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Most follow one path, but John Paris Bickell commanded several successful careers during his extraordinary life. He opened a brokerage firm at the age of 23 and was a millionaire by 30. In 1919, he left the investment business to become president and, later, chairman of McIntyre-Porcupine Mines, one of Ontario’s first and most important gold producers.
Bickell’s achievements went beyond the realm of business, as he had a keen sense of civic duty. During the Second World War, he was appointed by Lord Beaverbrook to Britain’s Ministry of Aircraft Production, where he served with the airplane supply board during the blitz. Upon his return to Canada, he assumed responsibility for Victory Aircraft, the federal agency that manufactured Lancaster bombers for the Royal Canadian Air Force.
Bickell became one of Canada’s most generous philanthropists. The J.P. Bickell Foundation was established with $13 million following his death in 1951, and has since distributed $85 million. Half this amount has gone to Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, but the mining industry is another important beneficiary. More than $3 million in scholarships have been awarded to young people in mining- related disciplines.
Bickell was born in Molesworth, Ontario, in 1884. His first job was as a clerk, but he set his sights on greater achievements, which he pursued with dedication and discipline. His travels as a young man to the Yukon goldfields sparked his lifelong interest in mining. He demonstrated an early aptitude for business and, upon his return to Toronto at the tender age of 23, opened his own brokerage firm. The budding financier helped develop a silver mine in the Temiskaming area, later setting his sights on the Timmins region, then being developed as one of the country’s foremost mining camps.
McIntyre Porcupine was formed in 1911, adding land staked by Sandy McIntyre to nearby ground obtained by Bickell. The initial assays were lean, but Bickell kept the faith and the company afloat through these tough times. Later, as grades improved, he obtained additional ground. The result was the McIntyre mine, which has earned a place in Canadian mining history as one of the nation’s most important mines. Between 1912 and 1955, total production was valued at $230 million, and the company paid $62 million in dividends to shareholders. McIntyre also controlled the Belleterre gold mine in Quebec and the Castle-Trethewey silver mine near Gowganda, Ontario.
During the Second World War, Bickell was a member of a group of men, including Lord Beaverbrook, R.B. Bennett and Beverley Baxter, and known as the “4Bs”, responsible for supplying aircraft to both the British and Canadian war efforts.
Bickell was also an eager sportsman, and particularly enjoyed hockey. He owned a small hockey club in the 1920s and helped transform the dream of Maple Leaf Gardens into a reality. In the words of Conn Smythe, he was “one of the corner stones of the whole thing; he was the man who put the thing over”. Bickell became the first president of Maple Leaf Gardens and was later named chairman of the board.
The foundation bearing his name is his legacy, ensuring that “his deeds will not pass away, nor his name wither.”