When he died on Aug. 22, 1951, J. P. Bickell was one of Canada’s wealthiest and most powerful men. A millionaire before age 30, Bickell rose from an impoverished background to become a successful mining magnate, investment broker, theatre impresario, patron of the arts, aircraft pioneer, auto racer, adventurer, philanthropist and patriot.
Bickell was also one of Huron County’s extraordinary sons. John Paris Bickell was born on Sept. 26, 1884 in the Molesworth Presbyterian Church manse to Rev. David Bickell and his wife, Annie Paris.
He was the second of four children in a family that saw its share of tragedy. His father died in 1891, his younger brother died in 1892. His older brother died of appendicitis in 1898.
After two years in Alberta, the family moved to Toronto where John supported his mother and sister by working in a candy store, and clerk in meat packing plant where he was fired due to his “extramural moneymaking activities”, according to biographer Jason Wilson in J. P Bickell: The Life, Leafs and the Legacy.
Whatever those questionable moneymaking activities were allowed Bickell to support his mother, sister and pay his tuition at St. Andrew’s College where he graduated in 1902.
As an adventurer, Bickell spent some time in the Klondike in search of gold before starting his own investment brokerage house at age 23. His firm, J. P. Bickell & Co. listed on the Chicago Board of Trade and made him a wealthy grain and livestock broker.
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