"When you think someone should do something about that, recognize that you are someone."
Murray McCann is a visionary entrepreneur and community leader who reinvests his success into organizations that combat hunger, homelessness, fear and violence. His programs that honour fallen soldiers and support homeless veterans continue to grow as word spreads. Widely recognized for his selfless generosity, he continues to make a difference here at home and abroad.
James Murray McCann was born in Ottawa, Ontario, on December 31, 1938, the second of six children. When he was 13, his family moved to Calgary, lured by the growing oil industry. A few years later, his father died unexpectedly, leaving his mother as the sole provider for the five children still at home. She took what little funds she had and started a business that soon thrived, setting an entrepreneurial example for her young family, calling it “only common sense.”
Murray attributes his ingrained values of responsibility, hard work and compassion to his close, loving family. He specifically remembers a bitterly cold February day when his father removed his overcoat, which the family had given him the previous Christmas, handed it to a shivering street person, and said, “He needed it more than I did.” “For the rest of the winter, my father went without an overcoat. No act of unconditional love for your fellow man has impacted me more than the act of love I witnessed on that cold winter day,” says Murray.
After high school graduation, Murray enrolled at Saint Joseph’s seminary in Edmonton with the intent of becoming a priest. It soon became apparent to him that this was not his vocation, but he was uncertain which way to turn. His mother suggested that he article at an accounting firm, so he joined Price Waterhouse as an articling student. After five years of intense study, combined with accounting and auditing experience, Murray earned his professional Chartered Accountant designation. With his newfound credentials, he began his career with Revenue Canada as a corporate tax assessor, then moved to an oil well drilling firm as comptroller.
At the age of 28 with five children, Murray started his own chartered accounting firm, which became an immediate success. Its merger with a major accounting firm three years later provided the capital to acquire his first operating company. Murray would add, nurture, expand and divest 32 more operating companies in Canada, USA, China, India and Malaysia over the next 50 years. Those companies presently employ over 2,500 people. A few of the local businesses include Main Plumbing and Heating, Winroc Corporation, The Bolt Supply House, Steels Industrial Products, Ormiston Mining and Smelting, and Airborne Technologies.
Murray’s business acumen and willingness to take risks have earned him recognition and the respect of his peers in Alberta and beyond, as he has been involved in a diverse range of sectors, including mining, plumbing and heating, oil and gas exploration, web development, real estate, international training and building materials distribution. Regardless of the sector, he has always encouraged his companies to support the needs of communities in which they operate. While directly supporting local initiatives, they also match employees’ personal donations to the same initiatives.
Today, Murray is still active in business, but spends most of his time leading philanthropic activities through both the McCann Family Foundation and his own private generosity. His support of local and international initiatives are as diverse as his business interests. “Wherever a need is identified, and a group gathers with a willingness to donate their time, then we provide capital to offer assistance,” he says. “I am overwhelmed by the goodness of people and their support for their less fortunate fellow man.”
In 2008, Murray was deeply moved after seeing 23 white crosses along the road outside Menlo, Georgia, commemorating the village’s fallen soldiers. He understood how fortunate he had been to live his life in freedom, because thousands of Canadians had given their lives – the ultimate sacrifice – to make that freedom possible. He knew southern Alberta needed a similar tribute. The very next year, the first Field of Crosses stood in military cemetery formation from November 1 to 11 along Calgary’s Memorial Drive. Each cross bore the name, rank, age and date of death of a service man or woman from southern Alberta who had been killed. Over 20,000 people visit the five-acre park each November to quietly walk among more than 3,600 crosses or attend one of the 23 memorial services. After funding the annual memorial for 11 years, Murray donated it to the public as a registered charity to ensure it will endure long after he is gone.
After reading that an estimated 2,500 military veterans live on the streets in Canada, Murray was again moved to act. He established the Homes For Heroes Foundation, which provides housing, services and training to help homeless veterans successfully transition back into civilian life. Each village of 15 affordable “tiny homes” is paired with professional and compassionate services provided by The Mustard Seed. The first village opened in Calgary in 2019, with another in Edmonton in 2021. More are in the works across Canada. “It’s payback time by a grateful nation. Soldiers don’t leave their wounded on the battlefield,” says Murray.
In 2006, Murray’s family foundation worked with World Vision to build a student residence and a youth vocation and skills centre in Namuso, Zambia. While on a trip to the centre, Murray met Ranji Chara, known as the Mother Theresa of Zambia. He was so impressed with the good she was doing – with the hope she offered to the children in her orphanage and to the poorest children in her school – that he offered to be her financial support. A residence for girls was built and dedicated to Murray’s late wife as the “Myrna McCann Residence for Girls.” His foundation covered all salaries for the school and orphanage for 10 years until Mrs. Chara passed and her brother’s large church congregation took over responsibility for the operation. Shortly before her sudden death, Mrs. Chara wrote, “God bless you dear Murray. Today because of you, many children are able to go to school and even to university, and many poor families are supported, because staff are earning a fair income.”
A long-time financial supporter of The United Way, Murray funded a quarterly breakfast for its 150 major donors to learn about and strategize big issues like poverty and homelessness. This helped The United Way build a culture of shared responsibility and collaboration with Calgary’s civic and corporate leaders.
In 1995, Murray purchased the 18,000-square-foot former Basilian Father’s Residence overlooking downtown Calgary and donated it to Hospice Calgary. Now called the Rosedale Hospice, more than 2,000 patients have received specialized, compassionate end-of-life care in the home-like environment of the hospice.
As an original and ongoing supporter of Betty’s Run for ALS for more than 25 years, the McCann Family Foundation has helped the ALS Society of Alberta raise millions for research, equipment and client support. Grants from the foundation also helped the Bob Glasgow Grief Support Centre relocate and expand its grief support operations in Calgary.
In addition, as a Patron of the Arts of the Vatican Museum, Murray has assisted financially in the restoration of masterpieces, as well as encouraging and supporting the historic organization to create a web presence and update its systems.
Murray’s many community contributions have not gone unnoticed. In 2012, he received Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee Medal. His Field of Crosses initiative was recognized when he received a Minister of Veterans Affairs Commendation in 2015 and a Meritorious Service Medal in 2016. In 2017, Calgary named him Citizen of the Year and in 2018, the Calgary Stampede honoured him with the Western Legacy Award for Sustained Contribution by an Individual, recognizing his leadership with “western values” as he created a legacy for southern Alberta. In 2018, Mount Royal University recognized his work with an Honorary Bachelor of Nursing degree.
For more than 50 years, Murray has consistently reinvested proceeds from his entrepreneurial ventures into the community. Entrepreneurialism, he says, is the Alberta Advantage. It is the key to Alberta’s future. “We’ve got to encourage and nurture entrepreneurialism, because it makes things happen. And if things aren’t happening, you make them happen,” says Murray. “We’ve always been a province of entrepreneurs. You don’t need to go to elsewhere to pursue your dreams. You can achieve them right here in Alberta.”
Murray and his wife Carol have seven children, 19 grandchildren and one great granddaughter. When not exploring faraway places, they divide their time between Calgary, Alberta, and Rome, Georgia.
Executive Director, The Alberta Order of Excellence