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The Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research is a Canadianmarker charitable foundation whose goal is to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS to increase funds for research. CANFAR is currently the only such organization in Canada. The foundation was created in 1987 by Bluma Appel.

All of CANFAR’s fundraising efforts are geared towards raising money to fund Canadian HIV/AIDS research. CANFAR is the only privately funded, national charity dedicated solely to advancing research in the area of HIV and AIDS.


The recent creation of the American Foundation for AIDS Research, amfAR, in 1985 inspired Dinah Koo, Van Beltrame, and Robert Mang to put their talents to use and throw elaborate dinner parties to raise money devoted to the research of HIV/AIDS. Three doctors and scientists, Dr. Mary Fanning, Dr. Michael Baker, and Dr. Norbert (Nobby) Gilmore, were conscripted to determine how any money raised would be distributed for research purposes. On October 26, 1987 the incorporation papers were signed.

In 1988 a Board of Directors was created and then expanded, donated office space was found, auditors were appointed and CANFAR’s first and only paid employee, Robert Ross, was hired as the Executive Director. In the same year, Food for Thought gala dinner was put on. That first event raised over $150,000 making it one of the most integral parts of CANFAR’s fundraising efforts for the next several years.

The Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC) was formally organized in 1989 and Nobby Gilmore became its first Chair. While the SAC began its work in identifying grant recipients, CANFAR solicited the help of Bluma Appel to join the planning committee. Appel led the way in creating a Board of Advisors and also contacted a group of young people to get involved. Headed by Leeanne Weld they formed the Junior Committee. The Executive Committee was created in October and Appel was elected as Chairman, a position which she held until her passing in 2007. In 1989 CANFAR announced the seventeen recipients of its first two grant cycles, which totalled $184,445 – all for HIV/AIDS research projects across Canadian universities. Roger Bullock took over the role of managing the CANFAR office in January 1990.

CANFAR’s Outreach to Industries campaign secured support of the banking and insurance industries. The result was that in 1991 CANFAR was financially able to make its first Canadian Industry Research Award (CIRA) to Dr. Tak Mak in the amount of $100,000. CANFAR to award a second CIRA to Dr. Frank Plummer in 1994.


Bloor Street Entertains

Bloor Street Entertains guests dining at Ferrari Maserati

On September 29, 1988 CANFAR hosted the first Food for Thought. Venues for the dinners would include the luxurious homes of some of Toronto’s best-known citizens. After dinners prepared by prominent chefs, guests converged at the home of Susan Davidson for a midnight reception. In that first year, over $150,000 had been raised for CANFAR.

In 1993, Food for Thought was renamed the World AIDS Day Gala and moved from the fall to coincide with World AIDS Day on December 1. The first chair was Salah Bachir who stayed on to chair the event again in 1994. By this time, the after-dinner reception had moved from a residential home to public spaces, including the Art Shoppe, the Toronto Design Exchange, and the Bata Shoe Museum among others.

In 1997 Catherine Mackenzie-Nugent and Catherine Bratty renamed CANFAR’s flagship as Bloor Street Entertains. Instead of using homes of prominent Torontonians, shops and boutiques in the Bloor-Yorkvillemarker area hosted intimate dinners. The annual event has raised close to $4 million since 1988. On November 28, 2007, Bloor Street Entertains, hosted by Salah Bachir and Belinda Stronach, celebrated its 11th anniversary and raised over $500,000.

CANFAR has been honored with the coveted Canadian Event Industry’s award for Best Fundraising Event 2004, and nominated for the same award in 2005 and 2006. In 2007 and 2008 BizBash, Toronto’s Event Planning Magazine, listed Bloor Street Entertains as the top benefit event in Toronto.

Currently, Bloor Street Entertains provides intimate dinners catered by Toronto’s top chefs at over 20 prominent stores and galleries in the Bloor-Yorkville area including Tiffany & Co., Liss Gallery, Chanel, Cartier and Holt Renfrew. Afterwards guests convene at “The Party”, which in recent years has been held at Royal Ontario Museummarker(ROM).

Bloor Street Entertains 2009 Co-Chairs are Joe Mimran and Kimberly Newport-Mimran.


AIDSbeat 2009 Logo

Patricia Olasker, a strong supporter of CANFAR, organized a breakfast for lawyers in 1994 with proceeds going to CANFAR. Patricia's husband, Brett, along with five other members of the litigation department at the firm Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt formed a band, The Gavelheads. In the fall of 1995, the litigation department held a "come as you were" sock-hop where The Gavelheads performed with litigators as guests. Olasker came up with the idea of holding a "lawyer band" event to raise money and awareness of AIDS within the legal community. She pulled together a group of lawyers and contacts in the event planning committee, including CANFAR’s then current Executive Director, Jasmine Herlt.

The first AIDSbeat took place on June 8, 1996 at the Design Exchange. A few hundred people attended, three bands participated (including The Gavelheads), and $20,000 was raised.

Once Olasker became a member of CANFAR’s Board, she continued to drive AIDSbeat AIDSbeat forward. Within a few years, AIDSbeat became a staple in the legal community’s list of "must do" events. As of 2008, attendance exceeds 1200 people each year and raises over $200,000 for CANFAR and AIDS research. There is a long list of bands keen to participate, keeping the line-up new each year. The format has evolved into a “Battle of the Bands” with celebrity guest judges and an extra fundraising component where the amassed crowded can pay a loonie to vote for their favourite band in the People’s Choice Award category.

Funding Research

CANFAR supports research in four main areas of study; basic science, epidemiology, clinical studies, and psycho-social studies. Grants are awarded in two categories; one-year grants up to $25,000 and under or two-year grants up to $80,000 per year.

