Canada’s “Cranberry King” donates $1 million to Mac

Marc Bieler receives a gift of James McGill crystal from Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Dean Chandra Madramootoo. / Photo: Owen Egan
Marc Bieler receives a gift of James McGill crystal from Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Dean Chandra Madramootoo. / Photo: Owen Egan

Landmark gift earmarked for new internship office

By Jim Hynes

McGill is happily reaping the fruit of the seeds sown by alumnus Marc Bieler. The man behind the biggest cranberry farm in the world is donating $1 million to the University’s capital campaign. The gift was announced at a donor reception on April 23 hosted by Chandra Madramootoo, Dean of the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Bieler (Dip Agr 1958, B.A. 1964) has been called Canada’s “Cranberry King.” He is President of Bieler Cranberries Inc. and Canneberges Atoka Cranberries Inc., the largest grower and processor of cranberries

in Canada. Atoka is estimated to have four percent of the estimated $2 billion North American cranberry market. The Bieler companies have the world’s largest operation at a single site and produce 20 to 25

million pounds of cranberries per year. Atoka is the largest cranberry processor in Canada and can handle 40 million pounds of the fruit per year.

A loyal annual donor since 1964, Bieler has strong ties to McGill reaching back to the early 20th century. His grandfather, Charles Bieler, was a professor of theology, while his uncle Etienne was a professor of physics

who worked with Nobel Prize winner Sir Ernest Rutherford. Eight members of Bieler’s family are McGill graduates, including his father Jean, BA’13, BCL’19; his uncle Jacques, BSc’23; his brother Philippe, BEng’55;

his brother-in-law, former Montreal Neurological Institute Director Dr. Donald Baxter, MSc’53; his wife Marie Bieler, BScAgr’80; and his daughter in-law, Jacinthe Côté-Bieler, BSc (NutrSc’99), MSc’04.

“I’ve identified the areas that I want to contribute to and McGill University and Macdonald College is one of them,” Bieler said in a recent interview. “The Macdonald Campus is where I started my formal education

and developed my passion for agriculture. I feel McGill is an important institution. It’s important to me and my family, it’s important to the community here in Quebec, and to the larger world community. When

I saw what McGill was doing on global food, that kind of interested me, and I got involved with the University a little bit on that.”

Bieler’s gift, the single largest from a graduate to the Macdonald Campus, will be used to create an internship office for undergraduate students in the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

The Bieler Family Internship Fund will increase internship opportunities in the food industry by forging stronger ties between the McGill community and major food industry partners in Quebec, Canada and

internationally. Students will benefit from increased work opportunities prior to graduating, while food industry stakeholders will gain access to a pool of emerging young talent.

“I’m a practical guy, so I think this is the way to go,” Bieler said. “It’s the way to go because students can get practical experience and figure out what they want to do in life. But I also think it’s important for McGill

to forge ties with Canadian and especially Quebec enterprises and for students to get involved with companies that are here.”

Bieler says that he intends to play an active role in both the new internship office and McGill in general in the future.

“There are other things that I’ve suggested to the Dean that I think Macdonald and McGill should be doing – like getting involved in our own industry, because that’s what I’m particularly interested in and that’s

what makes this gift possible,” Bieler said. “But there is other research in the area of cranberries that I’d like to encourage McGill to get involved in. As research goes now, it’s usually multi-dimensional. You need to

draw from the various departments and I think that that’s maybe where McGill has an edge over some other universities in Quebec.”