Philanthropist who never forgot his Bridgewater roots dead at 85

A Vancouver philanthropist and real estate mogul who invested heavily in the town of Bridgewater, N.S., has died.

Stephen Sander, 85, was originally from India, but came to Bridgewater by way of England in the 1960s after a local school hired him as a physical education teacher.

Sander only lived in the Bridgewater area for a few years, but developed a great love for the community.

Bridgewater Mayor David Mitchell said Sander never forgot the community and considered it his hometown.

“How he was is how we should be,” Mitchell said.

Sander went on to found Hollyburn Properties, a large Vancouver real estate company.

Bridgewater Mayor David Mitchell says Sander considered Bridgewater his hometown. (Town of Bridgewater)

Sander and nine members of his family returned to Bridgewater for a visit in the fall of 2019. He made the trip after donating $1 million to create a surgical suite at the South Shore Regional Hospital. It was by far the biggest gift the Health Services Foundation of the South Shore had ever received.

Sander also gave $200,000 for a new playground for the Bridgewater Elementary School.

The town honoured the Sander family’s gift at a celebration where some of his old students were present.

“He walks in the room and walked right up to one of the ladies that was sitting in the room and he knew her name. He recognized her as one of his students,” Mitchell said.

Sander and his family present a cheque to the Health Services Foundation of the South Shore. (Health Services Foundation of the South Shore)

The gifts that Sander made to the community have affected the lives of many people in the Bridgewater area, said Arleen Stevens, the executive director of the Health Services Foundation.

His donation allowed the South Shore Regional Hospital to renovate a minimally-invasive operating room suite. The suite has laparoscopic equipment that speeds recovery time by doing surgery through tiny openings rather than a large opening.

The suite is being used every day for many types of surgery, some of which couldn’t be done at the hospital before the renovation.

‘Canada has been very good to me’

“Those folks benefiting from the new procedures don’t need to travel outside of their community to receive care,” Stevens said. “That’s a tremendous benefit.”

In 2017, Sander donated $1 million to help purchase a robot-assisted surgery system at a Vancouver hospital.

“Canada has been very good to me, and it’s time for me to pay back,” he said at the time.

Bridgewater residents ‘fought for’ Sandler

Mitchell said during Sander’s visit to Bridgewater last fall, Sander explained the people of Bridgewater “fought for him” when the school principal of the day didn’t like him and wanted to get rid of him.

“He said that the students and the teachers and the parents basically told the principal at the time that if you fire Mr. Sander, we’re all leaving,” Mitchell said.

People in the town also advocated for Sander to receive a visa to enter Canada when he was initially denied, and took out a full page ad in the newspaper to thank him when he left the community.

Sander sits with Dr. Cheryl Pugh during a visit to Bridgewater following he and his family’s donation of $1.2 million to the local hospital and a school. (Health Services Foundation of the South Shore)

“Despite the fact that he gave a million and a quarter dollars to this community, he would say that he’s still indebted to us,” Mitchell said.

He noted Canada was a much less diverse place in the 1960s.

“Let’s face it: in the late 60s, to welcome an immigrant, a visible minority, to a small town, I don’t care where you are in Canada, [it was] not commonplace,” Mitchell said.

“So to be that welcoming, to the point where he never forgot us, I’m proud of my community, and obviously so proud of the man he became.”

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