As a young boy, Don Lindsay ’76 dreamed of becoming a professional hockey player — until his peers started growing taller and stronger and it became unlikely that he would even make the UCC team. So, he decided to turn his small size into an advantage and joined the rowing team as a coxswain.
Of course, within the year he started to grow and was soon training with all the oarsmen, becoming stroke of one of the crews that won the Canadian high school championships. Rowing was a sport that required very hard work and was the ultimate team activity. It moulded his character and opened doors to the wider world. Now, Lindsay is paying it forward by donating $1 million towards construction of UCC’s new boathouse in the Outer Harbour, which will be named The Lindsay Boathouse.
The donation will be the first gift made by the Lindsay Family Foundation, created upon Lindsay’s recent retirement as the chief executive officer of Teck Resources Limited. He previously served as president of CIBC World Markets.
“Establishing a family foundation has been a long-term dream where I would be able to give some thank-you gifts in the early years of my retirement, and my gift to UCC happens to be the first one; we’re planning about 20 more for a variety of good causes across the country,” Lindsay says.
“I think it’s important to give back, and the boathouse is a good investment. The students who use it are going to learn things — about teamwork, about pushing themselves, about discipline, showing up at 5:30 in the morning — that will stand them in good stead throughout the rest of their lives. They are going to build endurance and cardiovascular capacity, they’re going to be healthy, they’re going to be good citizens, and that’s what I’m investing in.”
Lindsay is also delighted that community members will have an opportunity to learn to row and gain similar benefits from using the new facility.
“Broadening the availability of the boathouse to include people who otherwise wouldn’t have a chance to row is fantastic. You can’t know ahead of time which people will take to it, but for some of them, it will actually change their life and the trajectory they’re on.”
The sport certainly had a lasting impact on young Lindsay. Having started his rowing career as a coxswain, he later rowed in both eight- and four-man shells, winning three gold medals at the Canadian high school championships as well as rowing in stroke position for the Queen’s varsity eight when they won the university championships. He also won the Royal Canadian Henley in a double scull.
Rowing also broadened his horizons; Lindsay made the national team in 1980, earning the right to compete at the world championships in Belgium, and travelled to regattas and various training camps throughout Canada and the United States.
“We learned that if you work hard enough, you’d get to see the world, and it opened our eyes,” Lindsay says. “Our coaches told us we were going to make the national team and send people to world championships, and again, we didn’t believe them, but we worked even harder and sure enough, it came true. And think about it, it came true for me and I was pretty average on the team. There are so many other UCC grads who did so much better, including winning gold at the Olympics.”
He also credits his self-confidence and determination, in part, to his UCC coaches and the rowing program.
“Rowing helped build our confidence that if we worked hard enough, we could do anything,” says Lindsay. “The direct link between work and success was really reinforced and you’d see it in other aspects of your life. If you wanted to get higher marks, you just worked harder.
“The combination of UCC itself, which is a high-standards, competitive environment with inspiring teachers and a performance culture, and rowing, which is all of that and then some, is why you see so many former UCC rowers succeeding at what they set out to do.”
Success and Lindsay have more than a nodding acquaintance. He earned his MBA from Harvard and, although he has retired from a stellar career, he is currently serving a five-year term as chair of the board of Manulife Financial Corporation. He has also recently been named chair of the Invictus Games Vancouver-Whistler 2025.
“When you’re privileged enough to have roles like that, part of being in those roles is using the platform to make a difference to people in need.” he says. “It is important not to miss that opportunity.”
UCC rowers are fortunate to have Don Lindsay as part of their crew.
Says Principal Sam McKinney, “We’re so grateful to Don and family for their incredible contribution. Rowing at UCC has helped generations of students develop a love of the sport and lasting bonds. There’s much excitement about our once-in-a-lifetime chance to build a rowing facility on Toronto’s waterfront and provide difference-making support to student-athletes in our community and beyond.”
The Lindsay Boathouse is scheduled to open in fall 2023, and a co-ed community learn-to-row program will follow in 2024. Part of UCC Summer Camps, financial assistance will make the program accessible to participants from schools and neighborhoods across the GTA. Read more about UCC’s new rowing facility.