The Great Stork Derby

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For ten years, a contest unlike any other gripped Toronto. From 1926 to 1936, couples competed to win a small fortune.
During The Great Depression work was hard to come by, and money was tight.
So, the prize money could change the fortunes of those who won.
The contest was put on by an eccentric man and to win couples only had to do one thing.
Have babies and lots of them.
Who was the man behind the Great Stork Derby? Let’s find out….
I’m Craig Baird, and this is Canadian History Ehx!

Charles Vance Millar was born in Aylmer, Ontario on June 28, 1854, as he grew up, he proved to be a brilliant student.
He attended the University of Toronto and graduated with an average of 98 per cent in every single subject.
After passing his bar exam, he became a lawyer.
He started out working for three dollars a week at his private law firm.
He struggled until a hotel manager named McGaw offered him free room and board and hired him as the hotel’s lawyer and referred guests to Millar.
This gave Millar a leg-up and allowed him to save money which he put to use in a variety of ventures.
Millar was wickedly smart and had a keen business sense that allowed him to slowly grow a fortune through various real estate holdings which he bought and sold.
In 1897, he purchased the BC Express Company and took over mail delivery contracts in the Cariboo Region of British Columbia. When the Grand Trunk Railway was announced to Fort George, now Prince George, he expanded his services and bought two sternwheelers to deliver mail and cargo. He had a hunch that Fort George would become a major centre in northern British Columbia, and he purchased land in the area.
It turned out his hunch was right. By the 1920s, a few thousand people were living in the community and Millar was a rich man.
Despite his wealth, or maybe because of it, he liked doing things himself, rather than paying others to do it.
He learned carpentry and spent evenings after work repairing his rental properties in Toronto.
He also loved horse racing.
His love of racing extended to investing in the construction of the Kenilworth Park Racetrack near Windsor, to expand the horse racing industry of Ontario.
He also owned many horses including Tartarean, who won the King’s Plate in 1915, and Troutlet, who won the 1927 King’s Plate.
The King’s Plate, or Queen’s Plate depending on the monarch in power, is the oldest continuously run horse race in North America and is one of the most prestigious championships in the world. But Millar wasn’t all serious all the time…in fact he absolutely loved…jokes and pranks.
One of his favourite pranks, if you can call it that, was to drop dollar bills on the sidewalk, then hide in the bushes to watch people stuff the money into their pockets when they thought no one saw them.
He said.
“If you ever want to see a picture of guilt, just watch an honest man pocketing a dollar he has found.”
Back then, one dollar was worth about $30 today, so if you want to prank me by leaving $30 on the sidewalk, please do.
His eccentricities extended beyond dropping money and watching others pick it up; he liked to sleep on the veranda outside his home regardless of weather. In his words it was to make him tougher.
And his sleeping arrangements weren’t the only thing he was uncomfortable with… he felt its improper to have more money than one could spend in a lifetime, and he was never comfortable with his wealth, yet he never gave to charity.
Despite the prevalence of fraternal clubs in Toronto, he was only ever a member of the Royal Canadian Yacht Club.
Millar was a man of many contradictions who disliked contracts and preferred to make verbal agreements.
He was brilliant and would often find loopholes to get the upper hand, but he never broke his word, at least according to his associate Abe Orpen.
Although he didn’t like a paper trail in 1921, he wrote up his will, and no one could’ve expected how famous that document would become.
Only Millar and his lawyers knew what it said. They tried to persuade him to change it, but he refused.
The contents of the will wouldn’t come to light until Oct. 31, 1926, at 4:30 p.m. when Millar was discussing a case with Charles Kemp, a law associate, and suffered a stroke.
By the time the doctor arrived, Millar was dead.
Millar worked his entire life, literally, until the moment he died in his law office on the corner of Yonge and Colborne Street in Toronto.

Having once had his heart broken Millar never married and died a bachelor,
He had no descendants, and both his parents were dead.
Upon his death, he was worth $322,309, or about $5 million today.
Typically, when someone leaves a will, they give money to family, friends, perhaps some charities Not for Millar. He decided to conduct a few more pranks from the grave.
