TORONTO — Toronto native and former Trudeau-era cabinet minister Barney Danson passed away Oct. 17 at the age of 90.
Danson, born to a Jewish family in Toronto in 1921, joined the Queen’s Own Rifles in 1939 at the start of World War II. He attained the rank of lieutenant colonel and served until he was severely wounded in the Battle of Normandy, losing an eye.
In addition to his political career, Danson maintained philanthropic interests in the Canadian National Institute for the Blind and co-founded Katimavik, a national program that helps and encourages youth to volunteer across the country.
After returning from the war, Danson joined his family’s insurance business and eventually started his own plastics company, the Danson Corporation.
Inspired by Trudeaumania, he ran for office in 1968 and won the riding of York North. He served as an MP until losing his seat in 1979.
In cabinet, he held positions as minister of state for urban affairs and as minister of national defence.
In 1975, he received the Family of Man award from B’nai Brith of Canada.
Danson also served as Canada’s consul general in Boston from 1984 to 1986.
His autobiography, Not Bad for a Sergeant: The Memoirs of Barney Danson, was published in 2002.
He was the founding chairman of Toronto’s Temple Emanu-El.
Danson also served on numerous boards and committees, both non-profit and for-profit, including the Canadian Executive Services Organization, Canadian Council of Christians and Jews, the Atlantic Council, the Empire Club of Canada, the Ballet Opera House Corporation, de Havilland Aircraft of Canada, Algoma Central Corporation, General Steelwares, the Royal Conservatory of Music and the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business.
He also chaired the advisory committee and presided over the construction and eventual 2005 opening of the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, where a theatre is named in his honour.
In 2008 he was made a Companion to the Order of Canada.
In a statement last week, the Canadian War Museum said it was saddened at Danson’s death.
“Barney Danson’s leadership and tireless support were instrumental in the building of the new museum,” Mark O’Neill, president and CEO of the Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation said. “On a personal note, Mr. Danson was an inspiration to me, and I often sought his sage advice. I offer my heartfelt condolences to his family.”
The statement added: “Mr. Danson’s energetic dedication to the creation of a new Canadian War Museum was based, in part, on his desire to memorialize the brave Canadians who died in war, including his four closest wartime friends, all of whom were killed in action.
“The Barney Danson Theatre in the Canadian War Museum is named in recognition of his key role in the creation of the museum. Tens of thousands of Canadians have already enjoyed events and public programs in the Barney Danson Theatre, and will continue to do so for generations to come. Mr. Danson’s contributions will not be forgotten.”
Danson and his wife, Isobel, have four children, Kenneth, John, Timothy and Peter, and 10 grandchildren.