The Great Stork Derby: How One Man Turned Toronto into a Baby Factory

The Great Stork Derby: How One Man Turned Toronto into a Baby Factory

You have to love eccentric millionaires. They certainly make life just a little more interesting and show you what can truly be accomplished when you’re a little loony (and have mountains of cash). With that in mind, let’s take a look at one such example, Charles Vance Millar. Mr. Millar was a Canadian lawyer, one who made a substantial fortune through various investments during his lifetime. However, he was also a lifelong bachelor so, when the matter of his will came up, he had to decide who would receive his fortune.

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As it turned out, Millar was also somewhat of a prankster. He especially enjoyed taking advantage of other people’s greed so he decided to have a laugh with his will. Like Millar himself noted:

“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.”

In other words, this basically meant that he filled his will with all kinds of humorous bequests. One of them involved giving away his Jamaica vacation home to three lawyers he knew couldn’t stand each other. Another involved giving stocks in a (Catholic) brewery to Protestant ministers and to anti-alcohol advocates. Other ministers received shares in a jockey club that turned out to only be worth a cent each.

All of these pranks, however, only accounted for a small portion of Millar’s fortune. Most of it was saved for Clause 9, a stipulation in the will that would send Toronto into a frenzy over the next decade. Basically, it stipulated that the remnants of his estate should go to the mother who gave birth to the most children in the ten years after his death.

Naturally, this caused quite a sensation. The media were already making the most of the lighter aspects of Millar’s will. Regarding Clause 9, it wasn’t initially certain if Millar would be allowed to do something like this. He also had various distant relatives who obviously wanted the money for themselves and were constantly looking into ways to stop the entire “contest”. They didn’t succeed, though. The stipulation was deemed legal and, for the next ten years, Toronto became the biggest baby breeding ground in the world.

Millar died in 1926. This means that the women of Toronto had until 1936 to produce as many offspring as possible. There were a few conditions regarding what constituted an official entry (read: child): stillborn babies did not count and neither did illegitimate children.

There were also two other factors which occurred after Millar’s death that had a huge impact on the event. For starters, the Great Depression. The 1920s were seen as a booming decade with fortunes being made left and right. The 1930s were the exact opposite. Most families were struggling to make ends meet and up to a third of the total Canadian workforce was unemployed. This made Millar’s fortune significantly more important than it was at the beginning.

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Another aspect Millar didn’t foresee (or maybe he did) was the Windsor-Detroit tunnel. While Millar was alive, the project was in its infancy stages, but Millar saw it as a good investment opportunity and bought thousands of shares. After his death, the value of those shares soared incredibly high. It transformed the value of his remaining estate from $100,000 to a staggering $750,000.

Suffice to say that this was enough to convince numerous women to take part in the “contest”. However, at the finish line, it turned out to be a four-way tie between Lucy Alice Timleck, Kathleen Ellen Nagle, Annie Katherine Smith and Isabel Mary Maclean. Each one had nine (official) births during the ten-year period. The majority of the estate was split between them and each woman received $125,000. Two more women called Pauline Mae Clarke and Lillian Kenny were also in the running with over ten births each. However, Mrs. Clarke had several illegitimate children and Mrs. Kenny had two stillbirths. Even so, each woman still received a settlement worth $12,500.

Charles Vance Millar’s actions went down in history as the media made sure to keep the story alive with any possible developments during the entire ten-year period which became known as the Great Stork Derby. After the deadline, things weren’t settled immediately due to having four women with the same number of eligible children (plus all the entries who were disqualified for various reasons). The matter had to eventually be settled by the Supreme Court of Canada.

 

TL;DR Version

  • Charles Vance Millar was a wealthy Canadian lawyer and prankster.
  • When he died, he left all kinds of wacky stipulations in his will.
  • The biggest of them all was a clause which awarded most of his money to the mother who gave birth to the most live and legitimate children in the ten years after his death (1926 – 1936).
  • After his death, the Great Depression hit which caused poverty for countless families.
  • His investment in the Windsor-Detroit tunnel skyrocketed after his death. It turned his remaining $100,000 estate into a $750,000 one.
  • When the contest was over, four women tied with nine eligible children each. They each received $125,000.
  • Two more women had ten births each, but some of them were disqualified for being stillborn or illegitimate. They still received $12,500 each.

 

Featured image courtesy of Raul Heinrich via Wiki Commons.