Memorable Manitobans: Israel Harold “Izzy” Asper (1932-2003)
Born at Minnedosa on 11 August 1932, son of Leon Asper and Cecilia Zwet, he spent his first 16 years there, later attending Kelvin High School, from which he graduated in 1949. Called to the Manitoba Bar in 1957, he practiced law and was appointed a Queen’s Counsel in late 1975. He served as the leader of the Manitoba Liberal Party (1970-1975) and, in June 1971, he was elected as an MLA, and re-elected in 1973. He later bought KCND, a small television station at Pembina, North Dakota. Over the next two decades, he expanded from this base to create the Canwest Global Communications Corporation, an international media empire, including Canada’s largest newspaper chain.
Asper was well-known as a philantrophist, donating over $100 million to a wide variety of Jewish and other charitable causes, through the Asper Foundation and the Canwest Global Charitable Foundation. He helped to found the Asper Jewish Community Campus, which bears his name. He worked towards the foundation of a Canadian Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg.
He was a life-long staunch Zionist, frequently and publicly defending Israel and criticizing organizations, including the CBC, for what he felt were anti-Zionist leanings. In honour of his philanthropy and public advocacy, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem gave Asper an honorary doctorate in 1999, and the University of Manitoba awarded him one in 1998. He was inducted into the Order of Canada (1995), Winnipeg Citizens Hall of Fame (1999), and Order of Manitoba (2000). He received the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal (2002). He was inducted posthumously into the Manitoba Business Hall of Fame (2013).
With wife Babs Asper, he had three children: Leonard Asper, Gail Asper, and David Asper.
He died at Winnipeg on 7 October 2003.
“Asper among 10 new Manitoba QCs,” Winnipeg Free Press, 31 December 1975, page 40.
Obituary, The Jewish Post and News, 15 October 2003, pp. 1-12.
Obituary, Winnipeg Free Press, 11 October 2003.
This page was prepared by Kris Keen and Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 7 October 2022