A decade of impact

A decade of impact

< Back to Articles | Topics: Member Profile | Contributors: Sara Ericsson | Published: April 1, 2024

Creating impact is almost always harder than it sounds. But the team at the QEII Foundation found a formula that works—instilling hope, inspiration and fun in those who take part in and support the BMO Ride for Cancer.

This event has become synonymous with charitable efforts in Halifax. And there are quite a few reasons for that. They likely include its passionate team, who’ve been working hard to build this event into what it’s become over its 10 years of existence. And they might also include the riders, who double as donation drivers as they each raise funds and leverage their networks to help support the cause. Then race day comes, and the riders’ efforts culminate into a beautiful (and nine years out of 10, sunny) day of cycling.

Another chief reason this event has gained the traction it has—and reached such high levels of success—is that this is a disease that has touched almost everyone. Whether we’ve faced a diagnosis ourselves, or have a loved one or close friend who has, the impact of cancer is far-reaching. According to recent statistics, it’s a disease that’s also on the rise in Nova Scotia. 2023 data revealed Nova Scotia has the highest cancer rates in Canada, and that one in three people diagnosed will not survive.

These numbers make Ride more important than ever, according to BMO Ride for Cancer event director Dianna MacDonald. She says the team behind the event is already hard at work, planning this year’s event and a strategy to raise a record amount of funds, once again.

“This event has become a movement, and also a solution to the problem,” says MacDonald. “Our local impact is what brings people back, and our ability to show our riders and community how those funds are saving people’s lives.”

Image Credit: Uncharted Creative Media

The starting line

Ten years ago, Ride was created and driven by a small, strategic committee and conceptualized by Simon Roberts, a close friend of the foundation. The event was created to raise local funds for local care. It drew 130 participants, comprised a single 100-kilometre route from Halifax Mahone Bay, and raised $170,000 net.

MacDonald says it felt clear to all who partook that it was a clear success, right from the start.

“Then after that first year, it really gained momentum,” she says.

During its first five years, the Ride grew from a trail-based cycling event to a top-tier cycling race, attracting elite cyclists as a newly added road component upped the ante. And along with that, says MacDonald, came a new strategy to raise elite donations as well as Nova Scotians connected with the cause: raising funds for cancer care in Atlantic Canada. In the second year of this new model, the Ride doubled in ridership and revenue.

“We’d created something unique. Most events don’t operate with local impact only. Our Ride does,” says MacDonald. “The funds raised stay here and impact all Atlantic Canadians.”

Catherine Campbell is a 2024 Co-Chair and the Director of Communications at The Berkeley. She says that since the beginning, the Ride has created positive community engagement as it raises funds for cancer, and engages the community on the event day itself. She says that positivity and support are set to continue growing.

“Ride has captured people’s hearts,” she says. “Ride has ignited the passion of its participants, creating committed ambassadors who enthusiastically share Ride’s message in the greater community.”

The QEII Foundation team and many supporters, including 2024 Ride Co-Chair Scott MacIntyre, Vice President of Office Interiors, soon began spreading word of the event in workplace presentations and sharing the Ride’s impact story. Identifying key people—“influencer marketing before it was called that,” laughs MacDonald—within Halifax’s professional community, MacDonald’s team soon forged connections that would bring year-over-year, catalytic momentum to Ride.

“Ride took on a whole new momentum in a very short time. It was extraordinary,” says MacDonald.

So much momentum, in fact, that not even a global pandemic could slow it down. MacDonald says it only expedited the Ride’s growth, as the event had increased both ridership and participants, as well as funds, by 1,000 per cent net in five years. Nova Scotia was also then declared the safest province in Canada and, later that year, Ride became one of the only events to take place in Canada in 2020. With strict safety and testing protocols in place, it was executed without a single COVID-19 case.

“That year was magical. There’s no other way to describe it. We got global attention from it as well. And, of course, we gained a trust in our community and in our ridership that no matter what, even a global pandemic could not stop us and the Ride from raising critical funds for local cancer care at the QEII,” says MacDonald.

Finding its stride

Now, going on 10 years of Ride, MacDonald says it remains a cause riders are eager to raise funds for, and that their networks are happy to support. These funds are raised year after year in support of a different cancer technology across different disciplines. Every year, we’re taking it to another level. In 2022, funds helped bring a world-first, cancer-fighting technology developed by Dr. James Robar, Chief, Department of Medical Physics with Nova Scotia Health, to the QEII Health Sciences Centre. This technology is now called the ETHOS radiotherapy system, and it began running its first clinical trials in January 2024.

Campbell says examples of impact like ETHOS are why so many choose to support Ride, year after year. It’s a chance to help Atlantic Canadians access care that is critical to their cancer journeys.

“To participate in and/or donate to Ride means having an impact on the improvement of our cancer care centre,” she says. “And that is a strong catalyst for change.”

Campbell’s Ride involvement is not limited to Ride co-chair. Campbell will ride once again this year, will raise donations and volunteer for the event itself. She says that being involved, and helping lead the way has been “one of the highlights of my life.”

“Leading people in a positive direction where success is attained, and hope is tangible, is an amazing feeling,” says Campbell. “I believe wholeheartedly in the importance of banding us all together in our fight against cancer.”

MacDonald agrees that her connection to Ride has always felt strong. It’s a sentiment she feels is impossible to describe, as the event continues changing the lives of Atlantic Canadians impacted by cancer. That impact is what keeps her motivated to continue growing the Ride’s momentum, 10 years and counting.

A smile is evident in her voice as she takes a moment to explain what the Ride means to hear. “It’s magical and unique because it brings a community together for a very fun, challenging day, and it’s saving people’s lives,” says MacDonald.

“I can’t describe what that means to me. And the future of this event is that it’s not going anywhere. It will continue having an impact, and it will continue saving lives. That’s why it exists.”

BMO Ride for Cancer is the first and only Atlantic Canada event to receive national recognition on the 2023 Canadian Top 30 Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Programs List, which has named it the #5 cycling event in Canada. “This achievement is a testament to the incredible spirit and commitment of every individual who has contributed their time, effort, and passion to moving the needle in local cancer care for all Atlantic Canadians,” says MacDonald. “Together, we are saving lives, and to be recognized amongst our esteemed counterparts across the country is the icing on the cake.”

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