Peter Munk’s storied life has itself been a global affair. Born into a Jewish family in Budapest 82 years ago, he fled the Nazis in 1944 and made his way to Canada by way of Switzerland. After an early stint as an impoverished tobacco-picker, Munk earned a degree in electrical engineering from U of T in 1952. His subsequent business career led him to the $40-million purchase of Barrick Gold in 1983; it is now the world’s largest producer of the precious metal, with a market capitalization of $35 billion.
Such wealth has enabled Munk to become what he calls a “focused philanthropist,” funding numerous causes that he ardently believes in. One of these is the school that bears his name. “I wanted to repay the U of T for taking me in as an immigrant student,” he says, speaking on the telephone (in true globalized fashion), from a yacht off the coast of Montenegro. “I spent five years there; when I arrived I hardly spoke the language, but I left as a total, absolute Canadian.”
Though he has lived and worked in Canada for many years, Munk never takes Canadian values for granted – he knows all too well that they are not universal. To his delight, however, “Canada is increasingly being held up as a prime example of a country that others should emulate,” he says proudly. “From freedom of the press, to our banking system, to policies on immigration, health care and education: for a whole bunch of reasons, Canada is now getting a chance to make its voice heard.”