Izaak Walton Killam | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Izaak Walton Killam

Izaak Walton Killam, financier, philanthropist (born 23 July 1885 in Yarmouth, NS; died 5 August 1955 near Grande-Cascapédia, QC). Killam amassed a large fortune investing in power utilities, pulp and paper and other industries. His wife, Dorothy Johnston Killam, grew the wealth she inherited after his death. The couple left many millions of dollars to Canadian institutions. About half the funding that established the Canada Council for the Arts came from inheritance taxes on Izaak Killam's death. The Killams also endowed the Killam Prizes and Killam Research Fellowships for scholars in the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, health sciences and engineering.

Photograph of a painting of Izaak Walton Killam, date unknown.


Born into a family of merchants and shipowners, Izaak Walton Killam had little formal education but great entrepreneurial drive. By the age of 18, he had joined the Union Bank of Halifax as a clerk and was soon transferred to head office. Max Aitken hired him to work as a salesman for the investment firm Royal Securities Corporation (RSC). At age 21, Killam went to work at RSC’s new headquarters in Montreal. From 1909 to 1913, he managed the company’s office in London, England. Aitken moved to England in 1910, and Killam soon took over RSC. In 1915 he became its president, and four years later he bought out Aitken. Killam remained president of RSC until 1954.

Killam built an investment empire in Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean with holdings in utilities (e.g., International Power, Calgary Power, Ottawa Valley Power), pulp and paper (e.g., British Columbia Pulp and Paper, Mersey Paper), construction and films. From 1927 to 1936, he owned the Mail and Empire newspaper (see Globe and Mail). The epitome of the financial power of Montreal’s St. James Street, secretive and austere, Killam was said to be the richest Canadian of his day.


In 1922, Izaak Walton Killam married Dorothy Brooks Johnston (born in 1899 in St. Louis, Missouri). After his death in 1955, she more than doubled her $40-million inheritance and carried out her husband’s wishes to assist research and education in medicine, science and engineering. Initial funding for the Canada Council for the Arts (1957) was largely provided from some $50 million in inheritance taxes on the Killam estate, with a similar amount from the estate of Sir James H. Dunn. Dorothy Killam, who died in 1965, left $30 million to Dalhousie University, $30 million to be divided among three other universities, $8 million to the Izaak Walton Killam Hospital for Children in Halifax, $4 million to the Montreal Neurological Institute and a further $15 million to the Canada Council. The Canada Council administered the Killam Prizes and the Killam Research Fellowships in support of scholars and researchers at Canadian universities for over 50 years. In 2022, administration of the Killam Prizes and the Killam Research Fellowships (relaunched as the Dorothy Killam Fellowships in April 2022) were transferred to the National Research Council Canada.

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