Canada Gairdner Awards | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Canada Gairdner Awards

The Canada Gairdner Awards were established in 1959 by the Gairdner Foundation to recognize medical research that contributes to the advancement of human health. Leading biomedical and global health researchers from around the world are honoured by seven awards every year. The Canada Gairdner Awards are among the world’s foremost honours in the field of medicine. Numerous awardees are also laureates of the Nobel Prize.

Portrait of James Arthur Gairdner

Founder James A. Gairdner

The Gairdner Foundation was the brainchild of James Arthur Gairdner. Born in Toronto in 1893, Gairdner began his investment career at Wood, Gundy & Co. (see Wood Gundy Inc) in 1912. At the onset of the First World War, he enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force and served overseas with the 3rd Battalion in France and the 208th Battalion in England. Following the war, Gairdner was chairman of numerous companies, including Gairdner and Co. Ltd., Atlantic Sugar Refineries Co. Ltd., and the Bridge and Tank Co. of Canada. Gairdner is credited with helping farm implements manufacturer Massey-Harris Co. Ltd (see Massey-Ferguson Limited) to remain financially stable during the Great Depression.

Known affectionately as Big Jim by his grandchildren, Gairdner is remembered as a scholar, noted oil painter, track and field athlete, and philanthropist. Gairdner died on 8 January 1971.

Origin of Gairdner Awards

Gairdner had a lifelong interest in medicine and, at one point, considered a career as a surgeon. When he was in his early 50s, Gairdner began to suffer from severe arthritis, and, as a result, he was inspired to join the Canadian Arthritis and Rheumatism Society (today the Arthritis Society) as lay president in 1950. In 1957, Gairdner established a foundation in his family name, which was discussed in Canadian and American newspapers. On 28 June 1957, the Windsor Daily Star announced: “$500, 000 to stimulate research into rheumatic and heart diseases. The money will be used as the initial capital of a foundation for rewarding scientific investigators who perform outstanding research in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of those diseases.”

Incorporated in December 1957 and headquartered in Toronto, the Gairdner Foundation was initially funded by James Arthur Gairdner and his family.


The foundation distributed the first Canada Gairdner Awards in 1959. Today, seven awards are given out each year and recipients receive $100,000.

Of the seven awards, five Canada Gairdner International Awards are granted yearly to biomedical scientists whose original contributions to medicine have resulted in a greater comprehension of human biology and disease. Some Canadian recipients include Wilfred G. Bigelow (1959), Robert Bruce Salter (1969), Lap-Chee Tsui (1990) and Brenda Milner (2005).

One John Dirks Canada Gairdner Global Health Award is given out annually to recipients “for scientifically based research that has improved the health and well-being of those facing health inequities worldwide.”

One Canada Gairdner Wightman Award is granted every year to a health researcher in Canada who shows exemplary leadership in addition to extraordinary science.

As of 2021, the Gairdner Foundation has distributed 402 awards to winners from 40 countries.

Further Reading

External Links

Women in STEM
 Dr. Halina Hoffman, staff member of Ste. Justine's Hospital in the anaesthesia department