McConnell in 1910
McConnell Arena is named after John Wilson McConnell, who was once described by former Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson as "a man of large spirit, great generosity and, above all, abiding Canadianism."
He was born in Muskoka, Ontario in 1877 of parents who had emigrated from Belfast, and grew up on the family farm. He left home at 14 to work in Toronto, where he started as a delivery boy for Fleming's flower shop and a baker at Christie Brown's Biscuit Company, working for $3 a week.
The teachings of his Methodist faith were to play a profound role throughout his life, informing his work ethic, his personal life and his deep commitment to the public good.
His career began in 1899 at the Standard Chemical Company, where his considerable personal charm led to his early success as a salesman. The company sent McConnell to Montreal a year later 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.
Montreal would be his home until his death in 1963. He roomed first at the YMCA, an experience that nurtured a life-long commitment to that organization. He led a massive fundraising campaign for the YMCA in 1909, galvanizing the city to raise more than $300,000, an extraordinary sum in those days.
In 1905, McConnell married Lily May Griffith, the daughter of a Methodist preacher, whom he had met at a tea party and courted for several years before marrying. They had four children, and were deeply devoted to each other, relying heavily on their partnership to build a successful place in society.
McConnell also began to travel overseas: his first trips to Europe included the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Belgium, where he made important professional contacts with leading figures of the day, including Lord Strathcona, then the Canadian High Commissioner to Britain, and Joseph Chamberlain, the British parliamentarian and social reformer.
McConnell left the Standard Chemical Company in 1907, and launched several new business ventures, including insurance sales and natural resource investments. His business acumen and contacts led to substantial interests in several iconic Montreal institutions, including the Montreal Street Railway, the Canadian Light and Power Company, the St. Lawrence Sugar Refineries, and several newspapers, including the Montreal Star, of which he became owner and publisher. He served on the boards of more than 15 corporations.
His community involvement grew through the years. During a lifetime of fundraising and philanthropy, he was recognized as an indefatigable and formidable figure, reaching campaign goals and obtaining donations from both companies and individuals. In 1937, McConnell established the charitable organization that would eventually become The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation.
McConnell supported many Montreal institutions, especially in the health and education sectors. He was strongly dedicated to McGill University, which he served as governor for almost 30 years. McGill offered McConnell the Chancellorship of the university and an honorary doctorate. True to his personal modesty and desire to shun the limelight, he declined both. In 1958, McGill named him the first Governor Emeritus of the institution.
John Wilson McConnell died on November 6, 1963 at the age of 87, after a lengthy battle with leukemia. He had been a private person and a doer, with an extraordinary ability to connect with people. He believed that success derives from positive and constructive action rather than from title, position or rhetoric. These beliefs continue to inform the work of The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation. Today, the Foundation supports outstanding organizations that engage people in communities across the country to build a stronger Canada.
McConnell Arena - Home of McGill's Ice Hockey Teams