Each of us has a story to tell about work.

The story is set in a particular place and time. It usually starts with the work we saw the significant adults in our lives do or not do. It includes the work we choose to do or had to do. It features people who helped or held us back along the way. It describes our routines and the structure of our days. Each chapter is a story in itself. Taken together, they tell a story about potential — blocked, unleashed, frustrated, or nurtured over our lifetimes.

From stories about work, we can learn about the private troubles that become public issues. We can get to know the names of the people who make up the latest employment statistics and the geography of the places given certain designations. We can see justice and injustice at work. The roots of inequality in opportunity, income and wealth can be unearthed. As we dig deeper into our stories, they pose an irresistible question: what are you working for?

Image: Yiorgos Aslanidis works on a shoe at Yiorgos the Cobbler in Toronto's West End. Photo: Nick Kozak


Atkinson has a story to tell about hard work.

One of eight children, Joseph Atkinson was born in 1865 and raised in a small town just east of Toronto. His widowed mother Hannah ran a boarding house for men who worked at the local foundry and woolen mill.

Imagine the education Joseph might have received eavesdropping on their conversation at the dinner table. He may have learned the men were part of the province-wide Nine-Hour Movement and belonged to a local league campaigning for a reduction in the workday to 9 hours from anywhere between 10 to 16. He may have even heard them debate the merits of the proposed Trade Union Act before it became the law in 1872 and gave workers the right to organize.

The world's first financial collapse occurred less than a year later. It surely meant empty dining room chairs, fewer dollars in Hannah's lockbox, and persistent grumblings about the meager portions on plates. Those who had jobs were working longer hours for lower wages despite the earlier legislative victory. Everyone living under the Atkinson roof must have formed strong bonds of respect and loyalty during these hard times. It took seven years for the economy to recover and even longer for those whose lives were upended. By then, 14-year old Joseph had to work.

One of Hannah's boarders may have helped her youngest son get his first job at the mill shortly after she died. When it burned down a few months later, Joseph relied on handouts until he landed a clerical job at the post office. There he spotted an ad for a clerk at a newspaper in a town nearby and turned that opportunity into his life's work.

Just ten years later, Joseph was a reporter in the big city who probably followed closely the story of 21 printers and their four young apprentices who were in a dispute with a rival newspaper. They were advocating for a weekly wage of $14 instead of a fixed rate for each unit produced or action performed regardless of time. When these workers left their jobs to start their own newspaper, they must have stirred Joseph's imagination even though the enterprise was doomed to fail for lack of capital. By the time a new group of wealthy and politically active investors came to him to lead the paper's turnaround, he was ready.

Joseph was ready to become the visionary publisher of the city's only progressive daily newspaper. He was ready to protect its integrity and demand complete editorial independence. He was ready to negotiate compensation in shares and wages, and to become the paper's owner over time. "The rest," says Toronto Star reporter Oakland Ross, "is printer's ink, newsprint, and an unending struggle for social reform."

In his will, Joseph Atkinson directed his executors to continue this struggle by returning the paper to the people. The Atkinson Foundation was created with the proceeds of its sale as the permanent means to this end.

We're working for social and economic justice in Ontario.

Since 1942, Atkinson has worked for changes in how Ontarians imagine and share in what economists call the "public good" — a commodity or service that's provided without profit to all members of a society. We've focused on poverty reduction, early childhood education and health. Our assets have been used to frame issues, research and public discourse. We've also invested them in convening conversations, incubating ideas, building networks, bringing solutions to scale, and giving voice to progressive consumers, shareholders, employers and community leaders.

Our story includes:

  • small-scale projects with one-time or short-term grants to have a direct and immediate impact on the income status of individuals, families and communities;
  • fellowships and awards to leading individuals and organizations; and,
  • experiments with complex, multi-stakeholder processes, large-scale initiatives and long-term investments for systemic and culture change, notably the Atkinson Centre for Society and Child Development and the Canadian Index of Wellbeing — a promising alternative to the GDP for measuring the country's progress.

Between the lines, you'll hear values that complement the original Atkinson Principles:

  • trust as the basis for long-term, creative and productive relationships
  • openness to and respect for differences in opinion, outlook and lived experience
  • collaboration with allies in all sectors and fields for collective impact
  • accountability and transparency in the stewardship of resources
  • smart risk as a prerequisite for innovation and progress

This has been hard but necessary work. Looking back, we can see we're a long way from where we started. There is, however, much more work to do.

