‘When you have a chance to share, you do’
Alumni Donald and Elaine Triggs create new student bursary program
After more than three decades, Donald and Elaine Triggs are closing the door on their careers in the Canadian wine industry – only to open many more for UM students. Today, the newly retired alumni announced a gift of $1 million to establish a new bursary program accessible to high potential students with financial need, from any faculty or field of study. They have also contributed $10,000 to the COVID-19 UM Student Technology Fund.
Donald [BSA(Hon)/66] and Elaine [BHEc(Hon)/66] first met while staying in residence at UM, away from their family farms in Treherne and Elgin, Manitoba. They married the year they graduated, and immediately began chasing their dreams. In 1989, Donald and four senior managers bought Labatt’s wine division, renamed it Vincor and subsequently developed and launched the Jackson-Triggs brand, building it into the darling of Canada’s wine industry. In 2006, Elaine and Donald along with their daughter, Sara, founded a premium boutique winery, Culmina Family Estate Winery, in the Okanagan Valley south of Oliver, BC.
Now, the Triggs have decided to express their gratitude for the institution that gave them their start, the University of Manitoba. Today we sat down with Donald and Elaine Triggs to see how their love for each other, and for UM, has only gotten better with age.
WHY WAS IT SO IMPORTANT FOR YOU TO MAKE THIS GIFT?
Elaine: We’re fairly humble. We never do these things to get accolades. It’s our own inner feelings of doing the right thing, and knowing these gifts will help students who really need help to lead stronger and better lives.
Don: Opening the door to education is one of the most powerful things in the world. To be able, in our small way, to contribute to that is the jewel for us.
YOU ATTENDED UNIVERSITY TOGETHER, IN THE EARLY 60S. WHAT WAS YOUR UM EXPERIENCE LIKE?
Elaine: I was the first in my family to go to university. Both our parents were very grounded so it gave us the confidence to do whatever we wanted to do. I stayed in residence at Taché Hall and took English and organic chemistry, but most of my courses were within the Faculty of Home Economics. I was one of the first graduates of the honours program. To this day the friends I met within the first week of living in residence are still friends I keep in touch with.
Don: The thing that blew me away was the growth and exposure to different people. The guy next door was an architectural student and we had a chap down the hall doing a PhD in chemistry. That cross-fertilization of ideas and the opening of the mind that came with that was the most exciting part of university for me.
YOUR STORY TOGETHER ACTUALLY STARTED AT A UM DANCE. WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER ABOUT MEETING EACH OTHER?
Elaine: They had dances between the male and female residences in Taché Hall. During first term Don asked me to dance with him. He was cute. He was a great dancer – a lot of fun. But I wouldn’t go out with him, can you believe it? So he went on to date someone else for two years. We didn’t start dating until third year.
Don: I remember she was a great dancer and I thought she was smart and very attractive but the timing wasn’t right.
BUT THERE WAS A SPARK THERE.
Elaine: What attracted me is he’s smart. Don has a great sense of humour; he loves to laugh and have fun with life. And he’s kind. He’s humble.
Don: When I think about Elaine I think about someone who is adventurous, beyond belief. She’s never seen a challenge she wasn’t ready to grab. She has enormous energy and concern for other people. Most of all, she balances me, because I am a bit of an extreme optimist. It doesn’t hurt to slow me down now and then.
THE WINE INDUSTRY IS A CHALLENGING BUSINESS TO BE IN. HOW DID YOU KEEP MOTIVATED?
Elaine: I think there’s always been confidence we’ll work things out. When Don went to Western (for his MBA) we had no money. I had a job, but that’s it. For two years we had no furniture. We saved enough to go to Europe for 10 weeks by living on $5 a day. So we’ve always been ones that did without so we could afford to get what we want.
Don: My mother’s favourite saying was “Can’t is a coward too lazy to try.” How do you know you can’t do it if you haven’t tried? A fundamental in our lives is we really did believe in the art of the possible. I’m an eternal optimist: I see the cup half full all of the time, even if it’s only a quarter full. I really see the potential for change and for better things.
Elaine: I’m a realist, sometimes to counteract the over optimism. But Don’s right: we had good health, both mental and physical, positive attitudes and a real work ethic. We’re blessed with energy, especially in our last business which we didn’t start till we were age 62. We worked for what we got. We gave it energy, we gave it time.
DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR STUDENTS TODAY AND THE CHALLENGES THEY’RE FACING?
Elaine: Change will always be with us. So being able to adapt and move with change is going to be an even bigger factor. I’ve had three or four different careers in my lifetime. I was a teacher for quite a number of years. I went back to school and at age 48, I became a chartered accountant. I even helped design wineries. Just find your happiness, and not what someone else wants you to do. You’ve got to follow your own heart and soul.
Don: Don’t give up and do not let people tell you it can’t be done. Yeah, there’s big changes right now but reading through history, whenever there’s huge change, there’s not only higher risk but there are also opportunities because it throws all the balls up in the air.
WHY WAS IT IMPORTANT FOR YOU TO MAKE YOUR BURSARIES AVAILABLE TO ALL STUDENTS?
Elaine: For me, education in any discipline is so important. I’m a big believer in a liberal arts education which is getting less and less funding. So that’s why we definitely did not want to allocate this bursary to specific disciplines or faculties. They need to be a good student, well rounded and really get something big out of this that they otherwise would not be able to.
Don: I qualified for a lot of bursaries and scholarships which were critical support to me through the entire four year program. I feel very, very rich in the sense of the great education and growth that sort of set me on my way. Our family grew up with a social conscience. In the farm community we really believed in trying to help our neighbours when they needed help. We’ve always had this sense that when you have a chance to share, you do.
The first Donald and Elaine Triggs Bursaries will be offered in 2021-2022. Their endowed gift will support, in perpetuity, a growing cohort of students who will be the beneficiaries of the Triggs’ kindness and generosity.