Sir Augustus Nanton as this year’s 41st inductee to the Citizens Hall of Fame. Chosen over more contemporary nominees it is notable how one’s contributions can capture our attention generations after their lifetime has passed.
The award category of Business jumps off the page when you look at Sir Augustus Nanton’s outstanding accomplishments. We talk about the halcyon days of Winnipeg’s boom at the turn of the 20th century. Nanton was at the center of it in so many different ways.
“He really took to heart his assignment when he was relocated from Toronto to Winnipeg with an investment firm he was a partner in,” said Preston. “With considerable assets to invest in developing Winnipeg and opening up the Canadian West, it was a mission he absolutely relished. And with great pride and integrity, Nanton’s insatiable drive and indelible footprint on Winnipeg’s commerce benefited the city immensely.”
Here are just some noted business achievements:
- By 1896 his firm of Osler, Hammond and Nanton had become “the largest and best mortgage business in the West”.
- Purchased land to establish feeder rail lines which they financed and then sold to the Canadian Pacific Railway.
- His firm acted as agents for the sale of Galt Coal and in the first year sold 50,000 tons. This led to him becoming Managing Director of Galt Alberta Railway & Irrigation Company.
- In 1902, he successfully finalized the sale of 800,000 acres in Saskatchewan, a deal worth several million dollars.
- In the early 20th century Nanton was a director of 30 corporations and associations. High profile companies include the Canadian Pacific Railway, the Hudson’s Bay Company, Great West Life and the Dominion Bank. More local companies but extremely important to Winnipeg’s growth and employment were the Winnipeg Electric Company and Manitoba Cartage. He had a controlling interest in a number of them so it was said he was the largest employer in Winnipeg at the time.
- Nanton was founder and first president of the Winnipeg Stock Exchange and president of the Board of Trade. He was also on the first board of the University of Manitoba and a board governor of the General Hospital.
“Far from being on these boards in name only, Nanton was front and center as an important shareholder in many cases and very influential in the role he played at the boardroom table,” said Preston. He was one of a small group of Winnipeg businessmen who directed the financing and servicing of the huge influx of new settlers to the Canadian West.”
If all of his business interests and time spent on developing Winnipeg and the West was not enough, Nanton took on another remarkable challenge with unwavering devotion.
At the outset of World War I, Nanton became the president of the Manitoba Patriotic Fund which raised more, per capita, in the first year than any other province. In the end, through leading the Victory Loan Campaigns, an astounding $120 million was raised in Manitoba for the war effort. Setting by example, he donated over half of his money to the cause.
In 1917, Nanton was knighted by King George V for his incredible work and support for the war.
To show how much everyone honoured Nanton’s remarkable contributions, upon his death in 1925, every flagpole in Winnipeg was at half-mast and office buildings across the country did the same. No better quote sums up Nanton’s contribution than his dear friend George Allen who was the first man to meet him when he came to Winnipeg in 1883.
“You were active in the sales, settlement, irrigation and improvement of our lands, in the laying out and selling of our town sites, in the marketing and milling of our grains, in the development of our livestock industry, in the opening of our mines, in the utilization of our forests, in the construction and operation of our steam and electric railways and electric plants, in the manufacture and sales of building material, machinery and implements, in the establishment and work of our banking, trust, loan, insurance and other financial corporations. Confidence in you led the investing public of older Canada, England and Scotland to provide capital so necessary for this new country. You built up a large business in the fields of brokerage, loaning, insurance and finance. In fact it is still difficult to name any field of creative work which has not been benefited by your thought and care, and your associates bear glad testimony to the pleasure it has been to work with you… We thank you warmly for what you have done for our city, our province, our country, and our Empire…..”
“Many of the selection committee members had not heard of Sir Augustus Nanton other than maybe the boulevard named after him in Tuxedo,” said Preston. “No household name but one we are now aware of and grateful to Winnipeg citizens such as nominator Ted Ransby for bringing this worthy nominee to our attention.”