Gathering STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math)

December 18, 2020

Modern Technologies Made Possible by Historic Foundation


Peter Webster (seated) with recipients of the Webster Undergraduate Summer Research Awards, including Cooper Coats (standing in navy shirt).


By Suzanne Robicheau

Imagine a modern woodshop, where instead of hammers and saws the tools are 3-D printers, laser cutters, and specialty software. Acadia imagined just such a place. The R. Howard Webster Foundation helped make it a reality.

“The R. Howard Webster Foundation has a long history of supporting projects that benefit Acadia University and our students,” says Nancy Handrigan (’92),

Acadia’s Executive Director, Philanthropy. “The Foundation stepped forward again during Campaign for Acadia with a gift to help us create Steamspace, a renovated area in Raymond House that now houses the tools for 21st-century digital design and prototyping.”

The back story to this forward-looking philanthropy begins with the Foundation’s founder, the late R. Howard Webster, O.C., an ambitious yet humble Montrealer who had the Midas touch with respect to business and a heart of gold when it came to community. After providing decades of generous support for everything from neurological research and medical equipment to Boys and Girls Clubs and bilingualism, R. Howard Webster passed away in 1990, leaving everything to his Foundation.

Norman Webster took over as President of the R. Howard Webster Foundation in 1991. A respected journalist and former editor-in-chief of both The Globe and Mail and the Montreal Gazette, he has worked diligently to support Canadian charities and has helped disburse many gifts for educational institutions, including Acadia University. Distinction as a Member of the Order of Canada speaks to Norman’s exceptional dedication to service.

After 20 years as President, Norman passed the mantle to the Foundation’s long-time treasurer, Howard Davidson. During his 40-year involvement with the Webster Foundation, Howard has guided Board members in designating a variety of gifts to Acadia. The impact of this generosity has been felt in support for the library, electronic classrooms, instructional materials, program development, and the Webster Undergraduate Research Awards, three awards of almost $6,000 each year to support promising undergraduate Honours students in unique areas of research.

For alumnus Cooper Coats (BScH ’18), who recently qualified for the Olympics as a member of Rugby Canada’s National Senior Men’s 7s Team, a Webster Undergraduate Research Award made it possible to experience a summer of full-time research into compounds that could ameliorate the toxic side effects that chemotherapy has on the heart. Now pursuing his Master of Science in Kinesiology at the University of Victoria with the goal of becoming a doctor, Cooper describes the R. Howard Webster Foundation and Foundation Chair Peter Webster as two of the main reasons his honours project and the final year of his undergraduate degree were so successful.

Having met Peter in his final year at Acadia, Cooper says, “I feel very thankful to have received an award from a Foundation that has such an important connection with Acadia and truly cares about the students they support.”

That strong connection is evident in the R. Howard Webster Foundation’s Campaign contribution of $500,000 for Steamspace, the first university makerspace in Atlantic Canada to welcome everyone – from students, faculty and staff to alumni, school groups, and members of the surrounding community.

Support for innovation is exemplified as well in gifts that helped drive the Acadia Advantage, an academic initiative that integrated mobile technology into the undergraduate curriculum. In addition to funding 22 electronic classrooms and equipping them with the latest in multi-media tools, the Foundation made it possible for Acadia to provide fibre optic links to the Internet at every desk – a wonderful gift even by today’s standards, and one that put Acadia on the map in the late 1990s as a technology innovator.

“In fact, the Foundation was among the earliest of leadership donors to the Acadia Advantage capital campaign,” says Harvey Gilmour (’66), Acadia’s former Director of Development. “Foundation directors grasped the significance of linking students to the world-wide-web at a time when the issue was in great debate.”

Gilmour credits the long-time relationship with the R. Howard Webster Foundation, developed during the tenure of Bill Parker (’56, Hon ’98) as Acadia’s Vice-President External Relations, with bringing enormous benefit to the University. “This is one of Canada’s greatest foundations,” he says. “The Board’s generosity and Peter Webster’s advocacy and service as a member of the University’s Board of Governors have been critical in supporting Acadia’s mission.”

According to Howard Davidson, the beauty and success of the R. Howard Webster Foundation comes down to the active role played by members of the Webster family, nine of whom sit on the 12-person Board. “Grant-making is very important to them,” he says. “They really roll up their sleeves and participate.”