On December 4, 2018, Canada lost a noted visionary and philanthropist, Ralph Halbert. Born in Toronto in 1930, Ralph graduated from NTCI in 1948 having been both a strong student and athlete. He went on to attend the University of Toronto, graduating in 1954 with a degree in dentistry, and continued his studies at the University of Chicago in Illinois, specializing in orthodontics. He practiced in Toronto for about ten years but gradually reduced his practice to focus on real estate developments. He and his partners established Glen Corporation, which developed residential communities, business parks and commercial developments throughout the GTA, including Bayview Hill in Richmond Hill and, in conjunction with Cadillac Fairview, the Promenade shopping centre in Vaughan.
With the success of his business dealings, Dr. Halbert began to giveback, as he made sizable contributions to educational and innovation programs in Canada and Israel. Deeply committed to the value of higher education, he believed in the importance of innovation and how that could be achieved through collaboration between universities across national boundaries. According to Janice Stein, founding director of the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto, “It has taken the world 25 years to catch up with Ralph Halbert’s vision… His great achievement was to bring together networks of scholars.”
Ralph was a board member of Fulbright Canada, an educational exchange between Canada and the U.S. but was best known for his work fostering connections between Canada and Israel. In 1977, as the President of the Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University, Ralph and his wife Rosyln established the Programme of Canadian Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Renamed The Halbert Centre for Canadian Studies in 1995, the centre “fosters research and promotes the understanding and knowledge of Canadian civilization in all its aspects among Israeli academics and the public at large.” (Dr. Halbert discussed his work with the Centre for Canadian Studies in an interview posted on YouTube, http://www.cfhu.org/video/the-halbert-centre-for-canadian-studies-at-the-hebrew-university-of-jerusalem-building-bridges).
At the University of Toronto’s Munk School, Dr. Halbert sponsored the Halbert Exchange Program, promoting collaborative research between the University of Toronto and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem through the Halbert Network Fellowship for young faculty, the Halbert Postdoctoral Fellowship and the Exchange Program for graduate students. He and his wife also supported scholars through the Roz and Ralph Halbert Professorship of Innovation at the Munk School’s Innovation Policy Lab.
In 2012, Ralph Halbert demonstrated his support of Jewish Studies by establishing the Ralph & Roslyn Halbert Fund for the Centre for Jewish Studies to support the exchange of ideas in the areas of classical Judaism, Jewish thought and philosophy, Jewish history and modern Jewish culture. However, his philanthropy was not confined to areas of scholarship as he was a co-founder of Ramat Hasharon Israel Tennis Centre in Israel that encouraged both Israeli and Arab children to learn respect for one another through playing tennis.
In Canada, Dr. Halbert was one of the early backers of the Canadian Open tennis tournament (now known as the Rogers Cup) at York University. He and his wife were also supportive of filmmaking and were early financial supporters of the Festival of Festivals (now known as the Toronto International Film Festival). Also interested in the visual arts, the Halberts were both benefactors of the Art Gallery of Ontario as well as the Canadian Museum of History in Ottawa. Ralph lived a rich and full life for 88 years and leaves behind an everlasting legacy as an exemplary family man and philanthropist who truly made an impact.