Our history

The CFI’s success is based on a simple premise — give researchers the tools they need to think big and conduct world-class research.

Since 1997, Canadians have directly experienced the transformative impact of public investments in research infrastructure. These investments have led to research breakthroughs in sectors as diverse as health, natural resources, information and communications technology, and the environment.

Our origins

Listen to the voices of our founders in our podcast series as they describe how the vision of the CFI came to life. 

Take a scroll through our history

Browse through some of our milestones and learn about breakthrough discoveries enabled by CFI funding.

*Download a PDF of the timeline items
 

The CFI makes an early impact

In April 1997, the Canada Foundation for Innovation was established by an act of Parliament. A team made up of representatives from the three federal granting councils and Industry Canada was brought together to help with the launch. The creation of the CFI represented a new way of strengthening Canada’s research capacity. It would be an independent, non-profit corporation that would fund research infrastructure.

 

Off to an energetic start

In its first year, the CFI held a national consultation on program proposals with the research community, business and governments. The response was overwhelming. The CFI had struck a chord: Canadian researchers were energized and filled with an optimism that had been missing for years. The prospect of conducting leading-edge research in Canada was a reality. The CFI earmarked about $400 million for project funding. By 1999, close to 800 applications were submitted for a total funding request of $1.2 billion.

In 1997, the need was so great that it would have been easy to simply fill the gaps without setting our sights on the longer term. But the CFI’s vision was to have a lasting impact on the country over all. From day one, we focused on enhancing Canada’s competitiveness, prosperity and quality of life through world-class infrastructure support.
 

Reversing the brain drain and building partnerships

Two over-arching themes stand out at the beginning of the CFI story. First, the CFI was committed to reversing the brain drain that saw Canada’s best and brightest follow funding to pursue their research abroad. By 2002, it was clear that the CFI was making a difference. An independent review showed that about 40 percent of the 1,200 new researchers benefiting from CFI funding were working outside Canada before accepting their first faculty appointment here.

Second, the CFI recognized early on that collaboration and strong partnerships were essential to its success. Two high-profile examples include the creation of the first ever pan-Canadian network of high-performance computing facilities and the national effort to sequence the coronavirus, suspected of causing SARS. In 2003, to increase Canada’s capacity to conduct world-class research in critical health-related areas, the CFI launched the Research Hospital Fund. In keeping with the CFI’s support for collaboration, this fund focuses on large-scale infrastructure projects that take a more integrated and multidisciplinary approach to health research, including biomedical, clinical, health services and population health research.

By March 2006, the CFI had invested almost $3 billion in more than 4,600 projects; ten years later it had invested more than $6.6 billion in close to 10,000 projects that span all disciplines and range in size in complexity, from databases, electron microscopes and gene sequencers to large-scale digital networks, ocean research vessels and world-class particle physics facilities.
 

A bright future focused on innovation

In the coming decades, Canadian researchers will be part of a global wave of technological, medical, social and business innovation like none the world has seen before. As the CFI looks to the future, the importance of collaboration between researchers and among all sectors and across the globe will only grow in importance and scale. The world-class facilities and state-of-the-art equipment the CFI funds will increasingly be hubs for partnerships, hotbeds of discovery science and training grounds for the next generation of researchers, innovators, and entrepreneurs.

It all adds up to an infrastructure of ideas that is helping research build communities now and in the future.