Muriel Sprague Richardson
(1890 - 1973)
Muriel Sprague Richardson became the fifth president of James Richardson and Sons, Limited in 1939 following the sudden death of her husband, James A. Richardson. A teacher and administrator without formal business training, the mother of four relied on moral fortitude and knowledge accumulated as her late husband’s closest confidante to successfully lead the private, family-owned organization for the next 27 years. In doing so, Richardson became the first woman to lead a major Canadian corporation and subsequently, the first woman inducted into the Canadian Business Hall of Fame in 1981 (posthumously), earning her the distinction of “The First Lady in Canadian Business.”
During her tenure at JRSL, the Pioneer Grain network expanded to over 400 grain elevators, the investment division opened offices in 26 cities and the firm was further diversified by participation in pipelines, business forms and real estate. Richardson was among the earliest business leaders in Canada to demonstrate concern for company personnel by introducing a pension plan, group life insurance and other benefits. She also implemented the 25-year service award program in 1953, which has since recognized over 1,000 men and women who have achieved a quarter century of loyal service with the firm.
As one of the initiatives to mark the 100th anniversary of James Richardson and Sons, Limited in 1957, Richardson established the Richardson Century Fund. Originally mandated to provide books to school and university libraries across Canada, the entity eventually shifted to providing monetary donations to registered Canadian charities, and was renamed the Richardson Foundation in 2000.
Richardson often referenced the verse, “Unto whom much is given, much is also required,” and lived by those words. Her generosity extended to a wide range of artistic, educational, charitable and public service organizations, many of which also gained from her practical wisdom and good judgment. The Royal Winnipeg Ballet, the Winnipeg Art Gallery, the Winnipeg Children’s Hospital and Queen’s University all benefited from Richardson’s interest. She served on the board of trustees of Queen’s University from 1939 to 1966 and was honorary president of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet from 1949 to 1955. She was the first female Winnipeg Foundation Board member, serving with distinction from 1944 to 1962 and later breaking ground as its first female chair, a position held from 1955 to 1962.
Richardson was recognized on many occasions during her lifetime. She was awarded Honorary Doctor of Laws degrees from Queen’s University in 1951 and the University of Manitoba in 1958. She received the Golden Boy Award in 1961 and in 1970, Governor-General Roland Michener presented her with the Manitoba Centennial Medal.
Muriel Sprague Richardson retired from James Richardson and Sons, Limited in 1966, and died in Winnipeg seven years later. Many tributes poured in, honouring the far-reaching effect she had on the city and province.