Senator Frank O’Connor was a successful businessman, astute politician and generous philanthropist.
Here is the story of a great Canadian.
Francis Patrick O’Connor was born on April 9th, 1885 in Desoronto, Hastings County in Eastern Ontario to Mary Eleanor McKeown and Patrick O’Connor originally of County Cork in Ireland.
At the age of 14 he worked at Canadian General Electric in Peterborough. He married Mary Ellen Hayes of Brockville, in Leeds and Grenville County and lived in Kingston.
Together they created a retail concept of ‘dainty simplicity, small candy shops, inexpensive fixtures, no ribbon or fancy fixings on the boxes, no commercial advertising shops sought and frequented by folks of every walk of life.’ The first Laura Secord candy shop opened in 1912 at 354 Yonge Street Toronto and spread through Canada and then to the U.S. under the Fanny Farmer brand.
The company was listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange. Employee profit sharing was introduced in 1923. He was a shareholder in Toronto Maple Leafs founded by Conn Smythe.
In 1933, he built O’Connor House on the three square kilometre farm, north of Lawrence Ave East between the Don Valley East and Pharmacy Ave, presently the neighbourhoods of Parkwoods, Donalda, North York and Wexford Maryvale, Scarborough, City of Toronto. The farm had a herd of Ayrshire cattle and stable of Clydesdale and thoroughbred horses, the prime of which were shown each year at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto.
The O’Connor House was the ‘acme of hospitality’, for the Liberal party as he played an active role in the 1934 Ontario election of Premier Mitchell Hepburn and the 1935 federal election of Prime Minister Mackenzie King. He was appointed to the Senate in 1935 on the death of The Hon Charles Murphy, another first generation Irish Canadian who was the voice of Irish Catholic Canada in Parliament for 27 years.
Frank O’Connor took great satisfaction in using his means for charitable educational and religious purposes to improve the condition of the poor, sick and afflicted of society. His charitable work embraced all denominations, all races and all forms of human suffering.
In 1929, he endowed the Institute for Medieval Studies at University of Toronto. In 1935 he created an elaborate fund that retired the accumulated debt of the Archdiocese of Toronto and benefited Sick Children’s Hospital, the Toronto Star Fresh Air Fund, Christie St. Military Hospital, Canadian Institute for the Blind, and St. Joseph’s Hospital.
On his death on August 21st 1939 at age 54, he bequeathed O’Connor House and the farm that was later sold off to the De La Salle and Daughters of Wisdom religious communities. In 1963, Senator O’Connor College School was founded.
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