Nov. 15, 2022

Allan Markin is on a mission to help people lead healthier lives

Business leader and longtime UCalgary donor has left indelible mark on campus and the community
Allan Markin
Allan Markin’s passions include community health and the arts. Courtesy Allan Markin

One of the most popular television shows of the 1950s was a fictional anthology series called The Millionaire, about a mysterious benefactor who each week would anonymously bestow upon one lucky stranger a cheque for $1 million. The drama explored how the money affected the beneficiaries, often changing their lives for the better.

It was an idea that struck Allan Markin — just a boy at the time, growing up in the soon-to-be Calgary community of Bowness — so much so that the youngster declared to his mother, “I’m going to be a millionaire and give away money, just like that man.”

True to his word, Markin, Hon. LLD’98, is living that dream, using his wealth to improve the lives of others. Considering he’s one of the University of Calgary’s longest-standing donors, his lifelong commitment to philanthropy comes as no surprise.

Having left an indelible mark on the business world — achieving success as the co-founder and board chair of Canadian Natural Resources Limited, which grew into one of the most successful energy companies in the world — Markin is just as well known for his tireless advocacy for public health, education, athletics and the arts.

In particular, his community health initiatives — which include establishing Apple Schools to promote nutrition and physical activity in young children, and funding post-secondary research projects in health and wellness — have benefited countless individuals and families in Calgary, across the province and beyond.

It’s a passion that goes back even further than his Millionaire aspirations. Markin humbly credits his upbringing for instilling in him such values.

“I was raised in a community that genuinely cared about people’s health,” says Markin, now president and CEO of AMP Financial and director of the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation.

It’s embedded in me. I truly believe that’s what I was put on this earth to do — empowering others to lead healthier lives.

Giving those people the additional opportunity to pay it forward and create positive experiences for others is just as important to Markin — which is why investing in education, reaching students as they’re carving out their own niche, made sense.

At UCalgary, his giving reflects his diversity of passions, supporting a variety of faculties and initiatives over the years, including public health research, engineering activities, a writer-in-residence program, multiple scholarships and bursaries, and dozens of student research projects.

“It’s hard to quantify the sheer number of people touched by Allan’s extraordinary giving,” says Andrea Morris, UCalgary chief development officer and associate vice-president. “His honorary degree from the University of Calgary goes both ways — truly, it’s an honour for us to recognize his contributions to the community.”

Philanthropy's ripple effect

That’s the ripple effect of philanthropy — the impact is often immeasurable as it grows exponentially. A student receives a financial award, like the Markin Bursary, or an experiential learning opportunity, like the Markin Undergraduate Student Research Program. That student is then able to further their studies with the seed of philanthropy already planted, thanks to the boost they received. As they build their life — career, family, community — they give back in their own way, creating opportunities for the next generation.

“That kind of far-reaching, enduring impact starts with one just person,” adds Dr. Ed McCauley, president and vice-chancellor of UCalgary. “Allan is a dedicated champion of business and community. His professional and philanthropic efforts have helped shape this city and province.”

Regardless of the hat he’s wearing — CEO, NHL team part-owner, community member, family man — Markin continually seeks opportunities to create positive change, whether it’s for one person or an entire population. 

Allan Markin

Markin on site in Tyler, Texas (circa 1969) during his time with Amoco Canada.

Courtesy Allan Markin

During his time with Canadian Natural, for example, he considered the number of Venezuelans among his employees — and their love of baseball. Using his own money, Markin built a baseball stadium at the company’s work site in Northern Alberta. (Along with a hockey rink — they were still in Canada, after all.)

“It was wonderful to see the difference it made to them,” he recalls.

Without your health, you have nothing, and mental and spiritual health are part of that. That little piece of home created such positive energy, not only among our new-to-Canada employees, but the whole camp.

And from Northern Alberta all the way down to Southern Texas, Markin’s impact has even reached the U.S.’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). In 2012, he purchased a state-of-the-art bone-density scanner for a study out of the Cumming School of Medicine’s McCaig Institute for Bone and Joint Health.

The expertise gleaned from that study — and the HR-pQCT scanner, then the first one in the world — led to UCalgary working with the Canadian Space Agency to install the same type of system in NASA’s Johnson Space Center two years later.

“That was pretty special,” says Markin. “To be a part of research that makes its way to NASA and is helping us understand, and hopefully minimize, the negative effects of space travel on astronauts’ bodies, that was a proud moment for me.”

It speaks to the power of philanthropy — and reinforces Markin’s vision. Whether it’s an elementary-school student in Alberta or an astronaut on the International Space Station, Markin is helping people far and wide lead healthier lives.

National Philanthropy Day, recognized on Nov. 15 each year, is an opportunity to celebrate the generosity and impact of our philanthropic community. The University of Calgary is grateful for the passion, vision and dedication of donors, here and around the world, who are bolstering our community and changing lives.