The Gairdner Foundation was established in 1957 with the main goal of awarding annual prizes to individual researchers whose discoveries in biomedical and global health research have had major impact on progress in science and on human health.
James A. Gairdner (known as Big Jim to his grandchildren) was, indeed, a larger than life figure.
Described by his friends as a talented maverick and visionary, he was a colourful personality who lived large. He was, by turns, an athlete, a soldier, a stockbroker, a businessman, a philanthropist and a landscape painter.
While he had always had an interest in medicine, it was the onset of severe arthritis in his early 50s that led Gairdner to become involved with the newly created Canadian Arthritis and Rheumatism Society. In 1957 he donated $500,000 to establish the Gairdner Foundation to recognize major research contributions in the conquest of disease and human suffering.
Gairdner’s decision to create awards that recognize outstanding discoveries by the world’s top scientists was, and continues to be, an act of extraordinary vision. Much of his original instruction regarding the process of selection and awarding of the prizes remains in place today, contributing to the current stature of the Canada Gairdner Awards.
In 2008, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Gairdner Awards and to promote exceptional achievement in health research, the Government of Canada provided the Foundation with a $20-million endowment. This has helped the Foundation to enhance its awards and expand its outreach activities.