He wrote in his will,
“This Will is necessarily uncommon and capricious because I have no dependents or near relations and no duty rests upon me to leave any property at my death and what I do leave is proof of my folly in gathering and retaining more than I required in my lifetime.”
Where was the money to go?
Three law colleagues, T.P. Galt, J.D. Montgomery and James Haverson were granted lifetime tenancy of Millar’s vacation home in Jamaica.
Seems nice right?
The problem was all three men despised each other and to have the home, they had to live in the property together, at the same time.
To each Protestant minister in Toronto, nearly all of whom supported temperance, he gave a share of O’Keefe Brewery stock, but only if they participated in the management of the brewery and drew on its dividends.
The owners and shareholders of O’Keefe Brewery were none too pleased about.
For a housekeeper, he gave her $500. Nice gift, but she had died years before the will was even written.
His reasoning was that if a housekeeper knew you were leaving money to them, they may try to hasten along your end. As for where the money went since she was dead, that was not stated but my guess is her family received it.
For two anti-horse racing activists named William Raney and Reverend Samuel Chown, they were given a share of the Ontario Jockey Club stock, provided they remain as shareholders for three years.
Lastly, to every ordained Christian minister in Walkerville, Sandwich and Windsor, they received a share in the Kenilworth Park Racetrack, despite their opposition to horse racing.
There was one other clause with serious real-world consequences and dangerous for those involved.
The balance of Millar’s estate was to be given in cash ten years after his death to the Toronto woman who gave birth to the most children during that time.
Millar’s executors published notices in eight local newspapers, detailing the will and the birth clause.
It was a contest that took Toronto by storm.

Your first question may be, was Millar’s will even legal?
Well, yes it was. Millar was a lawyer, and he made sure the clause was within the confines of the law.
Your next question is probably, why did he do it?
His friends believed that he did it to amuse others and to test the boundaries of the legal system.
Others thought that it was Millar’s attempt to shame the government into legalizing birth control, over what he felt was quote, unbridled breeding, end quote, which put families into deep debt and mothers at risk.
A friend, identified only as J.R., said,
“The unusual will of Charlie Millar has been described as humorous but those who knew him are quite sure that it was not jocular. He had a keen dislike, good humoured in a sense, but nevertheless very real for the type of mind represented in the assumption of superior virtue and concerted action.”
Regardless of his reasoning, there was a real risk for any woman who took part in the contest.
Today, childbirth is a relatively safe procedure with the help of modern healthcare.
A century ago, not so much.
The infant mortality rate in Canada back then was about 80 out of every 1,000 children.
Today, the rate is 3.9 out of every 1,000 children.
The contest could put children and mothers at risk.
During the decade of the contest, an average of 500 women out of every 100,000 died in childbirth.
The Toronto Globe stated the entire scheme was against public policy because it encouraged the birth of children with no regard to their chances of life or welfare.
Time Magazine, one of the harshest critics of the entire affair, wrote that the prize could be won by what it called mental defectives or immigrants.
Like any lottery winner can tell you, when money is involved, suddenly people come out of the woodwork.
Random distant relatives of Millar suddenly appeared out of nowhere to get the money, but they were unsuccessful.
The Government of Ontario even tried to claim the money, despite criticizing the entire thing.
Premier Mitchell Hepburn said it was quote:
“The most revolting and disgusting exhibition ever put on in a civilized country.” end quote.
The government was also unhappy that the Bureau of Vital Statistics was being swamped with applications from couples who were trying to register the births of children born in previous years.
Hepburn said,
“It is the duty of the government to stop this fiasco. We certainly won’t let it go to the courts.”
As a lawyer, Millar had made his will ironclad and watertight.
The litigation over the validity of the contest went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada who upheld it.
The Court also ruled that children born out of wedlock, or who were stillborn, did not count towards the total.
This wasn’t stated in the will, but something that the Supreme Court added to the ruling that had real consequences.
Meanwhile, the decade became known as the Great Stork Derby, and it was one of sharp contrasts.