Image: Leon Perry, a sanitation worker drives his truck during a shift in Burlington. Photo: Nick Kozak/Toronto Star


Our 2014 — 2017 strategic priority is building stronger movements for decent work.

We're now in our seventh decade as one of Ontario's leading charitable foundations. In 2013, Atkinson's board and staff members stepped back to consider the province's current social and economic realities — growing disparity in income and wealth, rising economic anxiety, and increasing ambivalence about democratic institutions and practices. We also looked at evidence of progress in the past decade to help us set our course for the next three years.

In choosing our strategic priority, we decided to follow the most encouraging signs. These days, workers are campaigning effectively to raise the minimum hourly wage to $14 and to improve employment standards. Working conditions are improving steadily for early childhood educators in the move to full-day kindergarten in public schools. Technology is being used more strategically to amplify diverse civic voices and to build movements — online and offline. In the cracks and on the edges of the old economy, a new more inclusive and collaborative one is taking hold.

We chose "decent work" because it's at the core our mission. This notion takes into consideration an urgent and complex set of values, issues and outcomes, such as the:

  • quantity and quality of jobs;
  • sufficiency of incomes;
  • acquisition of community wealth;
  • health, safety and inclusiveness of workplaces;
  • protection of workers' rights;
  • employee-employer relationship; and,
  • vitality of local economies.

Our definition for decent work comes from the International Labour Organization, building on four international declarations signed in the last century. Civilization turns its face in the right direction when it looks to these "ideals for labour," wrote Joseph Atkinson in his Labour Day editorial in 1928.

This is our starting point for conversation but not the end. Over the next three years, we'd like to hear what decent work means to you. What does it look like? How are you helping to create an economy that produces more decent work for more people?

We decided to reach out to "movement builders" — the individuals, organizations and networks best positioned to engage their communities to change the current narrative on work, wealth, wellbeing and the economy. By collaborating with them, we expect to:

  • create more good jobs and secure incomes within a green economy
  • gain greater labour market access and mobility, and a stronger start in the early years
  • translate complex information on social and economic issues into persuasive campaigns for collective action

The Atkinson Decent Work Fund is one of our new tools.

We created it to help organizations and networks take their next steps in building movements for decent work. It's also for those who grasp the power of digital and other media for civic engagement, and want to increase our collective capacity to use it creatively and effectively.

Close to sixty per cent of our resources are committed until 2017, so we've fine-tuned our ongoing work to steer us toward our vision for Ontario's workers. This includes our responsible investing, communications and learning strategies as well as our long-standing programs — the Atkinson Fellowship in Public Policy, the Ruth Atkinson Hindmarsh Award, and poverty relief grants.

From time to time, we plan to engage individuals with special expertise to further this decent work agenda. These Atkinson Associates are practitioners who are held in high regard by their peers. They're located at the intersection of issues, communities and sectors. We think of them as advisors, capacity builders, co-creators, and connectors in taking action on our strategic priorities. Additionally, we've decided to build an entry-level paid internship program to invite like-minded young adults to work alongside us.

Over the next three years, you'll find us at the crossroads of progressive movements — the place where you can see the first signs that the world is, in fact, changing for the better. With our partners and collaborators, we'll be strategizing, organizing, and seizing opportunities to turn bystanders into civic leaders committed to creating more decent work.

Join us there. Tell us your story about work. We're listening.

Image: A demonstration at the southeast corner of Jane Street and Finch Avenue against racial profiling and anti-immigrant raids and traffic stops in Toronto. Photo: Nick Kozak


We invested over $2.6 million in promoting social and economic justice, including grants to the following organizations:

ACORN Institute Canada
Atkinson Centre for Society and Child Development @ University of Toronto (OISE)
Better Child Care Education
Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
Canadian Children's Dance Theatre
Canadian Index of Wellbeing @ University of Waterloo
Church of St. Peter Food Bank
Community Food Centres Canada
Community Resource and Employment Service
David Busby Centre
Flemington Park Ministry
Health Nexus | Canadian Doctors for Medicare
Labour Community Services | Toronto Community Benefits Network
Mowat Centre NFP
Newcomer Women's Services Toronto
Ontario Employment Education and Research Centre | Workers' Action Centre
Pegasus Community Project
People for Education
St. Christopher House | MASS LBP
Sistering - A Woman's Place
Social Planning Toronto
Stop Community Food Centre
Urban Alliance for Race Relations
Working for Change

Veteran journalist Peter Goodspeed was named the 2013 — 2014 Atkinson Fellow in Public Policy. He's investigating Canada's refugee policy.

