George Maxwell Bell (1911-1972) contributed significantly to the wave of expansion of North American enterprise in the mid-twentieth century. Born in Regina, during his life Max lived in Montreal, Kimberley BC, Calgary, and on his ranch near Okotoks AB.
After graduating from McGill University with a commerce degree in 1932, he held various jobs as a labourer and prospector in British Columbia. Showing his acumen for what he called the “dealing side” of business, he managed to secure a contract providing railway ties to the Canadian Pacific Railway. He invested the profits in a dormant Turner Valley oil company – the first of many forays he would make into the nascent oil and gas industry. In 1935, he became the business manager of his father’s ailing newspaper, The Albertan. Three months later his father died, leaving the paper $500,000 in debt. In 1943, Max raised enough money with the help of four friends to buy The Albertan and, within two years, he repaid all his father’s debts.
“He was above all things a builder, and an imaginative and successful one, with a vision that went far beyond his own private interest and encompassed many good causes which he felt would help Canada. He will be greatly missed.”
(The Rt. Honourable Lester B. Pearson)
A one percent stake in the Turner Valley Royalties Well would yield Max Bell his initial fortune. He applied the profits to other newspaper investments. Recognizing the potential of newspaper consolidation on a national scale, Max Bell formed a partnership with Victor Sifton and Richard S. Malone of the Winnipeg Free Press. The pooling of their respective newspaper holdings and their 1959 purchase of The Ottawa Journal resulted in the formation of FP Publications, Ltd., which became the largest newspaper chain in Canada. Under its umbrella were, amongst others, the Vancouver Sun, the Toronto Globe and Mail, the Winnipeg Free Press, the Lethbridge Herald, the Victoria Times and the Victoria Colonist.
“A business genius, he nevertheless made time to devote a portion of his life to community and Canadian affairs. Canada has lost a great citizen, and the West a loyal native son.”
(N.R. Crump, former President of Canadian Pacific)
A lifelong athlete and fitness advocate, at age 50 Max reputedly astonished a gathering of newspaper editors by walking across the room on his hands.
Dedicated to the education of young people, he contributed generously to various children’s camps and anonymously provided countless university scholarships. The personal files left in his office at his death revealed the wide variety of many donations he made – almost all anonymously – to charitable causes across Canada.
Max was often quoted as saying:
“The only time money is important is when you haven’t any. Once you make it, you have a responsibility to use it properly.”
His legacy to this credo is Max Bell Foundation, which he established shortly before his death with the gift of $17 million in FP Publication. Since 1972, the Foundation has made hundreds of grants with a total value of nearly $100 million to a wide range of organizations across Canada.