When it started in 1926, Canada was in the middle of The Roaring Twenties. Money was coming easily to many; people were buying cars on credit; businesses were booming and there was an expectation that everything would keep improving.
Then 1929 hit.
The stock market crashed, drought hit the prairies, and The Great Depression took the economic momentum out of the country.
Unemployment rose, soup kitchens and work camps for single men sprang up, and the cars people were driving in the 1920s were now pulled by horses because gas was too expensive.
It was estimated that 30 percent of the Canadian population were out of work.
This was not a well-suited environment for bringing multiple children into the world.
While in the rural areas, more children meant more hands working on the farm, it was different in the cities.
More children meant more mouths to feed, and that meant more money was needed.
Yet the possibility of winning a fortune enticed many to try, despite the risks.
For the couples trying to win the contest, they were deep into it by the time The Great Depression came along.
It was a tough choice, stop trying or go for gold despite the increased cost.
By 1933, five women with six to seven children born since 1926 were leading the race.
The Toronto Star was all in on the Great Stork Derby.
They even assigned a special reporter to find pregnant women around the city. His goal was to get them to sign exclusivity agreements with the paper, so only the Toronto Star could print their stories.
I don’t know how many women took part in the derby, but contracts with newspapers like the Toronto Star helped many get some quick cash during The Great Depression, even if they didn’t win in the end.
Lillian Kenny was a leading contender and she charged people to take her photo. She even once attacked a photographer who took one for free.
She led Great Stork Derby from 1934 onwards, with 11 children in 1934 and a 12th expected in 1936, all born in the span of 10 years.
The Kenney family was not well off, and The Great Depression did not help matters.
They lived in a series of ramshackle homes around the city, and often moved when Lillian accused neighboring women of trying to steal her husband.
When welfare workers showed up at their home, she threw rice and oatmeal at them to drive them away.
She was by far the most famous of the contenders.
She even promised to hold a huge party with a band at Millar’s grave if she won.
Time Magazine wrote about her living in squalor, criticizing her for having children that the family could barely afford.
Other newspapers accused her of not having as many children as she claimed and lying to vital statistics.
One of the worst and most graphic accusations was that one of her children was killed when rats ate the child.
I searched for any verification of this and found nothing beyond websites rehashing the same story from Time Magazine which was one of Lillian’s biggest detractors.
Her husband Matt did what he could to combat the bad press and was always supportive of her and called her an excellent mother.
Meanwhile Grace Bagnato was in second place with nine children by the time the last year of the contest arrived. Married at 13 to a 25-year-old husband, she had 23 children with her husband in just over 25 years.
Newspapers and magazines played up a rivalry between the two women.
According to Time Magazine, Lillian Kenny said,
“I am determined to beat that Bagnato woman, if nothing else. She’s ten years older than me, and I’ll go right on having children every year. I’ll probably have twins before 1936. But anyway, I’ll beat that Bagnato woman. You see if I don’t.”
Bagnato responded,
“I’m strong and in the best of health. I’ve been disappointed in many things during my life. But this time I think Mrs. Kenny will be disappointed. I’ll get the $500,000.”
Meanwhile, amid the contest, the Millar estate kept making money thanks to Millar’s investments.
By the time the deadline drew near, his estate was worth about $1 million, or $21 million today.
Then, on Oct. 31, 1936, at 4:30 p.m. EST, exactly 10 years after the death of Millar, the contest ended.
Now it came time to determine just who exactly had won The Great Stork Derby.
Lillian Kenny gave birth to 11, some sources say 12, children in ten years.
14 children in all, including three sets of twins.
Eight days before the end of the contest, when asked if she would split money with other women who were also in the running, she said,
“I am the winner. Why should I split the money up? Some of the other mothers have had ten children in the last ten years, but I have had twelve. I might give some of the money to other mothers in the race, but sign an agreement to divide it equally? Never.”
Bagnato was close behind her with 11.
Despite the fact that Lillian Kenny and Grace Bagnato were technically the winners, neither woman actually won.
