George Maxwell Bell

George Maxwell Bell, "Max," newspaper publisher, industrialist, sportsman (b at Regina 13 Oct 1912; d at Montréal 19 July 1972). When his father, George Melrose Bell, publisher of the debt-ridden Calgary Albertan, died in 1936, Max Bell (at the time the newspaper's business manager) scraped together $35 000 in loans from friends and took over the operation. In 3 years he paid off the loans and the bank and by 1943 became the Albertan's publisher.

Successful investments in oil and elsewhere enabled Bell to amass a fortune and to build a newspaper empire. He was at one time the largest individual shareholder in the Canadian Pacific Railway. In 1959 he came close to buying control of the Hudson's Bay Co, backing out at the last minute only because he realized he lacked retail expertise. Also, in 1959, with Victor Sifton of the Winnipeg Free Press, he formed FP Publications.

Beginning with 6 newspapers (the Ottawa Journal, Winnipeg Free Press, Free Press Weekly, Calgary Albertan, Victoria Times and Victoria Daily Colonist), Bell expanded the chain in 1963 with his purchase of controlling interest in Vancouver's Sun Publishing. FP also took over the Lethbridge Herald, the Montreal Star and the Globe and Mail.

By the mid-1960s more Canadians read FP newspapers than any other. Bell gave his papers free rein, saying that he was more interested in their profits than their editorial policies.

A sports enthusiast all his life, Bell played hockey for the Kimberley, BC, Dynamiters for 2 years following his graduation from McGill in 1932. He later invested in the VANCOUVER CANUCKS of the NHL and in racehorses. In 1965 his horse, Meadow Court, won the Irish Derby; another won the Queen's Plate. A lifelong physical fitness advocate, Bell neither drank nor smoked. He would often exercise during business meetings and at the age of 50 astonished a gathering of editors by walking across the room on his hands.

A vigorous, affable and deeply religious man (and one said never to have made an enemy), Bell contributed generously, and often anonymously, to community efforts, with particular support for the Presbyterian Church. He died of brain disease at 59, triggering heartfelt tributes from contemporaries all across the continent and in Europe. He left an estate valued at $22 million.