Izaak Walton Killam

Izaak Walton Killam

BORN: Yarmouth, Nova Scotia • 23 July 1885

DIED: Grand-Cascapedia, Quebec • 5 August 1955

The rich are different from you and me, the old saw goes, and Izaak Walton Killam is proof of that adage. Dour, silent, immensely wealthy, he drew national scorn when he died for leaving his immense fortune to his widow, Dorothy, and no bequests to charity. But Killam believed that, because he had made his money in Canada, he owed the country something so he deliberately did not avoid inheri¬ tance taxes.

The approximately $50 million in death duties from his $100 million estate were directed by the St Laurent government to the establishment of the Canada Council, that great benefactor of Canadian culture. His wife, moreover, apparently carrying out her husband’s instruction, established the Killam Trust that funds universities and scholar¬ ship. The Killams rank unchallenged as Canada’s greatest philanthropists.

Killam was born to the least successful of the many Killam families in Yarmouth. All descended from pre—Revolutionary War immigrants to Nova Scotia, the others high-hatted young Walton, and although he was sent briefly away to a private school, he resented his treatment bitterly.

His business career began at seventeen as bank clerk-cum-office boy in the Yarmouth branch of the Halifax Union Bank, and soon he was working at head office. There he met an extraordinary New Brunswicker, the almost equally young Max Aitken. The two became friends and, soon, associates in Aitken’s Royal Securities.

Aitken had figured out how to finance and amalgamate companies, and soon after the turn of the century he was too big for provincial Halifax. Montreal was the place to be, and he took Killam with him when he made his millions.Killam became rich too, and in 1919 he bought the Royal from Aitken, already immersed for several years in British politics. Now it was his turn.Secretive to extremes, Killam built a vast empire.

There were pulp and paper companies across the country and power companies in Calgary, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario, Newfoundland, and throughout Latin America; there were candy and sugar companies in the Maritimes, movie houses, real estate, grain and elevator companies, and the Mail and Empire in Toronto; and Royal Securities itself was and remained a cash cow.

Silently studying every document, Killam proved to be a master of detail.No one knew more than he did about his enterprises; no one said less.His one indulgence was his wife, whom he married in 1922. Dorothy Johnston was an American from St Louis, a petite, energetic, beautiful woman fifteen years her husband’s junior.

She loved jewels, fine clothes, her five large mansions around the world—and baseball. In 1952 Killam had an expensive television cable hooked into their Montreal home so his ill wife could watch the World Series, and when the Brooklyn Dodgers were poised to move to Los Angeles, Killam put up the money so Dorothy could try—unsuccess¬ fully—to buy the team and keep it in Brooklyn.

No fool, Dorothy learned finance under her husband’s tutelage, and when he died at a salmon-fishing lodge in 1955, she more than doubled the estate in ten years.The Killam donations that she supervised were huge. Dalhousie University received $30 million, the University of British Columbia $14 million, and between them the Universities of Alberta and Calgary $16 million.

The Izaak Walton Killam Children’s Hospital in Halifax was given $8 million, the Montreal Neurological Institute $4 million, and, most important perhaps, the Canada Council received the funds to establish the Killam Prizes and Fellowships for advanced research in the humanities, social sciences, and science.

Each year, after rigorous competition, some twenty fellowships are awarded to Canada’s best scholars. Each fellow has two years of paid leave to research and write, and the “Killams” have become the nation’s most prestigious academic award. The flood of books and scientific discov¬ eries produced by Killam Fellows are testimony to the value of the program.

Considering that Izaak Walton Killam was more inter¬ ested in mystery stories and fishing than in culture or schol¬ arship, considering that Dorothy Killam was more involved in baseball than in art, the Killam benefactions were truly extraordinary. They left their country infinitely richer than they found it.