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A lawyer by profession, James Y. Murdoch, who became first president of the fledgling Noranda Mines in 1922, at the age of 32, was one of the greatest its builders Canada has ever produced.
Not just a mine-builder, but a nation builder.
He was president of the company for 30 years, until 1956, and chairman until his death in 1962. His “temporary” appointment became famous as “the most permanent temporary appointment on record”.
Out of the “important-looking” discovery of prospector Ed Horne in the wilds of northwestern Quebec, Murdoch masterminded the growth and development of Noranda into a massive complex of mines and processing facilities. His energy and judgment could be seen in every step of consequence Noranda took during Murdoch’s 30 years as president.
From the earliest days of its development, Murdoch saw Noranda as more than just the mine that Horne discovered. He visualized, instead, a rounded industry that would refine and fabricate its metals as well as producing them, proving that Canadian raw materials could be processed to the finished state within Canada.
He accomplished this in copper, but did not live to see Noranda’s zinc refinery in operation, another of Murdoch’s dreams and goals.
Born in Toronto in 1890, Murdoch took a law degree in that city and on graduation joined the Toronto law firm of Holden, Murdoch, Walton, Finlay, Robinson and Pepall as a junior. Soon recognized as a brilliant young practitioner in mining law, he was retained by a New York syndicate to advise on its Canadian mining interests.
The syndicate took on that “important looking” discovery of Ed Home’s, and when it became apparent a separate company was needed, the syndicate, almost as an afterthought, asked Murdoch to incorporate it, and to act as its president. That was in 1922. The rest of course, is history.
At the time of his death, Murdoch was a director of some 35 companies, many within his own organization, but others in the fields of banking, paper, oil, insurance, railways and other industries.
Among the many honors he received in his lifetime were the Order of the British Empire, conferred for his work during World War II with the National War Services Funds Advisory Board.
Murdoch once said, of Noranda’s great growth under his direction, “none of it could have happened if Canada had not been what it is, a great and rich young nation whose frontiers beckon the man in whom the spirit of high adventure is strong.”