Dr. Francis G. Winspear was the President and CEO of at least 19 businesses. There was hardly a major industry he didn’t manage or develop over his 60-year career, all of which were important to Alberta’s development. Dr. Winspear had a special genius to inspire and lead others, and was a major factor in building the strongest university accounting program in Canada. Dr. Winspear’s gift, the single biggest by an individual to a Canadian arts organization, resulted in the successful construction of Edmonton’s Winspear Centre concert hall.
Dr. Francis G. Winspear, was commander-in-chief of an international empire of 40 companies. Through his actions, he directly improved the quality of life for many through quality education, increased employment opportunities, the alleviation of hardships, a stronger artistic community and stronger arts organizations. His primary focus was the development of human resources, in particular by supporting universities and talented individuals in order to better realize human potential.
Coming to Canada from England with his family as a young child, Dr. Winspear grew up in a prairie hamlet south of Strathmore. He attended high school in Calgary and graduated at the age of 14. Too young for university, he opted to work four years at the Calgary branch of the Bank of Toronto, take correspondence courses from Queen’s University and eventually article with Touche and Co. In 1928, Dr. Winspear was hired by Peat Marwick and Mitchel to run their sub-office in Edmonton. His ability to encourage and train leaders and the unique hiring practice of surrounding himself with brilliant future accountants resulted in the launch of his own business, Winspear, Higgins, Stevenson and Doan, which became a national firm in 1964.
With a special genius to inspire and lead others, Dr. Winspear was fully engaged in all aspects of life. He was the President and CEO of at least 19 businesses and served on the Board of Directors of 14 other public companies. With a flair for resuscitating failing businesses, there was hardly a major industry he didn’t manage or develop over his 60-year career, all of which were important to the development of Alberta from the 1930s through to the 1960s. Among the 40-odd companies he owned: Premier Steel, which opened the first basic steel plant in Alberta; the aviation repair giant Northwest Industries; Gold Standard Oils, which was a shareholder in the Great Canadian Oils Sands venture; controlled Echo Bay Mining, one of Canada’s largest silver producers; B.C. Airlines, Swanson Lumber, Consolidated Finance and companies dealing in products as diverse as furniture and oxygen.
Dr. Winspear was associated with the University of Alberta from the late 1920s, as a professor of accounting for 20 years, dean of the business school, and Professor Emeritus. He was a major factor in building the strongest university accounting program in Canada, as an instructor for many years, and as a major donor to several faculties at the University of Alberta, as well as a renowned library. Professors in accounting, international business, labour economics and music are at the University of Alberta due to Dr. Winspear’s support. The Francis G. Winspear Chair in Professional Accounting was the first Chair at the University to be funded by a private donation.
He was astonishingly generous to an array of culture, education and social service groups and an exceptional patron of the arts. Dr. Winspear felt strongly that music is part of an educated man’s well-being. Dr. Winspear’s gift, the single biggest by an individual to a Canadian arts organization, resulted in the successful construction of Edmonton’s newest concert hall, opening in 1997, which is named in his honour.
He was not a passive financial supporter but was knowledgeable and often contributed needed expertise to strengthen the boards of many organizations. He was one of the founders of the Edmonton Opera Company and, through the Winspear Foundation, established several decades ago and now the Winspear Fund, substantially supports the Edmonton Art Gallery and was the main source of funds for many Alberta and Western Canadian charities.
He was named an Officer in the Order of Canada, and received an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree and Honorary Doctor of Science degree from the University of Alberta.
Dr. Winspear was also Past President of the United Way, the Edmonton and Canadian Chambers of Commerce, honorary Chairman of Edmonton Opera and the Edmonton Community Foundation.
Dr. Winspear’s analytical mind, memory for detail and capacity for working long hours laid the foundation of his fortune. He strongly believed that people should be interested in their communities and do what they can to make them satisfactory in every respect, as beautiful as possible, as receptive as possible to the good things in life.
Through his uncommon vision, business acumen, leadership, philanthropic activity and care for his community, Dr. Francis Winspear provided a role model for individuals who have known him and known of his accomplishments. His leadership by example will be lasting.