The Philanthropist Journal is an online forum for information and conversations about Canada’s not-for-profit and charitable sector. In 2022, it will celebrate its 50th anniversary. The occasion is appropriate for a look back on its own history – and for a brief look forward as well.

The Philanthropist had its start in a Special Committee on Charitable Organizations of the Canadian Bar Association – Ontario (now known as the Ontario Bar Association). A number of charity specialists saw the need for education and discussion, among supporting professionals, especially lawyers and accountants, and among people running charities. The person who took the initiative forward was lawyer John M. Hodgson (1921–2011), a leader in the charity law field for more than 50 years.

There have been nine editors over the 50 years that the journal has been published. All of them have been volunteers, all practising lawyers until 2013. From 2013 to 2018, three people shared the role; while all three were sector experts, only one was a practising lawyer.

The first editor was Bertha Wilson (1972–1975), later a judge of the Ontario Court of Appeal and justice of the Supreme Court of Canada.  

Most of the articles in the early years addressed legal, accounting, and governance matters. The features were often long essays, thoroughly researched, with academic-style citations. Some would show up on syllabuses or be distributed to members of the charity law bar. The subscribers tended to be libraries, law firms, accounting firms, charities, foundations, and government departments.

It is against this background that the Canadian Bar Association in the Fall of 1969 through the Wills and Trusts Section of the Bar established a Special Committee on Charitable Organizations. This Committee hopes through this publication to offer a forum for an informed and constructive critique of the charitable and philanthropic scene in Canada.

Founding Editor Madame Justice Bertha Wilson in 1972

Appearing occasionally at first, as time and available material permitted, The Philanthropist gradually became a more regular publication under the second editor, Mary Louise Dickson (1975–1980).

In 1979, the newly incorporated Agora Foundation assumed responsibility for publishing the journal from the Ontario Bar Association.

Lynn Bevan was editor from 1981 to 1988. She took the journal to a quarterly and expanded the subject matter to include articles on the broader charity field in addition to those intended for charities’ advisors. These steps were supported by the creation of an Editorial Advisory Board, a group of volunteer professionals knowledgeable about the sector who proposed themes and authors for the editor’s consideration. In addition, a professional editor, Joyce Forster, was retained to assist the editor, and a book review editor was also added, a sign of increased interest in the field.  

Lynn also introduced a legal writing contest for law students, to generate interest in the sector, publishing the winning entry.

The newly established Canadian Centre for Philanthropy (CCP) became the publisher in 1982 and took a seat on the Editorial Advisory Board. Significantly for the journal, the CCP offered not only some administrative support, but also access to conference and other materials and a subscription to the journal as one of the benefits to its members, significantly expanding the journal’s subscriber base.

In 1987, issues arising from a financial crisis at the CCP, and the Editorial Board’s determination to retain editorial independence, caused the CCP to withdraw as publisher. The editor and volunteer board, under the leadership of John Hodgson, undertook a successful reorganization and redeployment of resources, which made continuing publication possible, once again by the Agora Foundation. Important and continuing contributions were made from the estates of Margery Warren and Violet Bienewski.

As a result, the Agora Foundation resumed responsibility for the publication, with John Gregory as editor (1988). A management committee was established to supplement the efforts of the Editorial Board. Early efforts were made to reach out to diverse communities to reflect their interests and their own charitable activities.

The Philanthropist’s 25th anniversary celebrations with John Gregory, Lynn Bevan and Mary Louise Dickson

In 1996, the Ontario Law Reform Commission’s Report on the Law of Charities noted that the journal’s current “vocation” was “to act as a forum for the discussion of all issues of concern to the charity sector. Its editorial content, though not scholarly or speculative, is well-informed and critical.”

The principal author of the Commission’s report, David Stevens, took over as Editor in 1999. He was succeeded in 2009 by Donald Bourgeois.

About that time, consistent with what was happening in the wider world of publishing, a study commissioned by the Agora Foundation found that continued publication on paper was inefficient and that moving online would increase readership and impact.

The Philanthropist moved to an open-access online publication, run in collaboration with the Centre for Scholarly Publishing at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver until 2014.  At that time a new web platform was developed and launched, working with Jessica Duffin Wolfe.

About the time of the transition, all the back issues of the journal were digitized with the support of the Muttart Foundation. They now form an accessible online archive for every article published.

In 2013, the editorship was assumed by a trio of sector experts, Malcolm Burrows, Gordon Floyd, and Susan Manwaring. They worked to expand the outreach into the Canadian charitable scene, building community links and promoting the development of writing for publication. From 2018, this task fell to Gordon Floyd on his own, who continued the diversification of the journal’s sources and attention.

The Editorial Advisory Board was wound up, replaced by the active networking of the editors. Management remained the task of the Agora Foundation, the source of the ongoing funding. The Board of the Agora Foundation has been expanded to include people from outside Ontario with different areas of expertise in the sector.

Over the past decade, The Philanthropist has become a more professional operation, with long-term staff, paid writers, artists, and designers, a social media presence, and substantially more readers than the print version was able to reach. It frequently devotes concentrated attention to single themes, approached from different viewpoints.

Most recently, the journal has established an Editorial Advisory Committee. Each member brings a diverse set of skills and knowledge that reflects a wide range of disciplines, communities, experiences, and regions across Canada. The committee’s purpose is to:

  • offer content expertise and advice to the editorial team on emerging issues, trends, and sector priorities;
  • provide feedback on our writing that informs our editorial approach, agenda, and priorities, including strategies for engaging the sector;
  • reflect the diverse views, expertise, and experience of the non-profit sector in Canada; and
  • create awareness of, and engagement with, the Journal (promoting readership, attracting authors, etc.) so we can continue to grow our reach and readership.

As it turns 50, The Philanthropist Journal is focusing more resources on and investing more energy in serving the sector than ever before. Its outreach is succeeding, though the task is never finished.


Though we can’t list everyone who has contributed to the journal since its founding in 1972, we do want to recognize the volunteer leadership provided by our editors since 1972.

Much of the credit for The Philanthropist Journal’s respected status must go to its volunteer editors. The founding editor, Bertha Wilson, served until her appointment to the Ontario Court of Appeal. Her successor, Mary Louise Dickson, carried on almost single-handedly until the transfer to the Canadian Centre for Philanthropy.

Volunteer Editors

Madame Justice Bertha Wilson, 1972 to 1975
Mary Louise Dickson, 1975 to 1981
Lynn Bevan, 1981 to 1988 
John Gregory, 1988 to 1999 
David Stevens, 1999 to 2009 
Don Bourgeois, 2009 to 2013
Malcolm Burrows/Gordon Floyd/Susan Manwaring, 2013 to 2018
Gordon Floyd, 2018 to 2021
Editorial Advisory Committee, 2020-to present

Professional Managing Editors 

Joyce Forster, 1981-2004
Norah McClintock, 2004-2016
Danny Glenwright, 2016 to 2020
Lesley Fraser, 2021 to present

Remembering John Hodgson as a founder of The Philanthropist Journal and Agora Foundation:

As we all know, writing begins with the writing of others. Similarly, institutions grow and develop and beget other institutions. John’s vision and energy in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s reverberate through our profession and community today. It is therefore fitting that we set down in writing our tribute to John – to remember him and to do our small part in ensuring that his legacy lives on in our communities and our country.

David Stevens

David Stevens is a partner in the Business Law Group in Gowling WLG’s Toronto office. He is a tax lawyer focusing on corporate tax planning, wills, trusts and estates, and charities and not-for-profits.