Saidye Rosner Bronfman, OBE, community leader, philanthropist (born 9 December 1896 in Plum Coulee, MB; died 6 July 1995 in Montreal, QC). Saidye Bronfman was a leader in the Jewish community who generously supported the arts and various charities. She received the Order of the British Empire for her work with the Red Cross during the Second World War. Saidye and her husband, Samuel Bronfman, drew from their fortune in the liquor business to create a foundation that continues to fund community groups today.
Early Life and Education
Saidye Rosner was one of four daughters born to Samuel Rosner and Priscilla Berger Rosner. Samuel and Priscilla’s families had settled in Manitoba after fleeing anti-Semitic pogroms in Russia.
Saidye studied at Havergal Ladies’ College and the University of Manitoba, both in Winnipeg.
Early Career and Marriage
After university, Saidye Rosner worked as a typist at the Red Rose Tea Company. She was also president of the Girls’ Auxiliary of the Winnipeg Jewish Orphanage Society. In 1921, she met Samuel Bronfman (see Bronfman Family). When the two married the next year, Samuel was head of his family’s liquor business.
Samuel and Saidye moved to Montreal in 1924. They began to make a fortune in the distilling business. Samuel founded the Seagram Company in 1928. The couple recognized the influence and responsibility that came with wealth. To give back to the community, Saidye became president of the Young Women’s Hebrew Association (YWHA) in 1929. She also founded the women’s division of the Combined Jewish Appeal (CJA). The CJA raised funds for the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg.
Saidye and Samuel had four children: Minda, Phyllis, Edgar and Charles.
Community Service and Philanthropy
At the start of the Second World War, Saidye Bronfman organized the Montreal Jewish branch of the Quebec division of the Red Cross. Throughout the war, she organized the work of some 7,000 women who sewed, knitted, and prepared packages for Canadian soldiers. This earned her the Order of the British Empire in 1943. (See also Canadian Women and War.)
Saidye volunteered with other community groups throughout her life. These include the Jewish General Hospital (Montreal), National Council of Jewish Women, Organization for Rehabilitation through Training, Canada-Israel Cultural Foundation and Save the Children Fund.
In 1952, Saidye and her husband established the Samuel and Saidye Bronfman Family Foundation (SSBFF). The SSBFF gives grants to community groups. Its focus is education, the arts, heritage preservation and Jewish community initiatives.
Saidye passionately supported the arts. In the mid-1960s, she and her husband founded the Saidye and Samuel Bronfman Collection of Canadian Art at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. In 1967, her children created the Saidye Bronfman Centre for the Arts. Her daughter Phyllis Lambert designed this theatre and arts complex. (It was renamed the Segal Centre for Performing Arts in 2007.) In 1977, the SSBFF created the Saidye Bronfman Award to mark her 80th birthday. The annual award goes to a Canadian artist for excellence in fine crafts.
Later Life and Legacy
Saidye Bronfman was president of the SSBFF until 1985. She remained involved until her death in 1995 at age 98. The foundation’s management has since passed to her children and grandchildren. They have expanded the range of causes the SSBFF supports. It has funded diverse community initiatives, including the Canadian Arctic Resources Committee and One Voice, a national network for senior citizens.
In 2007, the SSBFF made a $1.5 million grant to the Canada Council for the Arts. Since then, the Saidye Bronfman Award has been given annually as part of the Governor General’s Awards in Visual and Media Arts.