Written by Carolyn Cameron - IR Genealogist
Lily Irene Sigurdson (Irene) and Leslie Dubé (Les) were born and grew up in the small town of Wynyard, Saskatchewan. They became very successful business people and incredibly generous philanthropists, giving back to the people of their home province.
Irene’s mother and father were born in North Dakota from Icelandic parents who immigrated there between 1878 and 1890. Les is not of Icelandic heritage. Both Irene’s and Les’s parents arrived in the Wynyard area around 1912. It was a big Icelandic settlement. Irene (born 1936) is from a family of ten children, Les (born 1933) has five siblings. They both started working after school and Saturdays when they were teenagers, Les at the local grocery store and Irene at the hardware store, both contributing to their family income. Growing up in Saskatchewan was not easy and they both learned the value of sharing and helping out their communities.
They married when Les was 20 and Irene was 17. And just a few years later bought some property in Saskatoon. Soon, they started a company that supplies and distributes fruit and vegetables from many parts of the world to markets in Canada. By 2007 they had three large produce distribution centres in Western Canada. They bought more land, built motels, apartments, warehouses and strip malls. Using their strong work ethic and business sense they built The Concorde Group of Companies, one of the most diversified business ventures in Western Canada. But they never forgot about giving back.
While managing their growing business both Les and Irene served on various boards with charities and non-profit organizations in Saskatchewan. Irene served on the Board of Governors for the University of Saskatchewan. Les sat on the St. Paul’s Hospital Board of Directors for 16 years. In 1990 they were honored to be invited to the Vatican by the Grey Nuns, founders of St. Paul’s Hospital, to receive Holy Communion from Pope John Paul.
Les and Irene have donated large amounts of money to charities in Saskatchewan since 1993. They had a plan of being able to give between $3 and $4 million a year to improve the quality of life for the residents of Saskatchewan.
During the 100th anniversary of St. Paul’s Hospital, Les and Irene contributed $1 million for a Centre of Urology which included a centre of care for those with prostate cancer. They also gave $1 million for a new wing and another $1 million for a new MRI machine.
Another donation of $1 million helped establish the Breast Centre of Health at Saskatoon City Hospital. It is now named after them.
In October 2007 they made the largest single donation to a Saskatchewan hospital - $3 million to build the Irene and Leslie Dubé Centre for Mental Health at the Royal University Hospital. During the announcement Irene spoke about her own struggles with mental health and her desire to remove the stigma attached to the subject of mental health.
Also that year, Les and Irene received their honorary Doctor of Laws degrees from the University of Saskatchewan. In 2008 they received the Saskatchewan Order of Merit - Saskatchewan’s highest honour.
In October 2009 they gave 6.5 million to the Children’s Hospital of Saskatchewan, now named the Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital. It was the largest individual gift ever made to a pediatric hospital in Western Canada.
They have also made donations to the Saskatoon Food Bank and for years covered the cost of Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving meals for the Saskatoon Friendship Inn. In 2013 the Dubés donated $1 million to The Lighthouse, a supported living residence in Saskatoon, which was then renamed The Dubé Lighthouse.
In 2017 both Les and Irene were named as Members of the Order of Canada.
In March 2018 they donated $1 million to the Saskatchewan Hospital in North Battleford to help replace the existing mental health facility that was built in 1911. It opened in March 2019.
In December 2019 they made a $2 million donation to the “Close to Home Campaign for Hospice and End of Life Care” by the St. Paul’s Hospital Foundation. Half of this amount will be an endowment to support spiritual care, bereavement care and art therapy. The other half will go directly to building the Hospice at Glengara, in Saskatoon. This donation will be the fulfillment of a life-long dream for the Dubés. Their generous donations have supported health care at every stage of life, from birth to death, in Saskatchewan.
And just announced on June 18, 2020, you can now add animals to the long list of recipients of their generosity. Les and Irene Dubé will have an enduring effect on the lives of many pets and people, thanks to their gift of $1 million to the Good Samaritan Fund at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM).
Over the years Irene and Les have donated close to $20 million dollars. People often ask why they give, Irene has said “We’re trying to be good stewards. We’d like to leave the world a little better than when we came in”. They have been very successful but they are still small town folks, but through their kindness and generosity they have enriched the lives of many people in Saskatchewan.
How do you feel about philanthropy and giving back to your community?
You can check to see if you are related to Irene Sigurdson Dubé IR#561646 using the IR Relationship Calculator.
A Personal Connection: My mother Shirley Gudnason (IR#520286) is from the Wynyard/Kandahar area. It was a very small, close-knit community and everyone knew everyone. She was good friends with Irene’s sisters Jean and Jennie but also knew Irene and Les. She still keeps in touch with Jennie and talks to her quite regularly. When my mom first moved to Saskatoon she lived quite close to Les and Irene in the City Park neighborhood. On weekends she would catch a ride home with them to Wynyard. She has enjoyed following their story throughout the years and because of Icelandic Roots we now know that she is related to Irene but didn’t know it back then. - Carolyn
The Saskatoon Star Phoenix, November 13, 2007, Friends revisited by Ned Powers
THESTARPHOENIX.COM/BRIDGES Thursday, April 30, 2020 Health Care Champions