A rigorous peer-review process is used to determine which studies are funded. Each proposal is reviewed and graded by at least three other scholars in the HIV/AIDS field. Proposals are judged on scientific merit; relevance of the research; the qualifications, experience and productivity of the researcher; the uniqueness of the project within the Canadian and global context; and the facilities available to undertake the proposed research. Once graded, the Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC) meets to discuss and determine which studies deserve funding.

The SAC uses the grades and comments of the reviewers along with their own knowledge of the studies to make their decisions. The proposals are then ranked with a cut off point beyond which the SAC does not recommend funding. From there the Board of Directors meets to approve the SAC selections as to which proposals will be funded based on the rankings by the SAC and the funds available. Since 1987 CANFAR has reviewed close over 1000 proposals, funded well over three hundred studies across ten provinces, and directed over $15 million towards HIV/AIDS research.

A recent survey of the HIV/AIDS funding landscape in Canada revealed that there are currently only three organizations devoted to research and two of those are funded by the federal and provincial levels of government respectively. As well as CANFAR there is the Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR) and the Ontario HIV/AIDS Treatment Network (OHTN). Over the course of its history, CANFAR has worked towards increasing the amount and number of the grants that it supports. In its first year CANFAR awarded five grants totalling almost $60,000. CANFAR now consistently funds over twenty research studies worth approximately $1 million per year.

Have a Heart

Have a Heart logo
In 1994 Have a Heart was organized at Northern Secondary High School in Toronto whereby students sold candy-grams of cinnamon hearts with red ribbons to each other near Valentine’s Day. Approximately $560 was raised through this awareness initiative.

Each year CANFAR awards one school with The Heart Award which is presented annually to the high school that demonstrates outstanding dedication and community spirit while raising research funds and HIV/AIDS awareness among their peers. The 2007 Heart Awards went to Dunbarton High School from Pickering, Ontario. Prior to participating in Have a Heart 2007, Dunbarton had never held an HIV/AIDS awareness campaign.

In 2006, CANFAR introduced the first annual Have a Heart Scholarship Program to recognize Have a Heart participants who have made a difference in raising awareness in their school community. Each year a $500 scholarship is awarded to a deserving student who has displayed outstanding leadership in running a successful Have a Heart campaign and demonstrated dedication to the fight against HIV/AIDS. The 2007 Have a Heart Scholarship winner was Selena Zhang from Northern Secondary School in Toronto, Ontario.

In 2008, the Have a Heart campaign was run in over 1,400 schools across Canada. CANFAR has partnered with the Ontario College of Art and Designmarker (OCAD) to create the awareness posters that are displayed in the schools. Those posters then form the basis for the awareness materials that are sent to the schools the following year.


CANFAR Clubs are groups of students across the country that have joined forces on college and university campuses to raise awareness about the virus and to raise funds for research. Annually, these student leaders organize parties on campus, hold informative focus groups, and panel discussions to address the issue of AIDS, both within their demographic and internationally. The first CANFAR Club was initiated at McGill University in 2003. At McGill, Catherine Pringle and a friend decided to throw a party to spread AIDS awareness on campus, and raise funds for CANFAR. Their successful event was titled Affair en rouge and has been gaining momentum ever since.

A second CANFAR Club was born at Dalhousie University in 2004. In their first year, Dalhousie quickly joined McGill in generating significant funds for CANFAR through small fundraising and awareness initiatives and a gala event.

In 2005, following the example set by McGill and Dalhousie, three new CANFAR Clubs were formally established at the University of Toronto – Mississauga, University of Guelph and Western University. Together, the schools raised a combined total of more than $15,000 for HIV/AIDS research in 2005 and held AIDS awareness symposiums on campus, with the goal of initiating a frank discussion about the AIDS pandemic among their peers. In 2008, nineteen campuses are actively engaged in raising funds and awareness about HIV/AIDS.

Since 2005 CANFAR has organized a conference in Toronto for students participating in CANFAR Clubs and students interested in expanding the program to new campuses. Participants pay for their travel costs and CANFAR covers the costs of attending this two-day Conference, including meals, materials and lodging.

Spring for Life

Spring for Life was born in 2003 in recognition of the need for a united, national event to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS among Canadians. While medical advancements, particularly the 1996 development of antiretroviral medications, have prolonged and enhanced the lives of people living with HIV, they have laid a foundation for the belief that AIDS is no longer a problem facing Canadians.

Spring for Life was developed to raise awareness and support both the cure and care sides of the fight against AIDS: the need for research, in order to find a cure or vaccine, and the community-based services and prevention work that support people living with the virus. In 2005, the campaign was re-launched by CANFAR, and a groundbreaking step was taken through the creation of a partnership within the Canadian AIDS community. As of 2009, proceeds raised locally through Spring for Life will remain local, and sponsorship revenue is shared among participating organizations.

Spring for Life is embodied by a gerbera flower selling campaign. On and around the first day of spring, gerbera flowers are sold in malls and office towers and raise significant funds for research and community-based services.

Board of Directors

The main role of the Board of Directors is to set the strategic direction of the organization, to hire and support the Executive Director and National Director of Development to provide financial, regulatory and reputational oversight. The Board also takes on a fundraising role by assisting the staff directly, or indirectly through events or programs, as well as providing advice according to each individual’s professional area of expertise.

Influential members include Bluma Appel, Dr. Stanley Read, Dr. Mark Wainberg, and Andrew M. Pringle who served as President of the Board for twelve years before stepping down in 2007 to assume the role of Chairman. In 1999 Andy’s wife, Valerie Pringle, became CANFAR’s National Spokesperson. In 2007 CANFAR lost another long-time board member, Michael Semeredy.


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