Who is Ernest Rady and Why Did He Just Make a $30-Million Donation to the University of Manitoba?
Image by auvet

So who is Ernest Rady and how is it that he has donated $30 million to a university faculty that he didn’t even attend?

To understand that, one should know something about the family. In this case, Ernest Rady is honouring his father Max Rady, the first Jewish university graduate of the University of Manitoba medical school. Max married Rose Bronfman, sister of Sam Bronfman who would go on to own the Seagram liquor company.


The Bronfmans have been one of the legendary families of Canadian business and it all started in Manitoba. At one point as the family moved into alcohol sales, they owned the Bell Hotel in Winnipeg. After the purchase of Seagram in 1928, Sam made his headquarters in Montreal. Other family members remained in Winnipeg including sister Rose.

Together Max and Rose had three children Ernest, Majorie (Blankstein) and Mindel (Olenick). Both sisters continue to live in Winnipeg and well known philanthropists.

In 1951, Sam Bronfman divided assets of the booming Seagram company among his eight brothers and sisters including Rose. Sam took the greatest share which led to squabbling and lawsuits. Only Rose supported Sam by saying that he was being modest about how much the liquor company’s success depended on him. Rose had $1 million shares in Seagrams in 1948 and used the money to create a company divided into three parts. Both daughters got 30% and Ernest received 40%.

Ernest seemed to inherit the drive of his father and went to the University of Manitoba himself and earned degrees in law and commerce. At 16, Ernest had to take over the company as a stroke had befallen his dad. The investments he made were successful. He struck out to the United States in 1966 where he made his home in San Diego where he bought property.

In 1967, he formed American Assets which including shareholdings from his branch of the family in Winnipeg. Later, he founded publicly traded real estate investment trust Westcorp which eventually was sold in 2006 and became part of West Fargo. All in all it was a dizzying array of assets in finance, real estate, oil and gas and media. It also included at one time a part ownership in the Major League Baseball team San Diego Padres.

The year 2007 was a sad and dramatic year for the Rady family. Shortly after the death of a beloved brother-in-law in Winnipeg, Ernest, wife Evelyn and a maid were attacked in a home invasion where they were tasered and robbed. In 2008, the world-wide recession hit him very hard and around $1 billion was erased of his wealth. At one point, he went to an ATM only to find his card was rejected.

The downward turn in the market was again caused family feuding where Ernest was sued for more money from American Assets. He eventually won but there were a lot of regrets when he called the nephews, in-laws and others “ingrates.”

Ernest Rady continued to have assets and the market recovered and with his money he decided to continue his long work in charity. In San Diego, he was a legend for donations to the Children’s Hospital and the University of San Diego for a business school. Nearly $200 million was donated in his adopted hometown.

Winnipeg was not forgotten in all this and Ernest Rady and his sisters donated shy of million to the University of Manitoba medical school for the Mindermar professorship in human simulation in 2009.

Most people in Winnipeg if they know the Rady name at all associate it with the Rady Center at the Jewish Community Campus in Winnipeg. Since 1997, the Rady Center has served as the recreation heart of the Jewish community. However, it also serves the greater Winnipeg community as well. Many donors made that campus possible including much from the Rady family together.

Although 50 plus years might have separated Ernest and Evelyn Rady from Winnipeg, they never stopped their family connections with the city. He became a legend in already legendary family. It is not difficult to imagine the family gift to the University of Manitoba might not create some new legends.

This has been a guest editorial by John Dobbin.
To read more from John, visit his blog Observations, Reservations, Conversations