For more than 20 years, Israel “Izzy” Asper was a strong voice for philanthropy, justice, and human rights. Born in Manitoba in 1932 to a musical family, Izzy went on to study at the University of Manitoba and later earned a law degree from the school. A man of many passions, Izzy was something of a child prodigy, excelling in debate teams, writing, and school. Izzy was especially known for his passionate love of Manitoba, refusing to leave his home province for Toronto, Ottawa, or Montreal, unlike many of his successful counterparts.
Izzy founded his law firm, Asper, Freedman & Col, in 1959, where he maintained a lifelong practice. Still looking to make a better world for future generations, he rose to lead the Manitoba Liberal Party for five years. As a citizen, Izzy was active in politics his entire life, a strong champion of justice and democracy.
Outside of politics and law, Izzy was a lifelong philanthropist. Never keeping his roots far away, he held a special passion for the arts and education. In addition to his many contributions to arts and education, Izzy donated millions of dollars to hospitals and medical research throughout his life, donating $5 million to the St. Boniface Hospital and Research Foundation in 2001 alone! Remarkably, Izzy believed that by donating such large sums to arts foundations, schools, and hospitals, he was merely repaying his fellow citizens. Izzy believed that by giving him the chance to succeed, society had given him a special duty to help other Canadians reach their potential. Asper had even been known to consider philanthropy his fourth child, giving one quarter of his lifetime wealth to helping others.
Stemming from Izzy’s desire to help others, the idea for the Canadian Museum of Human Rights (CMHR) was born in July 2000. For three years, he focused his energy on spearheading the creation of the CMHR. When Izzy passed away suddenly in 2003, his family, through the Asper Foundation, continued to fight to achieve his extraordinary dream. The Canadian Museum of Human Rights opened in 2014.
On Sept. 9, 2015, CIJA and the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg recognized the many contributions of the Asper family and the Asper Foundation to the economic and social well-being of Canada presenting them with the Words & Deeds Leadership Award.
Though he is no longer with us, Izzy Asper’s remarkable legacy will live on in perpetuity.