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JAMES W. BURNS On February 11, 2019, James William Burns died in Winnipeg. Jim was born in Winnipeg 89 years ago and although he travelled around the world and lived in Boston, Chicago and Montreal for periods of his career, first and foremost, Jim Burns was "from Winnipeg". Only a Winnipegger can truly understand what that means. Jim Burns grew up in the Winnipeg suburb of Tuxedo, the son of Dr. Charles Burns and Gladys Burns. His childhood was more centered on adventure and mischief than studies but he managed to get through high school at Gordon Bell and graduate with a Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Manitoba. Jim then entered the MBA program at the Harvard School of Business and immediately on graduation in 1953, started his career with the Great West Life Assurance Company, becoming president in 1972 at the age of 41. While Great West Life remained the foundation of everything he did for the next 65 years, Jim Burns became a leading figure in the business community across Canada. He was Deputy Chairman of Power Corporation of Canada the parent company of Great West Life. He served on many boards, notably IBM Canada, Investors Group, Power Corporation, Power Financial, Consolidated Bathurst and Montreal Trust. He has been Chair of the Conference Board of Canada, Chair of the Prime Minister's Advisory Committee on Executive Compensation in Government and a founding director of the Council for Business and the Arts in Canada. He was particularly proud be be honoured with an Order of Canada, an Order of Manitoba and the creation of the James W. Burns Executive Education Centre of the University of Manitoba. He was able to express his pride in his alma mater by creating scholarships in the names of his father, his mother and his dear friend, Duff Roblin. He also took great pleasure in serving as Honorary Colonel of The Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada, based in Winnipeg. For the last few decades of his life, Jim Burns turned his skills and attention to supporting his community and charitable giving something that was always important to him even through his active career years. While he was always willing to help causes and people across Canada, his true passion was giving back to Winnipeg and Manitoba. He was instrumental in founding the Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature, was a driving force of Centre Venture for the creation of the The Forks Skateboard Park and gave generously of his time to the CancerCare Manitoba Foundation for over 15 years. In 1974, he was a prime mover in the citizen funded 'Save the Jets' campaign and in 1979, he joined fellow Winnipeggers to pave the way for the Jets to be welcomed into the NHL. Jim Burns shared his full life with his wife Barbara, until her death in 2003. He is survived by his three children and their spouses, James (Teresa), Martha (Paul), and Alan (Monica); his six grandchildren, Heather, James Robert, Margaret and Donald Burns and Hannah and Jack Gross; his three great-grandchildren, Audrey and Darcy Burns and Otis Dempsey; and his fourth great-grandchild, due in three weeks, Baby Hornby. Jim passed onto his children and grandchildren his appreciation for his city and for Lake-of-the-Woods, wanting them to know too the summers he had loved there as a boy. The Burns family extend deep gratitude to Agnes Paculan and Sonia Dena-En for their care and friendship to Jim during his last years. At Jim's request, there will be no service. In lieu of flowers, Jim would have encouraged his friends and family to donate to CancerCare Manitoba Foundation. An online journal for messages of support can be found on the website of Thomson Funeral Home

Make a donation to CancerCare Manitoba Foundation

As published in Winnipeg Free Press on Feb 13, 2019

Condolences & Memories (10 entries)

  • Just a few words to say how much I enjoyed being around and working for Mr Burns - a true Canadian if ever met one. I'll never forget his stories and there were many, I often told him he should write a book, but he always told me no one would read it, I know for a fact that's not true, because for sure I would buy a few. You have always done so much for so many and yet always remained on the side lines, but not for those who truly remember you Farewell my friend and travel safe wherever you are now And thanks so much for all you have done for me and many others Robbie Burns would be very proud of you ... - Posted by: Gerry Duffy (Friend ) on: Jun 07, 2019

