For far longer than Canada itself has been a country, the de Gaspé Beaubien family has been a major business player in its territory, all the way back to when parts of it were still called New France. Phillippe de Gaspé Beaubien II sits at the base of a particularly strong branch of the family tree, having graduated from Harvard Business School in 1954 before founding Télémedia in 1968, eventually building it into one of Canada’s largest radio broadcasters and consumer-magazine publishers in less than 20 years. When the Internet began to throw the media landscape into upheaval, though, the de Gaspé Beaubien family decided to go in a different direction. They sold Télémedia’s radio and magazine assets, and Philippe II and his wife, Nan-Bowles, formed the de Gaspé Beaubien Foundation as a philanthropic organization originally intended to give back by helping other family businesses.
The de Gaspé Beaubien children now work for the foundation as well, seated on its board (their children are also involved), and it has expanded its reach into five sectors: water and conservation, women and their well-being, business history, families in business, and the health-care system. Caroline Thomassin, who serves as general counsel and corporate secretary for the organization, facilitates the diversity of its business, investment, and philanthropic activity, and she also represents the legal interests of the three generations of family.
Thomassin joined the de Gaspé Beaubien Foundation in 2012 after 11 years at Desjardins Group, the last 3 as its general manager of legal affairs, projects, and financings. She wanted to explore new opportunities to apply her accumulated experience, and the timing of her curiosity coincided with the retirement of de Gaspé Beaubien’s former counsel. Since coming aboard, she has spent most of her time representing the family’s broad portfolio of business opportunities and investments. “There are so many facets to my role; it’s never the same!” Thomassin says with a laugh. “I don’t see myself getting bored.”
To help manage the diverse activities of the family, Thomassin must remain versed in many types of law—including business, contracting, securities, and tax law—related to the regulation of private family foundations. “It’s a very broad practice and keeps me on my toes,” she says. “I am able to grow tremendously.”
“I had an understanding that business success brings economic prosperity to communities. With a background in economics, I wanted to support business leaders in achieving their objectives.”
A project currently keeping Thomassin busy is the River Mission, which the de Gaspé Beaubien Foundation is coordinating in conjunction with Ottawa Riverkeeper and Alexandra Cousteau’s Blue Legacy. The effort is intended to encourage province-wide recognition, protection, and stewardship of the 1,200-kilometre Ottawa River between Québec and Ontario. As both an early transportation line and a trade route for lumber and fur, the body of water has played a seminal role in the history of Canada’s formation and growth, but today it’s taken for granted.
“Somehow the Ottawa River fell through the cracks,” Thomassin says. “There is a governance framework for the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes, but there is nothing for the Ottawa River.” The River Mission hopes to raise awareness of the need for a governance framework, and it has produced a short film about the Ottawa’s story and importance. Blue Legacy is currently working on three more short films about water governance, electric dams, biodiversity, and water quality, and a summit where politicians and stakeholders can discuss best practices for the Ottawa River’s management is being planned for 2015. It is hoped that this model can be reused to protect other rivers throughout Québec. “I’m a member of the steering committee and the summit committee and have a wide role working with the executive director to oversee all aspects related to the summit,” Thomassin says.
Facts & Figures
Generations of the family’s footprint in Québec
Current active generations in the de Gaspé Beaubien Foundation
Number of family members working together on a daily basis
Years the foundation has supported the needs of family businesses
Number of de Gaspé Beaubien grandchildren who canoed the Ottawa River
The River Mission is an initiative of the de Gaspé Beaubien grandchildren. In the summer of 2013, three of them travelled the Ottawa by canoe and flew over large parts of it in order to understand its significance more intimately. We Should Tell Them is a short film by Goodness TV that emerged from their adventure, and it debuted at the annual Wild & Scenic Film Festival in February 2014. Their project was also nominated by Tides Canada in 2013 as one of the Tides Top 10, a list that annually recognizes the country’s leading social-change efforts.
The members of the de Gaspé Beaubien family firmly believe in taking action and responsibility for their own well-being and the well-being of their communities. They don’t trumpet their commitments and triumphs; they instead work quietly on the projects that have captured their hearts. In addition to offering substantial financial support for these projects, they offer their time and expertise and remain closely involved.
The de Gaspé Beaubien Foundation is also the founding member of the Business Families Foundation, a charitable organization that supports family-owned businesses through education and connection with affiliate networks across the globe.
Thomassin’s work to help the family with its various goals demands an uncommon intimacy—one seldom found in the world of corporate law. “I am heavily involved in every aspect of their lives,” she says. “It’s a very special kind of working relationship.”