TORONTO — Canadian rugby has received a historic boost in the form of an $11.65-million donation.
The money, which is going to the non-profit Canadian Rugby Foundation, comes from the $21.5-million sale of the eight-hectare Fletcher’s Fields rugby facility in Markham, north of Toronto, to the City of Markham.
Established in 1966, Fletcher’s Fields features six rugby fields and has hosted Canada test matches against Argentina, England, Ireland, Japan, the U.S. and Wales as well as numerous Ontario championships. It is named after the late Denis Fletcher, a rugby enthusiast who helped grow the game in Ontario.
Fletcher’s Fields Limited, which owned the facility, is comprised of six equal shareholders: Aurora Barbarians Rugby Football Club, Markham Irish Canadian Rugby Club, Rugby Ontario, Nomads Rugby Football Club of Toronto, Toronto Saracens Rugby Football Club and Toronto Scottish Rugby Football Club.
The $11.65-million donation will translate into six endowment funds, representing each of those shareholders. The remainder of the sale proceeds is being held back as the clubs determine their future venue and capital plans.
The Foundation will administer the endowment funds, retaining some of the proceeds with the bulk of that revenue going back to the original shareholders.
Foundation chair Mike Holmes called it a “historic donation.”
“It will enable us to invest significantly more funds in development of grassroots rugby in Canada,” Holmes said in an interview.
“That’s the mission of the foundation — to grow our capital so that we have more and more income arising from that capital,” he added. “And in time we have more and more money to spend on growth of grassroots rugby in Canada.”
Established in 2003, the Foundation offers scholarships and manages several funds, including the Captain’s Fund, which helps the under-20 and other national age-group programs and the Monty Heald National Women’s Fund, which assists women’s national team programs.
The Foundation’s assets now exceed $18 million. Rugby Canada’s annual revenue totalled $9.2 million in pandemic-affected 2020 and $14.9 million in 2019.
Fletcher’s Fields will continue hosting rugby and other sport competitions until October 2024 with shareholder clubs hoping to have new localized facilities ready for the 2025 season.
In recent years, the Fletcher’s board opted for a long-term review with the facility’s increasing need for capital improvements and out of a desire for greater access to rugby across the city. That led to the board accepting a purchase offer.
In addition to the six new endowment funds, the Foundation has contributed $120,000 and committed to an annual contribution towards a new Fletcher’s Patrons Fund that honours those who helped finance major renovations and build grandstands at the property. The returns from the fund will go toward initiatives to help develop rugby in Ontario.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 23, 2021.
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press