  • James, Martha and Alan Your father had a huge impact on my life and I wanted to share this with you. I had left Queens University as a faculty member in 1976 to join the Conference Board of Canada on a three year leave of absence to start a new research centre. Over the course of the next two years we lost two CEO's to other jobs. I was named acting EVP and our job was to get the organization into shape for the next CEO. Your father was chair of the search committee and in September 1978, I got a call from him saying the Board had nominated me to be the next CEO. I was shocked, did not feel qualified, and turned the job down. You know how persuasive your father could be! I ended up accepting the job which I held for the next 23 years. Your father saw something in me that I did no see. He became chair of our board and served as a great mentor for me throughout my career. He taught me to take risks, innovate and push the boundaries. We readily did this and became a hugely successful organization. In 1978 he got the Conference Board to create a supplementary pension plan for me because my Queens plan would not be sufficient for my retirement. This has had a huge impact on my quality of life He also played a huge role in my appointment to the board of Power Corporation upon my retirement. This in itself was a tremendous experience. I hope my story will add to the many I know you have heard which describe the wonderful human being your father was and the lives of so many people he helped to shape over his life. Jim Nininger - Posted by: jim nininger (friend) on: Mar 08, 2019

  • Mr. Burns was a great man to work with in many ways. He liked to listened to the observations of others, and then offer his considered opinion. He missed nothing of what was being discussed and was confident of what should be happening to fix the problem. He helped everyone whom he could. His life is a grand lesson for everyone. - Posted by: David Walker (Work) on: Feb 19, 2019

  • I fist knew Mr. Burns in the late 1980s when I was Secretary of Treasury and Jim was the Chairman of an Advisory Committee on executive compensation in government. I worked with him for four so five years in that capacity and discovered not only his very quick mind but also his deep commitments to public service. When I left government I was hired by Power Corp. Jim had been there as a key executive. He welcomed me, made himself available to my answer my queries. All this developed into a profound admiration and friendship. We shall miss him gears knowledge, his deep commitments to the corporation and to the Public service and his sharp sense of humour. In short he was an outstanding Canadian who thought me a lot. So long my dear friend. GĂ©rard Veilleux - Posted by: Gerard Veilleux (Friend and collegue) on: Feb 18, 2019

  • I have known Jim for many years and I had the opportunity to appreciate his competence, honesty and dedication when he served on the Board of MD Management, then a subsidiary of the Canadian Medical Association. Jim became a friend and It was always a pleasure to spend time with him. He was a caring person who will be missed. My sincere condolences to his family. - Posted by: Roland Breton (Friend) on: Feb 16, 2019

  • I have known Jim Burns as various points in my career as a fundraiser, first helping him to set up an award at Brandon University 20 years ago in honour of his father who was from Oak Lake, MB and most recently through his giving to the Sistema Program at the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, with various points in between. He made time to send me personal notes on his private stationary when we realized that his wife's family and I had a connection to the same small town in Manitoba - Carberry. He was a compassionate man who embraced life to its fullest extent. He has left a significant legacy to Winnipeg and to Manitoba and his passing is a great loss. His kind does not come along very often. - Posted by: Beth Proven (Acquaintance) on: Feb 15, 2019

  • Barbara and Jim are remembered fondly at St. George's for their faithfulness and support. May they both rest in peace and light perpetual shine upon them and our sincere condolences to the family. - Posted by: St. George's Anglican Church, Crescentwood (Barbara and Jim had a relationship with St. George's) on: Feb 15, 2019

  • My condolences to the family - Posted by: Janis McKeag (Friend of family) on: Feb 14, 2019

  • I got to know Mr. Burns very well as we built the Skateboard Plaza at The Forks. He paid for it and insisted it be the best in the world. Under that gruff exterior, I learned to understand he was totally motivated by doing the right thing. My condolences to his family and his memory will live on here at The Forks. - Posted by: Paul Jordan (Friend) on: Feb 14, 2019

  • To the Burns' family, Christine Day and family sends sincere condolences to all. We are so sorry to hear of your loss. - Posted by: Christine Day (friend) on: Feb 13, 2019

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