Boost Child Abuse Prevention and Intervention received the 2013 Ruth Atkinson Hindmarsh Award.

Image: Zoubayda Choucair, a student in the BA in Early Childhood Education Leadership — a joint program between George Brown College and Ryerson University — working with Isaiah Steinman Gould. Photo: Nick Kozak/Toronto Star



Victor Beausoleil

Victor is a facilitator and lecturer on youth engagement, educational attainment and community development. He is currently the Acting Executive Director at For Youth Initiative. Previously, he was the Executive Director of Redemption Reintegration Services. Victor has worked and volunteered in the broader equity seeking communities across Ontario for the past ten years as a Provincial Youth Outreach Worker, Youth Engagement Coordinator and Project Manager in the social service sector. He also sits on the board of The Harriet Tubman Community Organization among others. Victor serves as a member of the grant review committee of the Laidlaw Foundation and the Toronto Community Housing Social Investment Fund.

Paul Clifford

Paul Clifford has recently retired as the elected President of UNITE HERE Local 75, a position he has held since 1996. Born and raised in Toronto, Paul started organizing with HERE (the Hotel Employees Restaurant Employees union) in the 1980s. He was part of an organizing team that successfully unionized 2,600 clerical and technical workers at Yale, and helped workers in Chicago hotels, airports and riverboat casinos join the union. Paul has also served on the Board of Directors of Tourism Toronto and the Board of Governors of George Brown College.

Susan Eagle (until June 2013)

Susan Eagle is a United Church of Canada minister who was ordained in 1977. She is currently the minister at Grace United Church in Barrie. Susan was a London (ON) city councilor from 1997 until 2010. Susan has fostered the formation of self-help community and tenant groups and was a driving force behind the founding of the Neighborhood Legal Services clinic in London Ontario and the building of a $6 million Genesis Housing Co-op.

Grace-Edward Galabuzi

Grace-Edward Galabuzi is an expert on race and poverty in urban Canada and on the impact of global economic restructuring on local community economic development. He is a professor in the Department of Politics and School of Public Administration at Ryerson University and a Research Associate at the Centre for Social Justice in Toronto. He is the author of Canada's Economic Apartheid: The Social Exclusion of Racialized Groups in the New Century. Grace-Edward also has senior experience in government and the social sector, and is a member of the United Way of Greater Toronto Board of Trustees and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives' board.

Carol Goar (until June 2013)

Carol Goar is an award-winning Toronto Star journalist and editorial columnist. She previously served as the newspaper's editorial page editor, Washington bureau chief and national affairs columnist. Prior to joining the Star, Carol also worked for Maclean's, the Ottawa Citizen and Canadian Press.

John Honderich

John Honderich is the Chair of the Board of Torstar Corporation and the Torstar Voting Trust. He joined the Toronto Star in 1976 as a reporter and eventually was appointed Publisher of the Star in 1994, a position he held for almost 10 years. Until his retirement in 2004, John was Chairman of Canadian Press, Canadian Director for the World Association of Newspapers, and a director on the boards of the Canadian Newspaper Association, the Audit Bureau of Circulations, and workpolis.com. Most recently, he has been Special Ambassador for the Mayor of Toronto and then Special Advisor to the Premier of Ontario. A Member of the Order of Canada, the Order of Ontario and the News Hall of Fame, John serves on the boards of Torstar Corp., Seneca College, CAMH, the Michener Fellowship, the Mowat Institute, and the Martin Goodman Fellowship.

Hugh Mackenzie, President and Chair (until June 2013)

Hugh Mackenzie has worked for more than 25 years in the labour movement and in a variety of public policy capacities at all three levels of government in Canada. He was Executive Director of the Ontario Fair Tax Commission. From 1986 to 2003, he was Research Director in the Canadian National Office of the United Steelworkers of America. He researches and writes about a variety of public policy issues and is an expert on education finance reform. He is currently a principal at Hugh Mackenzie & Associates, consultants specializing in economic analysis, technical support to unions in collective bargaining and public policy analysis.

