Sen. Patrick Burns

Sen. Patrick Burns




Class of 1981

Senator Patrick Burns was born in Oshawa, Ontario in 1856 but spent the majority of his childhood in Kirkfield, Ontario. A self-made man, Pat was raised Irish Catholic and the fourth of eleven children born to Michael and Bridgit O'Byrne. While he had very little formal schooling, he learned a great deal about hard work and thriftiness from his parents.

In 1878, Pat Burns headed out west with his brother John, at the age of 22. He eventually ended up in Calgary, where he set up a small slaughterhouse. A pioneer in the meat packing industry in Western Canada, his business grew rapidly to include meat packing, the retail meat trade, wholesale fruits and provisions, creameries, cheese factories, dairy farms, ranches, mining and oil. Burns was able to revolutionize the slaughterhouse industry by emphasizing the utilization of by-products. He joked that the only product not used were the pigs' squeals, which could have been sold to politicians.

Burns’ company, P. Burns & Co (later Burns Foods) would eventually become western Canada's largest meatpacking company. At the height of his success Pat owned nearly 700,000 acres (2,800 km²) of ranch land, roughly the size of Luxembourg. In 1928, he sold the meat packing and related businesses for $15 million and turned his attention to his true love – ranching.

Described as a man with an infectious spirit, it has been said that Pat could stroll through a herd of cattle and judge its worth at a glance. In 1912, Burns was one of the Big Four ranchers who financed the first Calgary Stampede. Billing the event as “The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth,” the first Stampede drew over 100,000 spectators. Today it is one of Canada’s largest annual events, and the world’s largest outdoor rodeo.

Pat Burns was an admirable philanthropist and there are many stories demonstrating his readiness to help those in need. Playing a crucial role in WWI, Burns supplied meat to troops overseas. He supported numerous children’s charities and frequently supplied the local orphanage with free high-quality meat. Although an active Catholic, he supported other religious groups as well. When asked to pay for the painting of a small Catholic church, he requested that the Anglican church next door also be painted, at his expense, so that it didn’t look shabby by comparison. In 1914 Pope Benedict XV named him a Knight Commander of the Order of St. Gregory the Great; Burns was the first Canadian to receive such an honor.

In 1931 Burns was appointed to the Canadian Senate as a representative for Alberta. At the time of the announcement, Prime Minister R.B. Bennett had this to say about Burns: “Holding your wealth as a trust, you have given generously to every good cause and your life has been an inspiration to the younger generation.”

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