John Paris Bickell’s life began with loss. But it would never hold him back. Born in Molesworth, Ont., and raised in Toronto, Bickell, most commonly known as J.P. or Jack, would grow up to run his own brokerage firm by 23, become a millionaire before 30, serve as an owner and director of the Toronto Maple Leafs — spearheading the construction of Maple Leaf Gardens — and contribute significantly to the war effort.
His influence touched the mining, banking and movie industries in Canada and his philanthropy profoundly impacted medical research and children’s health for years to come. Yet for Bickell, household name status never quite came, even in death.
“If anybody in Canada has owned gold, silver, flown in a plane, been in a sporting event, been in a hospital or benefited from medical research, been in a movie theatre, you have been touched by J.P. Bickell,” says Graham MacLachlan, who co-authored a book published in September titled J.P. Bickell: The Life, the Leafs and the Legacy.
MacLachlan, a first cousin to Bickell twice removed, spent years researching his distant relative, who never married nor had children of his own. From hockey to mining to philanthropy and beyond, he was struck by the number of distinct industries he so prominently influenced in the early 20th century.
“I just kept saying this can’t be the same guy because it’s too remarkable,” MacLachlan said. “The whole story’s ridiculous. It just goes on and on.”
Born in 1884, Bickell was 6 years old when his father, David Bickell Sr., died of inflammation of the intestines and abdomen at age 35. Two years later, his younger brother, David Jr., died. He was four years old.