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Belzberg, Samuel


BELZBERG, SAMUEL (1928– ), Canadian financier and philanthropist. Belzberg was born in Calgary to Abraham and Hilda, who immigrated to Canada from Poland in 1919. His father was clearly imbued with an entrepreneurial spirit. He moved from working on the floor of an abattoir to owning a secondhand furniture store and then successfully shifted into real estate. Samuel was clearly his father's son. Together with his brothers Hyman and William, he embarked on a remarkable and sometimes controversial career in business and finance. Basing himself in Edmonton, Belzberg first made money on oil leasing, and investing the proceeds in real estate, set up what would grow into First City Financial Corporation to finance the acquisitions. In 1968 he moved to Vancouver, where he expanded his finance and real estate holdings. In the rough-and-tumble world of corporate take-overs in the United States of the 1980s, Samuel and his brothers (elder brother Hyman remained in Calgary, while his brother William moved to the United States) scored a number of successes. First City Financial Corporation was, at its height in the 1980s, a powerhouse in the Canadian financial world valued at more than $5 billion. First City and Samuel Belzberg suffered reversals in the early 1990s. In a bitter and much publicized dispute with his two brothers, Samuel was forced out of the financially slumping business. Under the weight of enormous debt, the firm crashed as dramatically as it had soared. Samuel's subsequent business activities were relatively modest.

Paralleling his business rise, Belzberg was heavily involved in philanthropic and community activities in both Edmonton and Vancouver, with much emphasis on support for Jewish causes. In Vancouver, he made substantial donations of time and expertise to both Simon Fraser University (where he was honored with an honorary doctorate) and the University of British Columbia. He and his wife, Frances, established the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation in 1976, after their daughter Cheri was diagnosed with the genetic disease that disproportionately affects Ashkenazi Jews. The Belzbergs became friendly with Rabbi Marvin Hier when he served in Vancouver as rabbi in the Orthodox synagogue Schara Tzedeck. In 1977 Belzberg supported Hier in his establishment of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles and the Center's Museum of Tolerance, which opened in 1993. In 1988 Belzberg was appointed a member of the Order of Canada and in 2001 was promoted to officer in the Order. He married Frances Cooper, who was also a member of the Order of Canada for her efforts on behalf of dystonia research and an hiv Care Unit in Vancouver and for her active support of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

[Richard Menkis (2nd ed.)]

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