January 08, 2014

Murray McEwen appointed to Order of Canada

As published in The Erin Advocate

Erin resident Murray McEwen has been appointed to the Order of Canada, recognizing his contributions to the food industry and sustained commitment to community support.

As a business executive, and by contributing his time and money to worthy causes, he has met the standard of the Order, which is to enrich the lives of others and make a difference to Canada.

In 1993, McEwen retired as President and CEO of Redpath Industries, and Managing Director for North America of its British parent company. In 1992, Tate & Lyle North America had sales in excess of $3 billion, and about 6,000 employees.

It was a successful career for a country boy who was kicked out of McGill University in his second year, studying Animal Husbandry and Economics. He attributes his 37% average in the first term to the distractions of “sports and women”.

He repeated the year and went on to graduate in 1953 with a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture. He would later chair a campaign in the 1970s that raised $7.2 million for the Macdonald Stewart Complex, home to McGill's Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, and in 2007 he was honoured with a Distinguished Alumini Award.

In 1993, he received an Honourary Doctorate from McGill. It was presented by University Principal David Johnston, who is known today as His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada.

He will once again thank McEwen for his service, when he presents him with an insignia as a Member of the Order of Canada, at a ceremony later this year.

Established in 1967 by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the Order recognizes outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to the nation, by people in all sectors of society. The insignia is a stylized snowflake of six points, with a stylized maple leaf at its centre, and a  crown above the motto, desiderantes meliorem patriam, which means “They desire a better country”.

“Companion” is the highest level of the Order, for national pre-eminence or international service; the “Officer” level recognizes national service, and the “Member” level recognizes outstanding contributions at the local or regional level or in a special field of activity.

The Governor General announced 90 new appointees last week, ranging from hockey broadcaster Dick Irvin (a fellow McGill grad), to Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor of the band Blue Rodeo, film director Sarah Polley, TV Ontario host Steve Paiken and fashion journalist Jeanne Beker.

Appointments are based on recommendations from an independent 11-member council headed by Canada's Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Beverley McLachlin. In November, they considered 300 nominations, which had been researched by a team of analysts.

McEwen noted that only a few of those appointed to the Order are celebrities. “The vast majority of them are just ordinary farm folk like myself, who did something in a community,” he said.

Growing up on a dairy farm in Ormstown (southwest of Montreal), McEwen worked his way through school at the local Green Giant plant. When he graduated, they hired him, and he earned a reputation for getting things done.

He moved to New Annan, PEI and worked five years for Seabrook Farms, managing construction and operation of a frozen vegetable plant. Opened in 1961, it was the province’s largest food processing company and is now part of Irving’s Cavendish Farms.

Eventually he moved his family back to Quebec and got a management job, initially with St. Lawrence Sugar. In 1975, he accepted an offer to become president at Redpath, a major Canadian firm with sugar refineries in Montreal and Toronto. In 1980, the Montreal plant was closed and production was shifted to Toronto.

Tate & Lyle, the global company that owned Redpath, discovered the sugar-based no-calorie sweetener sucralose in 1976, and worked with McNeil Nutritionals to create Splenda. McEwen was involved in getting approval for that product from regulatory agencies in Canada and the United States.

As a leader in the industry, he also maintained relationships with sugar producers including Cuba, and had several occasions to meet and talk business with Fidel Castro.

“He was quite a philosopher,” said McEwen. “I am proud to have known the man – he has a warm spot for Canadians.”

In addition to his corporate work, McEwen found time for community business, including service as a school trustee in Bedford, Quebec where he lived for 18 years.

With food editors at Canadian Living Magazine, he helped establish the Breakfast for Learning program that promotes better learning through good nutrition. The program raised money to support local initiatives, and by the time he retired as chair of the board, there were some 8,000 schools involved.

He moved to his home on the Second Line of Erin 30 years ago, and was active for many years as a member of the Erin Tennis Club and a regular skater at the Erin arena. While proud to be part of Erin, he has been disappointed in its slow pace of economic development.

It's a great community, with tremendous potential, but we can't make progress without a friendly atmosphere for business,” he said.

His wife Eleanor was a long-time supporter of the Upper Credit Humane Society. After she passed away in 2008, he made a substantial donation in her memory that enabled the organization to refurbish and expand its shelter facility in Brisbane.

He had opportunities to travel in the Canadian north, the US, Europe and Africa, and became concerned about the problems associated with unsafe and scarce water.

He served on the board of the Grand River Conservation Foundation, raising funds to support projects of the conservation authority. He made a contribution to set up the McEwen Clean Water Prize, which the foundation awards to a student with a strong interest in the protection, development and restoration of clean water resources.

“It seems logical to support students who may pursue something in which you share a passion,” he said.
At the University of Guelph, where he had served on the Board of Governors, he established the Murray McEwen Safe Water Bursaries.

These support six U of G undergraduate students in Water Resources Engineering and the Ontario Agricultural College, studying solutions to water shortages and new methods of removing disease-causing bacteria from drinking water.

At his alma mater, he set up the Murray and Eleanor McEwen Clean Water Scholarships, with a preference for studies related to Canada's northern lands, or that are of direct benefit to Canada's First Nations.