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The house that Nona and William Heaslip built

Nona and William Heaslip  (Photograph Courtesy of Toronto Metropolitan University Archives).

Philanthropists Nona Macdonald Heaslip, C.M., and William Arthurs Heaslip, C.M., supported arts and education throughout their illustrious lives. The couple established The William and Nona Heaslip Foundation in 1997, which continues their legacy of giving.

Their generosity included Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU), strengthening in particular the G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education and The Creative School’s School of Performance. 

Heaslip House, named in 2006 to recognize a generous gift from Nona and William, is home to the Chang School. Incorporating the façade of historic E.P. Taylor’s O’Keefe House, Heaslip House takes its place in the legacy of city builders on the site.

“Ryerson University [now TMU] offers unique programs that fill professional niches which are so essential to this country,” said William. With Nona adding, “We have no children of our own, so we exult in knowing another generation will benefit from sharing the amenities of this historical edifice,” in reference to Heaslip House.

Nona channeled her love of theatre and the arts into contributions to The Creative School. At the School of Performance, she supported excellence in acting, dance and faculty achievement, and she encouraged professional development through support for travel. She also supported the Nick Cordero Award, named in honour of the TMU alumnus and Tony-nominated actor and musician who died of COVID-19 in 2020.

“I believe hard work combined with knowledge gained from continuing one’s studies will bring success,” said William.

As co-founder of Grafton Group Ltd., William led what was at one time the second largest retail clothing company in Canada. A self-made businessman, he embodied the entrepreneurial thinking and spirit of TMU, and championed the idea that giving back to the community is an enduring measure of success. William received the Order of Canada in 1998, and was known for drawing from his wisdom and expertise to advise countless non-profit organizations, including the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the Canadian Opera Company. William also received an Honorary Doctorate from St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia.  

With the assistance of his family, William entered the business world directly from high school. After achieving his own success, he came to appreciate the university experience and set up the William and Nona Heaslip Scholarship at ten universities across Canada. As with the scholarships offered at TMU, these awards are intended to level the playing field for students in financial need who might not otherwise be able to pursue post-secondary education.

Nona was a retired public relations executive whose career spanned communications, journalism, radio and television production, and public affairs. Passionate about performance on screen and on stage, she also served on the board of a number of theatres. Her leadership and philanthropic support guided numerous Canadian arts and culture institutions, including the Shaw and Stratford festivals and Theatre Museum Canada. She was a key advocate in driving the search to find the museum’s permanent home, which is now located in the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre Centre in Toronto. She was named to the Order of Canada in 2021.

Through the ongoing work of their foundation, the legacy of Nona and William Heaslip continues as a force for good in Canada.