Over the past 27 years, the Boston Pizza Charity Golf Classic — hosted by the Northern Alberta Boston Pizza franchisees — has raised more than $3.1 million to support Albertan charities. For the first decade, it allocated the money to a variety of different charities every year, but all that changed in 2002.
In the early 2000s, Edmonton Boston Pizza franchisee and current Charity Golf Classic co-chair Bob Adams was supporting his wife, Elise, through treatment for breast cancer. Sadly, she passed away from the disease, and the heartbreaking experience transformed the charitable direction of the tournament toward cancer research.
From 2002 on, the Northern Alberta Boston Pizza franchisees, who represent 68 locations in northern Alberta, have donated approximately 90 per cent of proceeds from the Boston Pizza Golf Charity Classic tournament to the Alberta Cancer Foundation in support of the Cross Cancer Institute. (The remaining proceeds go to various other charities.)
“Through seeing the care that his wife received at the Cross Cancer Institute, Bob and the other franchisees came together and just knew they had to support the facility,” says Samantha Kelch, Northern Alberta Boston Pizza’s event planner.
The annual tournament, which takes place at the Blackhawk Golf Course in Spruce Grove on the second Thursday in September, has raised over $2.2 million exclusively for the Foundation. The franchisees focus on using those funds to support research projects that will have a tangible impact on people’s lives in Alberta.
“We have a way of being intentional with our money so we can see that impact go further,” says Kelch. “We try to be a part of projects that have consistency, so it’s not just one-off donations — we’re right in the thick of it.”
Last year, the Northern Alberta Boston Pizza franchisees pledged $450,000 to an investigator-initiated trial in immunotherapy led by Dr. John Walker at the Cross Cancer Institute. The project focuses on repurposing drugs to boost immune response in cancers that were previously unresponsive to immunotherapy, including melanoma.
Kelch recalls an early presentation by Dr. Walker that showed a 10-per cent survival rate in people diagnosed with advanced skin cancer in 2010. Today, thanks to trials in immunotherapy, Dr. Walker shows long-term survival rates closer to 60 per cent.
“I remember thinking, oh my God, that’s it right there,” says Kelch. “Those dollars are working. This cause and the potential for it was there, and we’re so excited to be able to push it forward. I get goosebumps just thinking about it and how effective it will be.”
To reach their $450,000 pledge, the franchisees kicked off the funding with $175,000 from the pool of money raised at the 2019 Golf Charity Classic. The rest will be donated with funds from the tournament over the next two years, providing the event continues to be as successful as it has been.
Previously, the franchisees, and additional generous fundraising partners, helped fund Western Canada’s first PET-MR scanner with a total donation of more than $1.7 million. This unrivalled imaging technology combines magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) with positron emission tomography (PET), allowing researchers to detect cancer easier, and to understand, more than ever before, how it behaves in the body. The PET-MR technology became available at the Cross Cancer Institute in 2018, after years of support from the Northern Alberta Boston Pizza franchisees. Following that, the same group of fundraisers raised $1.2 million in support of the Linac MR – another revolutionary technology that will improve treatment options for patients.
Kelch says she’s continually humbled by the projects she’s seen flourish with the help of the Boston Pizza Charity Golf Classic.
“It goes to show that there’s strength in numbers,” she says. “Even if people can only donate a dollar or their time, it all makes a difference.”