Sydney Kahanoff was born in Manitoba in 1922 and grew up in Saskatchewan. After graduating from high school in 1939, he joined the RCAF serving in the Aleutian Islands for a year and a half on a radar station. He was then transferred to England where he was on the team that developed radio-directed torpedoes. He was wounded twice during the air blitz but served there until the conclusion of the war.
At that time he returned to Canada and under the auspices of the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) he studied engineering, majoring in physics at the University of Saskatchewan. While there Syd was one of the first students to work on the cyclotron, but turned down an offer to work on Canada’s nuclear facility in Chalk River.
Syd followed his family to Calgary and began working for National Geophysical, and then for Union Oil Exploration in both Canada and Australia. He was noted as a “finder” and his work produced several large oil fields in Alberta. In 1961, while in Australia his crew discovered the first oil-producing property, Moonie #1. When he returned to Canada in 1965, Syd co-founded Voyager Petroleum Inc. Voyager began mainly as a geophysical survey company called Geocan Exploration but quickly morphed into an oil and gas entity. Voyager was very successful, particularly in the discovering and marketing of natural gas.
Syd and his wife Fern Kahanoff (1928-1990) were very committed to the well-being and creativity of the community. Both Fern and Syd recognized that human aspirations live in a rich cultural setting, noting that without culture “a country was just a piece of land.” During Syd’s tenure as CEO of Voyager Petroleum, he contributed to the community as a member of a number of boards of directors including President of The Independent Petroleum Association of Canada (IPAC). When Syd sold his company in 1979, he decided that he wanted to use the proceeds to have a long-term impact on his community. As a result, in 1979 Syd launched a private charitable foundation, The Kahanoff Foundation, headquartered in Calgary, Alberta.
A great deal of Syd’s success in business evolved from his natural instinct toward finding new and better ways of doing things. His flair for personal innovation led to his desire to both further and support the works of other innovators. This objective became one of the pillars of The Kahanoff Foundation.
In addition to funding The Kahanoff Foundation, Syd made a very generous personal gift to the Calgary Board of Education in support of the first stand-alone school for the gifted in Western Canada. He also initiated a gift from the foundation to establish Hospice Calgary in response to an offer he made to his caregivers during his battle with cancer.
Syd passed away in 1980. Prior to his death he outlined to the board of The Kahanoff Foundation the direction he wished for the Foundation. In summary 60% of the funds were to be dispersed in Canada and 40% in Israel. Grants
Syd passed away in 1980. Prior to his death he outlined to the board of The Kahanoff Foundation the direction he wished for the Foundation. In summary 60% of the funds were to be dispersed in Canada and 40% in Israel. Grants would also be considered in the USA and Australia. 25% was to be used to support general charitable activities and the balance was for innovative projects developed by the Foundation, preferably, or in support of the innovative projects of others.
After Syd’s death, Fern translated their vision into wide-ranging funding and enabling of community initiatives, institutions, and organizations. The Foundation was one of the largest in Canada, with a mandate to encourage innovation in charitable organisations in Israel and Canada. Over the 34 years of its existence, the Foundation contributed approximately $250 million to support the nonprofit community.
The Kahanoff Foundation invested significant funds into the City of Calgary through the years, funding traditional and innovative charitable programs in the areas of health, education, culture, social services, philanthropy, community development and research.
Just a few of the vital projects supported by the Foundation include funding for The Banff Centre, the Academy for outstanding musicians at Mount Royal College, seed funding for the purchase of land to assist nonprofits in laying the base for their projects, and numerous other significant contributions.The Kahanoff Foundation also established the Kahanoff Centre for Charitable Activities, providing an accessible office and meeting space as well as a creative hub for Calgary’s charitable organizations.
One of Syd’s greatest passions was his love for family. And this caring became an extension to his city, his country, and the world. When he became very successful, family, city, country, and the world benefited.
Sydney Kahanoff’s legacy has indelibly permeated every area of the Calgary community. He is remembered as a philanthropist whose efforts impacted a significant number of nonprofit organizations in Calgary, which in turn has resulted in laying the permanent foundations for a more resilient and innovative community.
That is who he was. And that is what he did.
References & Links
The Kahanoff Foundation and the Kahanoff Family