Winnipeg native makes it big in media world

By Katie Hastings
Winnipeg, Manitoba

In the Canadian Oxford Dictionary a hero is defined as a person distinguished by courage, noble deeds, and outstanding achievements. But what is a hero really?

One could be called a hero for discovering a cure for a disease or for simply being a loyal volunteer within a community. A hero is what you define it to be.

Izzy Asper is a hero. He has exhibited many qualities of a hero through the expression of his goals in his life's work and by how he has used his position in the community for the betterment of others. He has demonstrated selflessness in his numerous donations and leadership in his many accomplishments. He has proved that goals can be achieved with hard work and persistence.

"If you're so good, why aren't you in Toronto?" Israel Asper has been asked this question many times. He is a billionaire, entrepreneur, lawyer, broadcaster, philanthropist and some say a visionary. He is all of these things and a proud Winnipegger.


Israel Asper (well known as Izzy), was born in Minnedosa, Manitoba on August 11th, 1932. He moved to Winnipeg in 1948 where his father, Leon, bought two local movie houses. Izzy's first jobs were to take tickets and clean the gum from the bottom of the seats at the theater when he was sixteen years old.

Asper's aspirations did not include entering the family business. Instead, he went to the University of Manitoba where he earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1953 and his Bachelor of Laws in 1957. He was called to the Bar in 1957 following receipt of his Bachelor of Laws. He founded the Winnipeg law firm Asper, Freedman and Co. in 1959 and then returned to the university to earn his Master of Laws degree in 1964. He specialized in taxation law after graduation. His law career was very successful and he was considered one of the finest tax lawyers in Canada.

In 1970, Asper was elected head of the Liberal Party of Manitoba and served in that capacity for five years. He had hopes of becoming premier but these hopes were crushed when his party won only five seats in the next election. He was elected twice to the Manitoba Legislative Assembly.

When he left politics, Asper took on his most successful undertaking to date, which is called CanWest Global Communications Corporation. In the fall of 1975, Asper bought KCND TV station in Pembina, North Dakota and brought it up to Winnipeg where it became known as CKND. At the time, this broadcasting company seemed to be "the impossible dream". Now, the broadcaster is one of the most successful in the world. While CanWest Global is a coalition of
independent locally oriented stations, the company's belief is that the greatest potential for future growth lies outside of Canada. CanWest Global have stations in nine areas in Canada as well as internationally, including stations in the South Pacific, South America and the United Kingdom.
CanWest Global Communications is the largest and most profitable private sector TV broadcaster in Canada. Asper, himself, is said to be worth 1.8 billion dollars. He demonstrated great self-confidence and responsibility in believing in what he wanted to do and then following
through with it.

Izzy Asper has earned many awards and been given numerous honourable titles. These titles are all just different names for a hero. He was appointed Queen's Counsel in 1975. He was honoured by his alma mater in 1979 as the University of Manitoba Outstanding 25-Year Graduate. He was enlisted in the Canadian Association of Broadcasters Broadcast Hall of Fame. He was also appointed Officer of the Order of Canada in 1995.

Asper believes strongly in volunteerism. He has served on numerous charitable boards. He is the president of the Asper Foundation which he established in 1983. This organization is a charitable foundation for philanthropic donations. He has made many donations to a variety of causes.

This includes a one million dollar donation to the Faculty of Management at the University of Manitoba. The Faculty created the Asper Centre for Entrepreneurship in recognition of Asper's donation. He also made a two million dollar donation to the establishment of The Rose and Max Rady Jewish Community Centre in Winnipeg. The lives of many have been enhanced by
these heroic deeds.

Izzy Asper has had a very fulfilling career. In addition to his worldly success, he is a talented pianist and many say he could have been on a concert stage. Music was very much a part of his heritage. His father was a conductor with the state opera in Belgium and his mother, Cecilia, was a pianist. Asper has a love for jazz despite his father's view that it was vulgar and didn't allow it in the house when he was young.

Presently, Asper lives in River Heights with his wife Babs and their dog Bernie the Barrister. They have raised three children, all of whom are successful lawyers.

Asper has demonstrated all of the qualities that make a hero. He has been recognized for his substantial contribution to many sectors of our society. He has shown that you should always seek out new opportunities. By his successes in a diverse range of endeavours and most recently by taking what used to be an independent TV station and turning it into an internationally successful broadcasting corporation, he has taught us not to give up on a goal. Izzy Asper has shown us that dreams can be fulfilled anywhere. . . even Winnipeg.