Why? Remember the Supreme Court and its ruling?
Well, that came back into play.
Lillian lost out because four of her children were stillborn, which did not qualify under the ruling.
Grace Bagnato should have won as a result. She had more children that survived, and none were born out of wedlock.
Yet she didn’t because she and her husband were undocumented Italian immigrants.
Which is why we should take a quick side trip to talk about Grace Bagnato, because she was absolutely fascinating.
She was born in the United States and came to Canada with her parents when she was five.
She left school when she married at 13.
Highly intelligent, she learned to speak seven languages and became an authority in the Italian community.
She worked as an official court interpreter and helped translate important documents for new immigrants to Toronto.
For her services to the community, she was given a car by the community and subsequently became the first woman to learn to drive in Toronto.
She was remembered for her generosity and as a pioneer in multiculturalism in the city.
Grace Street in Little Italy is named for her and a plaque in the area honours her.
Yet she lost the Great Stork Derby no matter what.
In third place was Pauline Mae Clarke who was disqualified because five of her ten children were born out of wedlock, and a few of the other children were born outside the city limits of Toronto.
The final decision fell to Judge William Edward Middleton, a man who himself was born to a large family of nine.
He declared a four-way tie between Annie Katherine Smith, Kathleen Ellen Nagle, Lucy Alice Timleck and Isabel Mary Maclean, each of whom gave birth to nine children during the decade.
If you think that the money was quickly sent to these four women, well that didn’t happen.
The process took two full years.
In the end, $100,000 was put into a trust for future costs, while a lot of the money went into lawyer fees, court costs and more.
Each woman received $75,000 after everything was said and done.
That is equivalent to $1.5 million today.
Both Lillian Kenny and Pauline Mae Clarke launched lawsuits and were paid $12,500 in settlements.
Grace Bagnato chose to leave the contest behind and sought no money from it. Her granddaughter stated that she never talked about it for the rest of her life.
Despite dozens of children born because of the contest, only one woman, Lillian Kenny, named a child after Millar.
Sadly, that child was stillborn.
So, what happened after the Great Stork Derby?

Alfred Smith, whose wife Annie had nine children in the ten years, was a fireman in Toronto. When he received the payment from the lawyers, he had six dollars in his bank account.
The couple put the money into the bank and allowed themselves $200 to spend as they liked.
The family bought a new car, and Alfred kept his job as he had been a firefighter for 20 years and enjoyed it.
Eventually, Annie persuaded him to resign, and the couple bought a townhouse they rented out to the mayor of Toronto and a small hotel at Wasaga Beach.
Every Christmas for years, Alfred went to the fire station he worked at and gave his firefighter friends boxes of cigars as presents, along with a trip to the pub for ale.
The Maclean family invested in bonds, helping to grow their small fortune over the years by $200 per month.
The family of Alice Timleck was living on relief two days before they received their $75,000. In the winters before the money, they slept together in the living room to stay warm.
Within a day of receiving the money, there were salesmen at their door offering to sell them furniture, farms, and fur coats.
Alice said,
“The way these people pester me, you would think I came into a fortune.”
With their money, they bought a $10,000 mansion that they remodeled themselves to save money. The day they moved in, 30 bakeries sent them free samples in the hopes of getting regular business from the family. The family chose to buy their food wholesale and make everything they needed themselves instead.
They also took the money and invested in a hamburger stand, which was run by their four oldest sons.
The Nagle family was also on relief as John Nagle was unemployed when the $75,000 came in. They bought a $5,000 house and furnished it with the money they made from advertising testimonials during the Stork Derby.
As for the most famous person from the Derby, Lillian Kenney bought a sealskin coat and took part in a life-long love of taxis. At one point, she paid a driver $100 to take the family to Niagara Falls and back. Unfortunately, the family spent all the money they earned and by 1941 they were back living in a small house in a poor area of Toronto.
Information from All That Is Interesting, Toronto Dream Project, Wikipedia,, The Evening Independent, Good Housekeeping, The Great Depression, The Windsor Star, Montreal Gazette, Calgary Herald,

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