Eric Harvie, Orillian and Philanthropist

Some Orillians have settled successfully in other parts of Canada.  For decades, Calgary, Alberta, has been a draw to generations seeking to make their way in the world.

Eric Lafferty Harvie was the most successful Orillians ever to make his way in Alberta. Because of land deals associated with petroleum, Eric Harvie became a wealthy philanthropist to arts organizations. His passions were the arts and collecting history related artifacts. He is reported to have said he wanted to die broke.

Eric Harvie was born in Orillia, Ontario, on April 2, 1892, the fourth of five children. He was the son of a dentist and the grandson of an early settler.

He first went to Calgary in 1905 with his mother to visit her siblings.  He fell in love with the open spaces and the mountains. In 1911, he moved to Calgary, where he studied law, articling in a local law office.

Harvie graduated with his law degree from University of Alberta in May 1915. However, his graduation ceremony took place while he was on his way to Europe with the 56th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

He was wounded on Oct. 8, 1916, at Regina Trench during the Battle of the Ancre Heights on the Somme.  After evacuation from the Somme, Harvie recuperated in England, then in Canada from February 1917.  During this time, he met his future wife.  Harvie married Dorothy Jean Southam, one of newspaper publisher William Southam’s grandchildren, in Montreal, Sept. 29, 1919. They returned to Calgary.

He started a law practice in 1935, then retired from law in 1949.  Why?

Harvie had acquired mineral rights to enormous tracts of land near Edmonton.  It is said that he acquired these rights in lieu of legal fees from a client.  Imperial Oil made petroleum discoveries on Harvie’s leases at Leduc in 1947 and at Redwater in 1948. He sold his company “Western Leaseholds” around this time for an additional 20 million dollars.

Because of these oil strikes, Harvie had become one of the wealthiest people in Canada.

Much of the vast Harvie fortune has been donated to developing cultural amenities of Calgary and Banff.  “The recorded history of western Canada simply wouldn’t be the same today without Eric Harvie and the Glenbow,” states the website of The Glenbow Foundation, referring to the wonderful Glenbow Museum in Calgary.

Harvie had always collected art and artifacts, and was keenly interested in history. He had helped his friend, Norman Luxton to form ‘The Luxton Museum’ in Banff. It was a valuable learning experience for founding The Glenbow Museum.

In 1954, Harvie established the Glenbow Foundation, named for his home, Glenbow Ranch, acquired in 1934, between Calgary and Cochrane. 

Harvie hired scouts to source historical Western art and artifacts for the Glenbow Foundation.  Calgary lore has it that every space in Harvie’s home was filled with his art and artifact collections before Glenbow Museum was established.  He was said to bring artefacts in through the basement windows, so as not to alert his wife.  His personal collection was donated to the Glenbow Museum in ’66.

Harvie contributed to the creation of Heritage Park, which opened in 1964.  He also assisted the Calgary Zoo, and The Banff Centre, where he funded building the Eric Harvie Theatre.  Latterly, the theatre has been renamed in honour of Jenny Belzberg, through a large cash infusion, by agreement with the Harvie family.

In 2007, Glenbow Ranch, once the home of Eric Harvie and family, became Glenbow Ranch Park, running mainly on the north side of the Bow River from Calgary to Cochrane.  Preserving the ranch land from development was the goal, when Eric Harvie’s grandchildren sold the land below market value to the Province of Alberta, ensuring it would be there for all to enjoy and honouring their grandparents’ wishes.  Grandson, Tim Harvie, a farmer and conservationist, is on the board of the Glenbow Ranch Park Foundation.

The Devonian Foundation was formed in 1977 when Harvie’s son, Donald, took over The Harvie Foundation, and other family entities.  It has funded arts and community projects in Alberta and across Canada.  The Devonian Garden, the indoor botanical garden in a block of downtown Calgary, was created at this time.

‘Devonian’ is an apt name.  The Devonian geological period was necessary to the creation of geological strata within the earth.  This geology is the source of oil and gas within the fields at Leduc and Redwater.  Recovery of resources there made Eric Harvie into one of the most successful Orillians to move to Alberta, a wealthy philanthropist who gave his money away to good causes.


Thank you to:

Janet Houston, History Committee Member