See how pedal power has resulted in change at The Ottawa Hospital

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Robert Merkley’s family business has deep roots in the community, originally starting out in Casselman in 1895. Mr. Merkley, the President and CEO of Merkley Supply – a major masonry supplier in the Ottawa area – says the move to Ottawa happened in 1927 when his grandfather bought a brick plant in Billing’s Bridge. 

Mr. Merkley’s first major foray into fundraising took place in the 90’s. He helped organize an annual baseball tournament for CHEO in response to the compassionate care his family received after his eldest daughter was hospitalized on Christmas Day in 1989.  

Today, Mr. Merkley is known for his charitable work for many organizations and also as a co-founder of THE RIDE, a one-day road cycling fundraiser for cancer research. It’s one of The Ottawa Hospital’s biggest fundraising events and it’s raised more than $10M for cancer research in just six years. It is the most successful single-day cancer fundraiser in Eastern Ontario, but the idea was actually imported from Toronto.

Ottawa developer Roger Greenberg introduced Mr. Merkley to Toronto’s Ride to Conquer Cancer and registered a team.  

“That year, 2008, I started training in January,” describes Mr. Merkley. “I lost about 30 lbs. in the process. It was one for the bucket list.… it’s a very euphoric moment when you cross the line.” 

The euphoria gave way to an idea. Their team had raised $88,000 for a Toronto hospital, so why not do the same in Ottawa?

Claude Des Rosiers of Boone Plumbing, Mr. Greenberg and Mr. Merkley “put their heads together” with The Ottawa Hospital and came up with an outline for an Ottawa race event. Ride The Rideau was born. 

In the first year, organizers hoped to attract 300 riders and raise $750,000. In the end, 350 riders raised $928,000 for cancer research.  

Why cancer? Because “everyone knows someone who’s fought it, battled it, or succumbed to it,” says Mr. Merkley. “It’s universal, and it’s a terrible disease.” He’d lost a close cousin to cancer a few years earlier and was devastated to lose someone so vibrant and young. In fact, Mr. Merkley’s fundraising efforts have become more personal than ever. His wife Susan was diagnosed with ovarian cancer last year and is currently receiving treatment.

In addition to supporting research, THE RIDE helped fund the purchase of equipment such as the CyberKnife – a non-invasive alternative to surgery for treatment of both cancerous and non-cancerous tumors – and the opening of the Centre for Innovative Cancer Research (CICR). 

This fundraising success is a result of having a dedicated team in place, but the other part of the equation is deceptively simple: making face-to-face connections with potential donors and riders. Mr. Merkley says his forte is fundraising and recruiting and that knowing a lot of people in the industry certainly helps. 

This year’s RIDE is taking place September 11 and Mr. Merkley will once again be taking part. He describes it as a transformative experience for many of the riders. 

“Part of it is the challenge: ‘Can I do that?’ When you cross the finish line and you’ve spent hours training, hours fundraising, you’ve raised a good chunk of money… it’s a really great feeling.”

He notes that an interesting “side effect” of doing THE RIDE is the good health that follows. Many of the riders just keep riding, whether it’s for charity or as part of their own health regimen. 

“Probably a third of the people who did THE RIDE are now doing spinning classes, getting exercise, and are staying in shape,” says Mr. Merkley. 

There’s no doubt that the benefits of participating are far-reaching. 

“It’s gratifying that we have an event that’s enjoyable. It’s healthy, it’s extremely well run by The Ottawa Hospital, and the costs are very low. It gives you a great sense of accomplishment and the money really goes to life-changing research and innovation. You can’t beat that.”


-       21,000 cancer patients are treated every year at The Ottawa Hospital

-       TOH has 300 researchers dedicated to cancer

-       More than 200 cancer-related clinical trials are underway



- 683 riders

- 294 volunteers

- 7,872 donations received

- $219.44 average donation amount

- $1.8M raised in 2015

- $10.6M raised overall 

* Data is from the 2015 edition of THE RIDE


This is the fifth part of an ongoing series about The Ottawa Hospital. 

Look for the evolving archive on

Learn, Grow, Change

The Future is Now 

Baby Steps and Sniper Attacks

Research that helps real people, every day

Organizations: Ottawa Hospital, THE RIDE, Toronto hospital Innovative Cancer Research Baby Steps

Geographic location: Ottawa, Toronto, Eastern Ontario

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