April 12, 2022

In Memoriam: Dr. Joan Snyder

Visionary philanthropist, community builder, 'grandmother' of Canadian women’s hockey remembered
Dr. Joan Snyder, Hon. LLD’11 was committed to helping those in need and bringing about change in the broader community.
Joan Snyder was committed to helping those in need and bringing about change in the broader community. University of Calgary files

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include information about Dr. Snyder’s legacy gift.

Canadians, the University of Calgary and the extended family of Dr. Joan Snyder, Hon. LLD’11, CM, have lost a visionary philanthropist, enthusiastic community builder and Order of Canada member. Snyder, who lived for most of her life in Calgary, passed away April 7, 2022, at the age of 90. Unwavering in her commitment to help others, she was exceedingly generous in her support of a wide range of non-profit organizations, strongly believing in building the next generation of leaders.

“Dr. Joan Snyder grew up during the Great Depression and learned from her parents the value of kindness and community,” says UCalgary President and Vice-Chancellor Ed McCauley. “Her entire life has been committed to helping those in need and bringing about change in the broader community. It was an honour for the University of Calgary community to have known and worked with Dr. Snyder in support of excellent frontline health care, medical research and student athletics.”

On Oct. 28, 2022, at a Celebration of Life held for Snyder, UCalgary announced that Snyder left a final donation of $67.5 million which will boost research, student learning and athletics across its campuses.

Of that total, $35 million will be directed to elevate and advance the Calvin, Phoebe and Joan Snyder Institute for Chronic Diseases. Another $30 million will be used to establish the Joan Snyder Fund for Excellence in Kinesiology. This will elevate the already internationally recognized Faculty of Kinesiology, which is ranked No. 1 among sport-science schools in North America and No. 10 in the world. Snyder left an additional $2 million to expand the Joan Snyder Program of Excellence in Women’s Hockey at UCalgary, a first-of-its-kind program when it was created in 2011.

Chronic disease research champion

Over the past two decades, UCalgary has been a grateful recipient of Snyder’s generosity. In particular, her 2008 gift, a $9-million donation followed by significant additional support over the years, established the Snyder Institute and helped put it at the forefront of chronic, infectious and inflammatory disease research. Snyder’s continued support allowed this elite research institute to flourish by attracting the best researchers and clinicians on the globe to Canada, providing world-class training to students and acquiring critical state-of-the-art equipment.

Those closest to Snyder describe her as “vibrant and engaging, bright and eager — the salt of the earth.” Snyder moved from Saskatchewan to Calgary in the early 1950s. She lived with and worked alongside her parents, helping build a successful family business.

She deeply respected and connected with the work of Dr. Paul Kubes, PhD, a Snyder Institute researcher and internationally renowned expert on mechanisms of disease involving acute and chronic inflammation. He holds the Snyder Chair in Critical Care Research, which Joan Snyder also supported.

“Joan truly took an interest in the work that we do; she genuinely understood what the issues are and wanted to make a difference,” says Kubes. “She was smart and witty. When I told her we were changing the name of the Snyder institute from III (Infection, Immunity and Inflammation) to chronic disease, she winked and said, 'At least now we’ll know what we work on!'

"She will truly be missed.”

Dr. Hayley Wickenheiser, MD, (left) Danielle Goyette (centre) and Dr. Joan Snyder, Hon. LLB, at a Team Canada function at the Scotiabank Saddledome.

Hayley Wickenheiser, left, Danielle Goyette and Joan Snyder at a Team Canada function at the Scotiabank Saddledome.

Dave Holland

'Grandmother' of women’s hockey

Through her philanthropy, Snyder was also a driving force behind the success of the Calgary-based women’s hockey program in Canada. She  made a transformational gift in 2011 to create the Joan Snyder Program of Excellence in Women's Hockey at UCalgary — then, a first of its kind in Canada.

The donation allowed the Dinos women’s hockey team to enhance coaching excellence, elite competition, sport services, and scholarships to student-athletes, including the recruitment of a full-time assistant coach and more funding for equipment, sports medicine, academic advising and community outreach. Almost a year to the day after the program was announced, the Dinos captured their first national championship in women’s hockey.

Snyder's mother, Phoebe, began playing hockey in the 1920s and pursued her enthusiasm for the sport through the hardships of the Great Depression; it was that spirit that inspired Joan to make the donation. She was a lifelong hockey fan and would go on to support research on injury prevention in female athletes at UCalgary’s Faculty of Kinesiology, along with the Hayley Wickenheiser Award Endowment, a scholarship in Wickenheiser’s name for varsity women athletes.

Dr. Wickenheiser, BKin'13, MSc' 16, Hon. LLD' 18, MD’ 21, played with the Dinos and the Canadian Women's National Team and is considered by many to be the best female hockey player the world has ever seen. She recently graduated from the Cumming School of Medicine as a physician. She says:

Joan was truly a champion of the female game. She not only gave financially at every level of female hockey in Canada, but she also was a huge cheerleader, a fan, a friend and a true grandmother to all female hockey players in this country.

“I cherish my conversations with her through the years and will never forget her kindness and passion to make people's lives better," Wickenheiser adds. "As a medical student and now a doctor, I directly witnessed the impact of her generosity in changing patients' lives for the better. She was an amazing lady."

Snyder was awarded the Order of Canada on Nov. 21, 2013, for her “contributions as a generous philanthropist who has supported sport, education, social services, the arts and health care in Alberta,” according to the website of the Governor General of Canada.

“Philanthropy is more than money, it’s people helping people,” Snyder once said. “The community coming together, each giving what they can and supporting each other, just as my parents taught me. Better a booster than a knocker, be.”

The UCalgary campus flag was lowered to half-mast in honour of Snyder on Tuesday, April 12, 2022. A private service was held for her on April 21, 2022. 

Learn more about Joan Snyder’s compassion for the community and her dedication to helping people.

The Calvin, Phoebe and Joan Snyder Institute for Chronic Diseases is a group of more than 480 clinicians, clinician-scientists, basic scientists and trainees who are impacting and changing the lives of people suffering from infectious diseases (bacteria, parasites and viruses like those causing COVID-19), autoimmunity and chronic inflammatory diseases of the lung, gut, liver, kidney, pancreas and skin. It is a partnership between the University of Calgary and Alberta Health Services and was named in 2008 in honour of Joan Snyder and her parents, whom Snyder credits for teaching her the value of philanthropy. Visit the Snyder Institute website and follow on Twitter @SnyderInstitute.

The Faculty of Kinesiology is the No. 1 ranked sport science school in North America and No. 10 globally. As a direct result of the 1988 Winter Olympics, the faculty has developed a world-class environment for research and learning as well as built superb training facilities for coaches and athletes at the varsity, community and Olympic level. The faculty continues to have an impact by improving the health and mobility for all ages, from youth to older individuals and from recreation participants, elite athletes to Olympians, as well as those with disability and disease.

The Cumming School of Medicine (CSM) is driven to create the future of health. It is a proud leader with seven world-class research institutes and 2,900 students, as well as faculty and staff, working to advance education and research in precision medicine and precision public health, improving lives in our community and around the world. Visit the Cumming School of Medicine website and follow on Twitter @UCalgaryMed.

The University of Calgary is uniquely positioned to find solutions to key global challenges. Through its research strategy for Infections, Inflammation, and Chronic Diseases in the Changing Environment (IICD), top scientists lead multidisciplinary teams to understand and prevent the complex factors that threaten our health and economies.