Canadas Top 25 Immigrants 2016

It’s a story of rags to riches like no other. In 1951, Bulgarian-born Ignat Kaneff arrived in Canada, and spent the only $5 he had on a taxi ride from Union Station. With no friends or formal education, Kaneff slept in a garage in Mississauga for four months. His first job was as a labourer for a building company.

Kaneff was eventually able to save enough money to secure a small loan to purchase one building lot for a home of his own. That small house laid the foundation for the creation of his company, Kaneff Properties Limited, in 1956.

As chairman and CEO of the residential, retail and commercial development company, 90-year-old Iggy, as he is fondly known, has seen his company steadily grow over the decades, now boasting more than 300 employees.

“Success in the real estate business, and, I think, in any business, is not possible without being good at communicating with people to understand their needs, wants and wishes,” says Kaneff. “Relationships are at the core of our success.”

Kaneff Properties’ first housing development consisted of 27 houses in the Erindale Woodlands neighbourhood of Mississauga, with a focus on quality and customer service. The company went on to build larger single-family dwellings, high-rise apartment buildings, and retail and office commercial properties throughout the Greater Toronto Area. And his personal passion for the game of golf led him to build eight golf courses, including his flagship facility, the Lionhead Golf Club and Conference Centre in Brampton.

That’s where he holds an annual golf tournament that has raised more than $1.6 million for Community Living Mississauga. But that’s just the start of his philanthropy. Kaneff and with his wife,Dimitrina established the I. Kaneff Charitable Foundation in 1986. “Our foundation has been the primary organization through which we have donated more than $25 million to various charities and educational organizations in Canada and Bulgaria,” he says.

Kaneff even has buildings named after him at the University of Toronto at Mississauga and at York University’s Lassonde School of Engineering, in recognition of his generous donations. He had always wished for the opportunity to further his own education, so receiving honorary doctorates from these universities must have been special. Of course, those top a long list of other awards, too, including the Order of Ontario, themost prestigious official honour in the province.