Why us? A look at how the U of A became a Killam Institution

Last Will and Testament of Dorothy J. Killam, 1965:

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Dorothy Johnston Killam (image courtesy of Killam Laureates)

The University of Alberta has received more than $116 million in funding from endowments created by the Killams. Does anyone know why? Who are the Killams, and why did they choose to generously bestow this staggering fortune upon our alma mater?

To give a brief snap-shot, a gentleman by the name of Izaak Walton Killam from Nova Scotia, was a hard-working Canadian business man who amassed a fortune of over $100 million before he passed away in 1955. Upon his passing, the Canadian government took half of his estate, worth approximately $83 million.

The rest of the fortune was left to his honourable wife, Dorothy J. Killam, a force to be reckoned with. In a period of ten years thereafter — between 1955 to 1965 — Dorothy using her strong intellect and elaborate network triumphantly doubled the value of the inheritance. Her husband was her teacher. In her words: “He started by teaching me the ABCs of finance and by the time he died I had the XYZs.” What a woman, especially given the time period.

When Dorothy J. Killam passed away in 1965, Dorothy in good faith and spirit, and along with her husband’s wishes, wanted to continue to show the Killams’ gratitude for a country which allowed them build a sizable empire. In essence, invest in the country, which provided them successful investments from the start.

So when Dorothy drew up her Last Will and Testament she looked across Canada and literally paid homage to the original enterprises’ communities which created their riches, so that they could continue to thrive. A large reason why the Killams accumulated their affluence was because Izaak was the President and owner of the Royal Securities Corporation, which had large holdings in developing establishments across Canada. One of these budding companies was Calgary Power in Alberta, current day Trans Alta — “Canada’s largest publicly traded power generator and marketer of electricity and renewable energy.” In the late 1960’s, the University of Alberta was, of course, identified as one of Canada’s leading institutions which was near and dear to the success of Calgary Power.

The U of A was fortunate enough to receive the distinguished honour of becoming a Killam Institute, along with four other organizations. In 1966, the U of A, received the single largest donation ever to a postsecondary institution in Alberta in the amount of $14 million. When the University of Calgary split off from the University of Alberta in 1966 and created their own charter, the Board of Governors agreed that they would still be included as a Killam Institute and “one-third of the net corpus of the trusts” would go to the University of Calgary, leaving two-thirds to University of Alberta at all times.

And so, this tradition, taking place for over thirty-five years, continues because the University of Alberta still, “uplifts the whole people,” and epitomizes the Killam culture of building Canada’s future through advanced study.

Last Will and Testament of Dorothy J. Killam, 1965:

““My purpose in establishing the Killam Trusts is to help in the building of Canada’s future by encouraging advanced study. Thereby, I hope, in some measure, to increase the scientific and scholastic attainments of Canadians, to develop and expand the work of Canadian universities and to promote sympathetic understanding between Canadians and peoples of other countries.””