During her five years as Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, she focused on supporting causes and groups related to women’s issues, volunteers and youth.
High upon the throne of Canadian society sits the Honorable Hilary Weston. As the recipient of many distinguished awards, her most recognized role came in 1997 when the Prime Minister of Canada appointed Mrs. Weston as the 26th Lieutenant Governor of Ontario. More impressively, Mrs. Weston is only the second woman in history to hold the title, a title that dates back to the late 1700’s. Mrs. Weston was the Queen’s representative in Ontario for five years, where she was responsible for the Crown’s constitutional and representational roles in the province. Although her innovative contributions to public service, philanthropy, art and her family span the globe, her success story began much earlier.
Born in Dublin, the regally beautiful Mrs. Weston met her husband Galen Weston in Ireland nearly 50 years ago on a trip expanding his family’s lucrative grocery business. In addition to sitting at the helm of several successful food and retail companies, the Weston family is the owner of Selfridges Group Limited, comprised of some of the largest international luxury goods retailers in Canada, the UK and Holland, and of which Mrs. Weston is a director. Mrs. Weston speaks fondly of her husband’s roots in the family business and passing down the business through the generations.
“They were bakers and cookie makers, creating what was known as the model bakery and considered the most advanced and largest of its kind in North America,” she said. After World War II, her father-in-law brought similar businesses to England before returning to live in Canada. “I suppose you can say we are very involved in our business,” she said. “It’s a family business so we find great excitement in those companies.”
But Mrs. Weston finds success in many of her own pursuits, as well.
No stranger to the world of business and fashion, prior to receiving her title as Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, she spent ten years as Deputy Chair of the Board of Holt Renfrew where she promoted Canadian merchandise and designers, helping to revitalize a retail business that had been a Canadian tradition since 1837.
She also has an eye for philanthropy. During her five years as Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, she focused on supporting causes and groups related to women’s issues, volunteers and youth. With a passion for philanthropy and a mind for business, she was the patron of more than 300 charitable organizations. Mrs. Weston has continued to contribute her time to many of the groups, especially those organizations that work to help homeless children.
A love of art is another passion. Mrs. Weston raised more than $250 million of the $400 million required for the restoration of the Royal Ontario Museum by architect Daniel Libeskind, who designed the Ground Zero Master Plan in New York. Mrs. Weston’s love for art began at an early age while reading about the Bloomsbury Group, a series of young writers and artists in England between the wars such as Virginia Woolf and E.M. Forster. The first painting she acquired was by Augustus John, a piece that is still in her collection. Additional artistic influences came from her daughter, Alannah, who introduced Mrs. Weston to contemporary artists during her time as a student at Oxford.
“[Alannah’s] interest in contemporary art was emerging at the same time as the Brit Pack, which included people like Damien Hirst, Tracy Emin and Chris Ofili who were breaking new ground,” Mrs. Weston said of her daughter.
Apart from their business and philanthropic pursuits, the Westons have a passion of another kind – that for island life. The power couple wanted to create a community of their own that reflected architect Léon Krier’s idea of New Urbanism, a getaway reminiscent of “old Florida and the Southern United States.”
In 1989 they did just that, founding Windsor, Florida. The tropical locale was named after the location of their cherished English home in Windsor Great Park. The residential and sporting community in Vero Beach, Windsor is a private village that spans 416 acres of lush barrier island between the Indian River and the Atlantic Ocean. Much more than a business, the Weston family put their heart and soul into ensuring that Windsor is very much the “village by the sea” they envisioned when they first conceived the project more than two decades ago. The couple now calls this tropical paradise home.
“The elders of Vero Beach had strong control over how they wanted to see the future of this very unique and special area,” Mrs. Weston said. “There are extraordinary migrations of rare birds that come to nest there, with the conservation on one side and this magnificent beach on the other. They call it the Treasure Coast because after a storm people walk on the beach searching for Spanish gold and silver from ships that might have been wrecked along the reef. The Spanish returned from Veracruz along the Gulf Coast; and Vero Beach is of course named after Veracruz. There is a lot of history within this small sleepy town. It has a lot of charm and sophistication.”
Serving as Windsor’s Creative Director since the project’s conception, Mrs. Weston’s most prized establishment is The Gallery at Windsor, an independent art space in the heart of the community. The Gallery at Windsor features The George Weston Collection of world-class art, as well as a series of high profile contemporary art exhibits assembled by international curators and featuring artists including Alex Katz, Peter Doig, Tony Scherman and Christo and Jeanne-Claude.
“What we are working on is that our children will continue to grow this art program which is a vital part of the community,” Mrs. Weston said, of her hopes for a continuing artistic presence in her beloved Windsor. “We have many important collectors from all over America who are actual residents of Windsor.”
This gallery will also take part in a collaborative art partnership, an effort led by Mrs. Weston, with England’s Whitechapel Gallery, known for presenting the first exhibition of Mark Rothko and other major contemporary artists. The series of exhibitions will coincide with Art Basel Miami Beach. This year’s featured artist will be Beatriz Milhazes, who was greatly influenced by the Tropicália art movement in the 1960s in Latin America. With Florida having such a large Latin culture, Mrs. Weston felt that having her first exhibition of Latin America’s work in Florida seemed like a good fit. Milhazes, who will attend the exhibit’s opening, will also be the first female artist to exhibit at the Windsor Gallery.
With a clear goal in mind for the gallery’s three-year collaboration, Mrs. Weston plans to feature one artist per year, showcasing an artist in their early career, mid career and the third will be an iconic artist. With Art Basel gaining popularity, Mrs. Weston notices a positive change in Florida as a result of this emphasis on art and culture.
“It is amazing. It has really focused Miami as a center for art from all over the world,” she said.
Windsor is a place where all of Mrs. Weston’s passions seem to come together. It’s very much her personal paradise.
“Windsor is unique and very personal,” Mrs. Weston said. “It is a home not only to our family but our children and grandchildren. Many of the members’ families are [also] connected to the village. They live there, get married there, and then have a house of their own.” Mrs. Weston’s son met his wife at Windsor, as did many of his friends. “It has a life of its own,” she said.
It seems Windsor is a mix of the very best of the Weston’s business and personal pursuits, an embodiment of who the family is at its core.
“We interlink our free time and our business time and they seem to come together,” Mrs. Weston said. “When in Florida we are working but also enjoying the beach, the weather, friends and this magical village we have created. We can stand back and look at it and say, ‘Goodness, it’s everything we wanted it to be, and we are here and able to enjoy it as well.’”