Wednesday 30 May 2012

The Great Stork Derby

My daughter Jacqueline's favourite episode of The Flintstones involves Fred staying overnight at his late Uncle Giggles' haunted house in order to collect his inheritance.  He makes it through the night despite all of the scary incidences, but the next day it's revealed that his uncle really never died and was just playing a practical joke.

Charles Millar, a wealthy Toronto lawyer, was also a practical joker.  One of his favourite tricks was to drop a few dollar bills on the sidewalk, hide and then see the reaction on peoples' faces as they found them.  And like Uncle Giggles, he was childless.  He did not have any immediate descendants and therefore thought up some unique ways of dividing up his estate.  Upon his death, his will was read and it was revealed to have many "funny" clauses, including:

1.  Seven Protestant ministers, who were also temperance movement members, were given stock in the Catholic-owned O'Keefe Brewery.
2.  Three men who despised each other were given lifetime tenancy in his Jamaica vacation home.
3.  Three staunch anti-horse-racing advocates were given $25,000 each in an Ontario jockey club stock.

The tenth clause, however, proved to be the most interesting and controversial.  Mr. Millar's will read that he would give a chunk of his estate to the Toronto woman who gave birth to the most babies in the 10-year period following his death.  Little did the lawyer know that the Roaring Twenties would give way to the Dirty Thirties, a time when families were more desperate than ever financially.  Many Toronto women were more than willing to try:  the Great Stork Derby had begun. 

In the meantime, some Toronto lawyers, as well as some of Mr. Millar's relatives, tried to discredit the clause, battling it out in the Supreme Court of Canada.  However, the deceased lawyer had known the letter of the law and made sure he left no room for loopholes.  Even so, boundaries had to be drawn for the "baby race":  Where did Toronto begin and end?  Did illegitimate children count?  How about stillborn children?  Above all, many pointed out that the derby should be cancelled since it was immoral. 

Regardless, the Stork Derby went ahead as planned.  Toronto's maternity wards had more patients.  Its newspapers ran more birth announcements.  By 1937, four women won the Great Stork Derby, each having given birth to 9 children in the ten year period:  Annie Smith, Kathleen Nagle, Lucy Timleck and Isabel Maclean.  Homes and automobiles were purchased as well as education plans for their children with the winnings.

Note:  "The Great Stork Derby" was a made into a TV movie in 2002 starring Megan Follows.  For further information, read The Great Stork Derby by Mark M. Orkin.

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