“He does well who does his best.”

J.W. McConnell


John Wilson McConnell

John Wilson McConnell was born in Muskoka, Ontario in 1877, the youngest of seven children. In 1863, his parents emigrated to Canada from Ireland and received a grant of land in Monck Township, north of Toronto.


Life in Toronto

At the age of 15, prompted by the failure of their farm, J.W. McConnell and his family moved to Toronto where he worked as a delivery boy, and later as a bookkeeper.


The McConnells

The McConnell Family in Toronto in 1895 (J.W. McConnell: front row left).


New Opportunity in Montreal

In 1899, J.W. McConnell joined the Standard Chemical Company, and a year later he moved to Montreal to establish its office in that city. Within a year, he was selling the company’s shares in Europe, which led to the relationships and securities brokering that formed the basis for the financial success that characterized the remainder of his life.


Early Giving

J.W. McConnell was a regular and generous contributor to several major Montreal institutions, notably McGill University, the Royal Victoria and Montreal General Hospitals, and the YMCA. He also assisted several churches (Catholic and Protestant), youth initiatives, missions, and individuals—both English and French-speaking—usually anonymously.


Business Success

J.W. McConnell was involved in numerous businesses, but his chief interests in his early years were Goodwin’s Department Store (later sold to Eaton’s), the Borden Company of Canada, Ogilvy’s Flour Mills, Inco, Brazilian Traction (later Brascan), Canadian International Paper, and the St Lawrence Sugar Co, of which he was President from 1914. He participated in the reorganization of companies such as Holt Renfrew and Canada Steamship Lines, and served on over a dozen boards, including the Bank of Montreal and the Canadian Pacific Railroad. By 1920 he was one of the richest men in Canada.


Joint Hospital Campaign

As campaign Chairman, J.W. McConnell was instrumental in the unprecedented success of the 1927 Joint Hospital Campaign. The campaign aimed to raise money to complete and equip the new Royal Victoria Hospital Maternity Wing; to complete and furnish the Montreal General Nurses’ Home; to pay off the accrued decifits for the Royal Victoria and the Montreal General; and to build a new Private Ward Wing for the Montreal General. The initial goal was $3 million, a sum later raised to $4 million, of which $2.5 million was needed to cover deficits. Surpassing campaign goals, more than $4,735,000 was raised, the equivalent of $58,589,121 in 2008 terms.


The McConnell Foundation

Established by J.W. McConnell in 1937, the McConnell Foundation was the second family foundation created in Canada, following the Massey Foundation. Run by J.W. McConnell with the help of a secretary, early grants reflected his long-standing interests and commitments, including McGill University and its affiliated hospitals (notably the Montreal Neurological Institute), the YMCA, Salvation Army, Old Brewery Mission, the Victorian Order of Nurses, and a number of churches and agencies ministering to Montrealers in need.


War Efforts

During the First and Second World Wars, J.W. McConnell was tireless fundraiser and instrumental figure behind a number of successful war efforts, including the Patriotic War Fund and the Victory Loan Campaigns.


A Full Life

“Mr. McConnell was a man of large spirit, great generosity, and above all, abiding Canadianism.” said Lester B. Pearson, Prime Minister at the time of J.W. McConnell’s passing in 1963.

During a lifetime of fundraising and philanthropy, J.W. McConnell was recognized as a generous and modest man, and a key fundraiser for the YMCA, war efforts for both World Wars, Montreal hospitals, and McGill University, where he served as governor for nearly three decades.