Erik Mathiesen, President and Chair (as of June 2013)

Erik Mathiesen is the Chief Financial Officer for the national arm of The United Church of Canada. In this capacity, Erik supports the work of almost 3000 congregations across Canada and works with many volunteers to maintain a large pension plan, national operating and grant budgets and significant investment holdings. Prior to his move to the nonprofit sector in 2008, he worked in the financial services industry for over 25 years specializing in operations management and business reengineering. Erik has been active in the nonprofit sector for over 30 years, particularly in the area of affordable housing. He plays leadership roles in the Rosedale-Moore Park Community Association (Mooredale), Woodgreen Community Services, and the Toronto Christian Resource Centre.

Emily Mathieu

Emily Mathieu is the great-great-granddaughter of Joseph E. Atkinson and a journalist at the Toronto Star. Emily holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Toronto and a Masters of Arts in Journalism degree, from the University of Western Ontario. She was hired to work at the Toronto Star in 2007 and now belongs to the paper's Investigative Unit, where she works to expose problems, or loopholes, with publicly funded tribunals and the waste of taxpayer dollars.

Gail Misra

Gail Misra is a labour mediator and arbitrator, and a Vice Chair of the Ontario Grievance Settlement Board. She was admitted to the Ontario Bar in 1991 and practiced labour and employment law, most recently as a Partner at CaleyWray. Her experience also includes two appointments as a Vice Chair of the Ontario Labour Relations Board. Gail has been actively involved in her community as a volunteer for over thirty years, and has most recently served on the Boards of Directors of the Working Women Community Centre, the Institute for Canadian Citizenship, and the Harbord Village Residents' Association.

Ali Rahnema, Treasurer (as of June 2013)

Ali Rahnema is the Chief Operating Officer, Digital for Star Media Group, leading the development and growth of digital strategies and assets on the web, mobile and social platforms. He has nearly two decades of experience in print and digital media in Canada and Europe, working in strategy, marketing, corporate development and operations leadership positions for Torstar Corporation, The Globe and Mail and Bell Canada, The Dublin-based Irish Times Group and the Paris-based World Association of Newspapers, as well as co-founding themarknews.com. He has also served on the Boards of Directors of Amnesty International (Canada), Youth Challenge International and the Harbourfront Corporation.


Colette Murphy, Executive Director

Colette Murphy is the Executive Director of the Atkinson Foundation. Colette held leadership positions with the George Cedric Metcalf Charitable Foundation and United Way Toronto prior to joining Atkinson in 2012. She began her career working in refugee resettlement with COSTI Immigrant Services. Colette has been a member of the Ontario Government's Social Assistance Review Advisory Council and with Metrolinx's Big Move 2.0 Project Advisory Committee. She is currently a board member at the Wellesley Institute and at the Shareholder Association for Research and Education (SHARE), and a member of Legal Aid Ontario's Clinic Law Advisory Committee.

Christine Avery Nuñez, Director of Operations and Special Projects

Christine Avery Nuñez manages the Foundation's day-to-day operations and a portfolio of special projects related to early learning and responsible investing. She also oversees the selection processes for two annual awards. Prior to joining Atkinson in 1996, Christine worked in high profile government initiatives such the Ontario Fair Tax Commission and the Provincial Anti-Drug Secretariat. She is a former President of the Selwyn Community Child Care Centre's Board of Directors.

From March to June 2013, Christine Avery Nuñez was Acting Executive Director while Colette Murphy was on sabbatical.

Image: Student Zohra Ahsan speaks during Psychology Professor Steve Joordens' class at the University of Toronto, Scarborough campus. Photo: Nick Kozak/Toronto Star


A 2013 financial summary can be downloaded here.

Image: Baker Brenan Clarke loads an oven at Blackbird Baking Company in Toronto's Kensington Market. Photo: Nick Kozak


One Yonge Street, Suite 702
Toronto, Ontario M5E 1E5

Tel: 416.368.5152
Fax: 416.865.3619
Email: info@atkinsonfoundation.ca

Click to subscribe to our mailing list for occasional updates on:

  • Funding opportunities and announcements
  • Priority issues and related initiatives
  • Foundation news and activities

Image: Actress Annick Obonsawin at Optix Digital Pictures recording in the studio. Reflected and working in the adjacent room are: (front to back) Gabriella Sundar Singh of Centennial College's children's entertainment course, Ryan Aktari and Gitte Barrow. Photo: Nick Kozak/Toronto Star