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Honoring Great Philanthropists

Mon, 09/11/2017 - 09:11 -- Dan McCaffery

Had I been around to write an obituary for Maud Hanna in 1946, I might well have ended it by saying something along the lines of “her kind we won’t see again.”

It would have been a nice tribute to a great lady. It would also have been a mistake.

Don’t get me wrong -- there’s no doubt Mrs. Hanna was a remarkable woman.

She was married to W. J. Hanna, an Imperial Oil president who died in 1919, leaving family members close to $2 million. That’s a lot of money, even today. Back then, it was an enormous fortune.

Mrs. Hanna could have sat back and lived out her life in obscene splendor. Instead, she went on to become one of our greatest philanthropists. She’s best known for donating half the cash needed for the purchase of Canatara Park. Without her gift, made during the height of the Great Depression, the crown jewel of Sarnia’s parks system wouldn’t exist today.

And it was by no means her only contribution to the city. She gave money to help build a children’s ward at Sarnia General Hospital, supplied cash for a park on Mitton Street, made a donation for a boy scouts’ building, provided financial aid to the local horticultural society and even made provisions for free streetcar transportation so kids could get to the beach.

There’s absolutely no doubt she was one of the greatest Sarnians of her generation. But I’m happy to report she was not one of a kind.

I found that out earlier this year while fulfilling some of my duties as a director of the Sarnia-Lambton Sports Hall of Fame. Specifically, I was going over material about Norma Cox, whom the board was considering for the 2017 Rose Hodgson Award, which is for outstanding contributions to the community.

I suspect board members were sold on her the moment they read that she had donated $1 million to the city for updated and new facilities at the municipal pool and park that created the Cox Youth Centre.

This incredibly generous gift, presented in 2006, was made in memory of her late husband, Edward. And it was by no means her only contribution to the community. She also made an $825,000 donation so a 2.5 acre site could become the Cox Gardens and Mary-Ann’s Marigold Garden, in memory of her mother.

She also started a scholarship program at Lambton College, a free golf program for low income children and has been a volunteer at Bluewater Health and a benefactor of such groups as Rebound, Huron House Boys Home, the Inn of the Good Shepherd and other worthwhile organizations. Mrs. Cox has done so much for the community that I simply don’t have the space to list it all here.

But before wrapping up this column I decided to ask Mayor Mike Bradley for a comment about her. He had, after all, put her on the Mayor’s Honour List and was among those who had successfully lobbied the province to grant her an outstanding achievement award for volunteerism.

“Norma is Sarnia’s modern day Maud Hanna,” the mayor said. She is, he continued, “loved by all who know her for her caring, kind nature and her endless generosity to Sarnians through donating $2 million to create city parks and a number of scholarship programs for youth.”

On September 23 at the Sarnia Golf and Curling Club Norma will be honoured at the sports hall of fame’s 35th annual enshrinement dinner.

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