Pat Burns was named Alberta's Greatest Citizen on Thursday October 16 at a gala event at the Wainwright Hotel at Heritage Park. As part of the Calgary Herald's Greatest Citizen project, which was launched to coincide with the paper's 125th anniversary, readers were asked to nominate and then vote for their choice for our Greatest Citizen. Over 18,000 votes were cast.
Pat Burns is known for many things. Born Patrick O'Byrne in Kirkfield Ontario he was the son of Irish Catholic immigrants. He said he "wrassled in his nightshirt" with William (later to be Sir William) McKenzie. This connection would serve him well. When McKenzie was building his railway west and needed beef in great amounts to feed his workers, he turned to his old Kirkfield buddy, Patrick. By the time he hit Calgary in 1889 Patrick had changed his name to Burns and was well on his way to becoming the millionaire owner of Burns and Co.
Burns built a beautiful home in the Beltline district as a gift to his wife. He was one of the Big Four who established the original Calgary Stampede. He bought the Bow Valley Ranch from William Roper Hull in 1902. He was made a Senator, the appointment announced at a huge city-wide birthday party given for him in 1931, complete with a 3000 pound cake. But Pat Burns is remembered as our greatest citizen not just for his wealth and possessions, but for his philanthropic efforts. As a thank you for the massive birthday celebration, Burns gave a roast to every family who had an unemployed breadwinner. He donated to many causes, believing that success was meaningless unless shared. In his will, Pat Burns set up the Burns Memorial Fund to provide financial support for widows and orphans of police and firefighters and for poor children. The fund continues to provide help and support to families of firefighters and police and to low income children.
Hurray for Pat Burns, our Greatest Citizen!