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A lasting legacy for the arts

Carl and Kate Turkstra founded the Incite Foundation for the Arts in 2011 and it will carry on their great work.

Carl and Kate Turkstra never sought the limelight as they quietly supported Hamilton arts organizations big and small.

Founders of the Incite Foundation for the Arts, the Turkstras believed the arts are key to quality of life and critical to the future of Hamilton. And they believed anyone, regardless of circumstance, should be able to enjoy and pursue music, theatre and visual art.

Hamilton lost tremendous patrons in Carl, who died May 22, 2022  and Kate, who joined him on Jan. 21, 2023.

But their legacy carries on in Incite, which since its founding in 2011 has contributed more than $5 million to 30 Hamilton-area organizations in grants from $2,500 to $150,000.

Kate and Carl Turkstra founded the Incite Foundation for the Arts in 2011.
Photo: Carole & Roy Timm Photography

They did much more than sign cheques. Kate and Carl sat on boards, they bought art, they attended performances and they convinced others to get involved.

“Dad grew up in Hamilton and he was very devoted to Hamilton and the fantastic people doing fantastic things in the arts,” says daughter Jen Turkstra.. 

Carl is credited for leading the charge that saved the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra when it faced bankruptcy. 

“There is no question he saved the HPO, but Carl would never tell you that,” says Graham Crawford, a friend of the Turkstras and a member of Incite’s advisory committee.

“He applied his business skills to the organization and he convinced others to step in and work, too. They were true, old-style philanthropists. They didn’t want credit, they wanted results and to make an impact.”

Carl was also critical to the creation of a new home on James Street North for Hamilton Artists Inc. and he stepped in to make the restoration of the Westdale Theatre a reality.  

Peter Turkstra says his parents developed a keen appreciation for the power of the arts in the cities they lived in, including London, Brooklyn, Mexico City, and Montreal, during Carl’s illustrious career as an engineer and university professor. 

“So they saw the opportunity within Hamilton, that its wonderful arts community could affect the city in a positive way. Dad’s mantra was that it was your duty, as a successful person, to give back. He always had an eye for the underdog and he sought to help those who were being overlooked.”

Carl admired the entrepreneurialism, sacrifice and grit of artists, says Peter, and while he may have been the driving force, Kate was equally committed to Incite and its capacity to grow the arts in Hamilton. 

The Turkstras especially liked to support arts programming for children, including providing free passes to the Art Gallery of Hamilton and donating to an Instrument for Every Child and the Hamilton Children’s Choir.

“They particularly loved to go see children perform. Carl would cry every time,” says Liz Stirling, administrator of Incite. 

“There are so many stories of Carl’s generosity and I am sure there are many I don’t know. He wanted no recognition for what he did.”

Carl and Kate came into their wealth after Carl returned to Hamilton at the request of his father to take over Turkstra Lumber in 1989. It was struggling in the midst of a recession but Carl was able to turn things around before retiring in 2010 when Peter took over.  

Carl and Kate were humble, kind and down-to-earth, says advisory committee member Toby Yull.

“They were wealthy but completely unpretentious and fun. Kate was lovely and kind and had a charming English eccentricity. She saw the beauty in simple things. We found a dining room table and chairs for her home at a second-hand shop at a golf course. Others would have refinished and reupholstered everything, but Kate loved it the way it was.”

That table became command-central for Incite.

Carl directed that the foundation would operate with little administration. His other stipulation: It would not be named after him.

“He flatly rejected any talk of that,” says Crawford, who came up with Incite. Carl loved the multiple meanings and especially that it means to rally others in support of a cause. 

“It’s been hard to go on without them, but that’s what Carl and Kate wanted this foundation to do,” says Liz. “It’s such a privilege to carry on with their beautiful legacy to this city.”