An industrialist, philanthropist and collector, Sigmund Samuel helped advance the University of Toronto’s study of Canadian history and other world cultures by donating rare artifacts and books and supporting the construction of a new library.
In his autobiography, Sigmund Samuel pointed out that he was born the same year Canada became a country. Immensely proud of his homeland and its history, he began collecting Canadian paintings and art objects while living in England for a period of time.
Samuel was also dedicated to Toronto, his birthplace and the city where his family’s business, M & L Samuel, (today Samuel, Son & Co., Limited) started as a wholesale company and later flourished as an importer, manufacturer and distributor of steel and metal. Taking over this company at the age of just 21, he managed it until he passed away in 1962. He believed in the importance of showing gratitude to the community where he had earned his wealth, and generously supported Toronto Western Hospital, the University of Toronto and the Royal Ontario Museum, which was managed by U of T until 1968.
Passionate about expanding the ROM’s collections, he funded a building to house its Canadiana Gallery. He also acquired and donated numerous rare books to U of T. Most notably, he and a fellow collector purchased a private library from China, which made it possible for the University to start what is today called the Department of East Asian Studies. The Sigmund Samuel Scholarship in East Asian Studies commemorates his interest in developing this area at U of T.
Equally passionate about literature, one of Samuel’s most significant philanthropic achievements was building a new main library for the University. In 1951, U of T President Sidney Smith asked for his support and Samuel donated a quarter of the construction costs, which at the time was one of the largest gifts to capital at the University. Designed to connect to the existing 19th-century library, the Sigmund Samuel Library building has served thousands of U of T students and remains a tribute to his generosity to this day.