Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 5, 2005
Burns made his mark in business, charity
Meat-packing magnate served the community
By JULIETTE CHAMPAGNE
Special to the WCR
Born in Oshawa, Ont., in 1856, Patrick Burns received very little education, but he was to become one of the wealthiest Canadians of his day and gave great service to his Church and country.
He was one of the first settlers to come to Manitoba after the 1870 Provisional government, where he homesteaded with his brother at Minnedosa, Man. He began working on a construction crew for the CPR to make extra money with which he bought livestock and equipment.
After making a profit on a sale of hogs shipped down East via the new railway - tariffs had not even been set then - he continued buying and selling cattle and hogs locally for the Eastern market. His childhood friendship with the Mackenzie family, who were neighbours, led to his prosperity, as his friend, William Mackenzie, also came to the Minnedosa region.
Later he struck up a partnership with Donald Mann of the Canadian Northern Railway, and it was through Mackenzie that Burns was asked to supply their Maine railroad crews with provisions.
From this first initiative, he continued to expand in the livestock business, settling in Calgary, where he began ranching, as well as establishing a slaughterhouse in the eastern part of the city. His cattle were shipped to Eastern markets, as well as Chicago. He established an abattoir in Vancouver.
He became one of the richest men in Canada of his day. During the First World War, he was appointed by the British government to supply meat to the troops. In this process, he modernized packing plants in Winnipeg and Prince Albert, Sask.
Generous to Church
When he sold his meat packing business in 1934, it was worth $15 million. He remained in control of 600,000 acres of leased land, on which grazed 38,000 head of cattle. He diversified his enterprise, and owned 65 creameries, 11 wholesale branches, had foreign branch offices in Liverpool, London, Tokyo, and owned two subsidiaries, Palm Dairies Ltd. and the Consolidated Fruit Co.
He was a devout Catholic, and was extremely generous to the Diocese of Calgary and donated large sums to St. Mary's Parish, usually encouraging other donors to contribute by matching their gifts. In this way, he paid for three of the five bells of the parish church.
A mover and shaker, he was one of the four founders of the Calgary Stampede.
He paid for the construction of Father Albert Lacombe's "Hermitage" at Pincher Creek, and later donated 200 acres for the construction of the Lacombe Home at Midnapore in 1910. Afterwards, he kept it regularly supplied with provisions, for which he picked up the monthly tab.
For his great generosity, he was presented with the order of Knight Commander of the Order of St. Gregory the Great by the Holy See in 1914, and was also named Knight of St. John of Jerusalem.
He was an honorary colonel in Calgary's 31st Regiment.
All his life, he refused to get involved in politics, although it was often proposed to him.
It was only when Prime Minister R.B. Bennett offered him a position in the Canadian Senate in 1931, for his 75th birthday, that he accepted. Proof of how much he was esteemed, he was the first Liberal to be offered a seat in the Senate by a Conservative government.
He relinquished his seat in 1936 shortly before his death the following year.
Burns was a pragmatic businessman and was known for his good memory, especially of people. An extremely generous man, he encouraged thrift among his thousands of employees, and had an investment plan for them. He was among the first to send emergency supplies to the victims of the Frank Slide.
The estate he left to the Government of Alberta was sufficient to compensate for the revenue lost with the elimination of a two per cent provincial sales tax.
A mountain in the Sheep River area of Kananaskis Park bears his name. It was the site of one of his less successful ventures, a coal mine, which he eventually was forced to abandon.
It is said that his love of the foothills and the mountains drew him there more than the coalmining business. He is buried in St. Mary's Cemetery in Calgary.