mission.''

"This has been bubbling under for a while, a couple of years, I would say,'' said Robertson of the donation. "Jim and I have a relationship that goes back 10 years or more, 15 actually.

"We've just developed that understanding and shared vision and all that sort of thing.''

Shaw retired from his position as chief executive officer of Shaw Communications Inc. in 2010 and resides in Calgary with Kathryn, who remains very active in the school's affairs as a member of the Board of Governors.

The largest chunk of the donation, $11 million, has been earmarked for capital projects, including the construction of a Centennial library. Shawnigan Lake School will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2016.

The library will form the centrepiece of the Learning Commons that will be equipped with the latest in technological advancements such as an immersive simulation room and multi-faceted adaptive study areas. The remaining $8 will go toward a donor-managed fund that provides support via the Shaw Family Scholarships.

The scholarships began about 10 years ago, Robertson said, with three and moved to five.

"At the moment, there are nine. Next year, we're going to change how we do it so there'll be different amounts. There'll be 16 scholarships.''

The scholarships come with a unique element where the recipients make a signed pledge to give something back in the future so others can enjoy the Shawnigan experience.

"When they get the scholarship, they meet Jim and myself and Kathryn and they sign that document,'' said Robertson. "It's not legal. It's based on a school in England.''

Shawnigan Lake School has just passed its 98th birthday and is in the midst of a $40 million Building on Strength campaign for the Centennial.

The ambitious plan is intended to secure Shawnigan's future into the next century, with more than $32 million in cash and pledges already raised.

The campaign features $25 million to transform the iconic main building into a Learning Commons plus $15 million to enhance the school's endowment.

"This campaign was envisaged with the dual goal of creating a location that inspires students to strive for excellence and ensuring our ability to offer our unique brand of education to those young people, regardless of financial circumstance,'' noted Robertson.

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