John and Barbara Poole are valued members of the corps of dedicated volunteers and supporters that fuel Alberta’s diverse social, cultural and community endeavours. As individuals, they are bright, engaging and passionate advocates for the many causes and organizations they embrace. Together, they form an energetic, compassionate and insightful team that has created important and lasting benefits for their fellow Albertans. Their induction marks the first time that a couple or team has been jointly named to the Alberta Order of Excellence.
John and Barbara come from similar backgrounds. Raised during the depression, they grew up appreciating the value of hard work, and of extending a helping hand to others. John’s family moved from Regina to Edmonton in 1932, hoping to improve the fortunes of its struggling construction business. In 1939, Barbara’s father moved the family to Calgary from her hometown of Coronation, Alberta in search of better opportunities for his medical practice. Both attended university where they received Bachelor Degrees – John’s in Civil Engineering from the University of Alberta in 1937 and Barbara’s in Interior Design from the Faculty of Architecture at the University of Manitoba in 1952.
They met the winter of 1952, during a ski trip to Banff and were married that same year. The Pooles settled and began raising a family in Edmonton where John had already begun making his mark as an engineer. His first job, as a structural engineer with the City of Edmonton Power Plant working on Edmonton Pumping Station #1, was the first in a long series of projects that would help shape the city and province. John soon joined the business his father had started in 1906 and, with the exception of a period during World War II when he was recruited to Defense Industries Limited in Montreal to assist in the war effort, he spent his career helping to build Poole Construction into an industry leader. In 1948, John and his brother, George, purchased the company from their father. Over the next 30 years, they worked with their talented team members to create numerous landmark projects in Alberta, across Canada and in the United States. With Don Love, they founded Oxford Properties, which became a major developer, and they were also founding partners in Shaw Communications. John served as a director of the TD Bank and other boards.
In 1977, the two co-chairmen sold Poole Construction to their employees in a move that offered financial independence for the brothers and their families. John refuses to take credit for the progressive approach to the sale, which provided a unique and profitable future for staff of the newly renamed PCL Construction. Barbara offers an alternative view – that the positive staff relationships the company enjoyed and the unique nature of the sale reflect the thoughtful and generous approach John has always taken to business and to life.
During John’s years with Poole Construction, both he and Barbara were active members of the community. Selling the company allowed them to take on their community interests and endeavours in a new way.
In 1989, they decided to give back to Edmonton by rejuvenating the Edmonton Community Foundation, which was inactive and without funds. John and Barbara’s family, George Poole and Robert Stollery each contributed to the project while their friend, E. John Slatter, served as secretary and supervised the reorganization. The Edmonton Community Foundation today is a great success story, with assets over $150 million and $45 million distributed to education and various charities.
It’s difficult to compile a complete list of their volunteer efforts and community investments, as they are frequently offered quietly and without fanfare. Their energy, dedication and generosity can be seen in a wide-range of areas, including: arts organizations such as the Edmonton Symphony, the Alberta Ballet, the Citadel Theatre, the Glenbow-Alberta Institute and the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Arts Award Foundation; educational institutions such as the University of Alberta, Grant MacEwan College, the Lester B. Pearson College of the Pacific and the Banff Centre; health organizations such as University of Alberta Hospital Foundation and the Alberta Foundation for Health Research; and environmental organizations such as the Nature Conservancy of Canada, to which they contributed critical assistance to protect natural ranch lands adjacent to Waterton National Park.
Having been deeply involved in a high school Teen Club in Calgary, Barbara started one in Edmonton’s Crestwood Community and, with John, devoted many Friday evening to their activities. On the national stage, Barbara has shared her passion for the arts as a governor for the National Theatre School of Canada and the Canadiana Fund, and as a national council member for the Canadian Society of Decorative Arts.
Their extensive record of community involvement has been recognized with numerous awards and honours. John holds an Honourary Doctor of Laws Degree from the University of Alberta and was named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1996. He holds many business and engineering honours in recognition of his contributions to the industry. Both John and Barbara received Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medals and share joint honours such as the Northern Lights Award of Distinction from the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce, the Distinguished Citizens Award from Grant MacEwan College and induction into the Edmonton Cultural Hall of Fame.
John and Barbara share a love of nature and outdoor pursuits. They are avid skiers and hikers and have travelled extensively, including numerous cycling tours of Europe. They also share a unique combination of personality traits: a kind and generous nature, an infectious sense of optimism and of humour, and a dedication to community service that has made a difference in the quality of life enjoyed by Edmontonians, Albertans and all Canadians.
Executive Director, The Alberta Order of Excellence