It is said that people are strange, that people like a joke. The tale of the 'Toronto Stork Derby' and the will left by Charles Millar has to be one of the greatest ever examples of how much folk really do like a joke and how strange people can be. Millar was a practical joker who loved to prank rich or avaricious people1. This was quite ironic, as the greatest of his jokes occurred as a result of his own wealth.
Charles Vance Millar was born in Aylmer, Ontario in 1853. As a young man he attended the University of Toronto and passed the Bar examination, setting up a law office in Toronto in 1881. By 1897 he was in a position to purchase the Barnards Express Company. Popularly known as the BX Express, this company was started by Francis Barnard in 1861 to provide a wagon and stagecoach-based transport service to the gold prospectors rushing out to the Cariboo Gold Rush in British Columbia. The company had grown and prospered over the years, so by the time Millar bought it, he was the proud owner of two steamships, which provided a shipping service along the Fraser River.
Eventually the Grand Pacific Railroad Company planned to move into the area. This immediately triggered a number of investors. These people would look at the planned route of the new railroad, and then purchase land along the proposed route hoping to build towns that could then prosper - due in some part to the new railway. At the town of Fort George2 this speculation turned into a bitter struggle. Two separate investors had purchased land to build the two towns of South Fort George and Central Fort George. The Grand Pacific Railroad also wanted to buy land to build a town in the area but the only piece of land was owned by the First Nations Indian band called the Lheidli T'enneh.
A wily investor of the Central Fort George town called George Hammond invited the chief of the tribe to tea and let him know the real value of his land, prompting him to turn down all of the Grand Pacific companies offers up till then. This is when Charles Millar stepped in - he also took the chief to tea and managed to get the natives to agree to sell the land to him. The Pacific Company complained to the Department of Indian Affairs, who cancelled Millar's negotiations. Millar straight away took the Grand Pacific Railroad to court; the company won the land but were forced to sell him 200 acres for $59,296 - known as the Millar Addition. Millar sub-divided this in 1914 and sold it on, making himself a fortune in the process.
Death And Will
Charles Millar died on 31 October, 19263. Throughout his life he'd loved playing jokes, but now that he was gone the biggest one was about to start - his will:
This Will is necessarily uncommon and capricious because I have no dependants or near relations and no duty rests upon me to leave any property at my death and what I do leave is proof of my folly in gathering and retaining more than I required in my lifetime. Millar never married and had no children, so he left his fortune to all sorts of people. A classic clause in the will was the one leaving his lucrative shares in the Ontario Jockey club to a number of vocal opponents to gambling!4 Another clause left his shares in the O'Keefe Brewery Company to a Protestant minister whose sermons regularly mentioned the evils of the demon drink. The other odd recipient of these shares was the local Orange Lodge, the O'Keefe Brewery was a Catholic firm and the Orangemen hated anything to do with papist institutions. Millar left his holiday home in Jamaica to three men, all of who hated each other. The big one in his will though was the infamous Clause 9...
All the rest and residue of my property wheresoever situate I give, devise and bequeath unto my Executors and Trustees named below in Trust to convert into money as they deem advisable and invest all the money until the expiration of nine years from my death and then call in and convert it all into money and at the expiration of ten years from my death to give it and its accumulations to the Mother who has since my death given birth in Toronto to the greatest number of children as shown by the Registrations under the Vital Statistics Act. If one of more mothers have equal highest number of registrations under the said Act to divide the said moneys and accumulations equally between them.
The Stork Derby
This strange bequest caused uproar. The Great Depression was in full swing and the average weekly wage was $12.50. Mothers with already large families saw the Derby as the jackpot at the end of the road. This became even more significant when the 100,000 shares Millar held in the Windsor/Detroit tunnel that were worth $2 when he died, turned into a windfall of around $650,000 by the tunnels completion. Thus, the stork soon had a busy time delivering babies throughout the Toronto area!
By 1933, seven years into the race and still three years short of the finish line, the five leading women had had a total of 56 children between them! This may seem a horrific way to bring a child into the world, but it is probable, in fact almost certain, that the competitors didn't have the children purely to win the prize. By 1933 only 32 of the 56 children were actually eligible for the prize, the other 24 having been born before 1926. In poor areas people have often had large families as a way of making ends meet - more children meant more people working to put food on the table, and many of these women would have had large families without the impetus of the Stork Derby.
As 1936 drew near, the press in the Toronto area were in full swing. Debates ranged on the legality of the will, the definition of a child, and whether a stillbirth could count. What constituted as Toronto - the city or the area? Did illegitimate births count? Was the whole thing immoral anyway? As the finish date passed, four women - Lucy Timleck, Annie Smith, Isabel Maclean and Kathleen Ellen Nagle - could all show they'd had nine properly registered live babies during the ten year period. These women each received $125,000 but two women countered saying they'd had ten babies each. Pauline Clarke's children were illegitimate, and the will would only cover legitimate children born in wedlock; whilst Lillian Kenny had had ten children, but unfortunately two had been stillborn and the trustees had decided that only live births counted. However, the trustees were moved enough to give the pair $12,500 each for their many labours!
He Who Laughs Last...
In the end Charles Vance Millar did help the large families he left his money to, as the funds were spent wisely on houses, cars and putting children though school, something that the impoverished would never have been able to do without the intervention of one rather eccentric gentleman.