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Construction magnate Sydney Cooper dies at 98

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Sydney Cooper

Sydney Cooper – an engineer, philanthropist, horseman and sports fan – died in Toronto on April 21. He was 98.

As the former president and owner of Pitts Construction, Cooper oversaw some of this country’s largest building projects, including highways, dams, bridges and tunnels.

A CJN Spotlight insert on Cooper last October noted that his company took on major hydroelectric developments in every province except Prince Edward Island. It built a major part of the Revelstoke Dam in British Columbia, the supertanker wharf in Nova Scotia, two tunnels under the Welland Canal and was a partner on the Churchill Falls power development and on the first stages of the James Bay, Que., hydroelectric project. Much work was done in the sub-Arctic and Arctic, as well.

READ: SPOTLIGHT ON SYDNEY COOPER

When the company built the interchange at Highway 27 and the Queen Elizabeth Way in Toronto, it was the largest junction of its kind in Canada.

Cooper was born in Toronto in 1920 to Toba and Abraham Cooper, who had arrived from Poland in 1912. Abraham Cooper made custom trousers for some of the best tailors in the city.

Sydney Cooper first displayed his athletic prowess at Harbord Collegiate, where he played quarterback on the senior football team.

Sydney Cooper (right)

He enrolled at the University of Toronto and studied pharmacy for two years, before switching to engineering, which was not a field that many young Jewish men entered at the time.

“In those days, there was very little information in Jewish circles about what engineering was, except that it was a place you did not want to be,” Cooper recalled for The CJN last fall.

He continued his athletic pursuits at the U of T, excelling in baseball and volleyball. He also boxed and played on the lacrosse team.

Florence, left, and Sydney Cooper.

(Cooper never lost his love of baseball. When his family sent him to the Toronto Blue Jays Fantasy Camp as a gift for his 74th birthday, he trained and came home with the Iron Man Award for stamina.)

At university, he became part of the Training Corps and joined the Royal Canadian Engineers Officer Training Centre in Petawawa, Ont.

When he graduated in 1945 in civil engineering, there was resistance from some employers. “In the big companies, like other areas of business, the doors were semi-closed to Jewish people,” Cooper once said, noting that “times have changed for the good.”

Times have changed for the good.
– Sydney Cooper

His first post with Pitts Construction took him on a three-year stint to St. Catharines, Ont., where he worked as the chief engineer on a power generation project. He was not yet 30.

It was there that he met his wife, Florence, who was living in Buffalo, N.Y. They wed in 1946 and later settled in Toronto. Florence died in 2016.

Cooper was appointed president of Pitts Construction in 1958 and, in 1963, he bought the company, just as work was beginning on Expo ’67 in Montreal, where the company was awarded several lucrative contracts.

Over the years, the Coopers were involved in a myriad of charitable activities. Florence Cooper was an active supporter of Baycrest and Mount Sinai hospitals, as well as UJA Federation of Greater Toronto.

Toba and Abraham Cooper, with their children Rolly, Sydney and Elsie.

Sydney Cooper, meanwhile, served as president of Technion Canada and raised money for a wing for the Herzog Hospital-Ezrath Nashim in Jerusalem and Beit Halochem, in support of disabled veterans in Israel.

At home, the family supported Sunnybrook, Mount Sinai, Toronto General, Baycrest and several other hospitals, as well as the University of Toronto and UJA Federation.

Cooper shared his engineering expertise as chair and co-chair on the construction committees of Mount Sinai Hospital, the Baycrest/Apotex Centre, Baycrest Hospital and the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.

Merging his love of sports with philanthropy, Cooper supported the establishment of the S.C. Cooper Sports Medicine Clinic at Mount Sinai Hospital, with his friend Dr. Ronald Taylor at the helm.

He was also an expert horseman and excelled at thoroughbred racing. The Coopers owned several winners over the years.

Cooper is survived by three children – Tobie Bekhor, Richard Cooper and Lynda Latner – his sister Fritz Reingold, 10 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.