Manitoba Historical Society
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Memorable Manitobans: John Derek Riley (1922-2018)

Businessman, athlete, community activist.

Born at Winnipeg on 1 July 1922, son of Jean Isabel Culver (1883-1965) and Conrad Stephenson Riley, he attended a one-room school, Grosvenor School, Robert H. Smith School, Gordon Bell High School and St. John’s Ravenscourt School. In 1939, he enrolled in the Commerce program at the University of Manitoba, interrupting his studies to serve in the Royal Canadian Navy aboard a destroyer accompanying merchant ships plying between Newfoundland and Ireland. Appointed to the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm, he spent the remainder of the Second World War in Trinidad and England. During a service leave, he married Helena Day “Polly” Harris (?-2007) and they eventually had four children.

Returning to Winnipeg after the war, he joined the Winnipeg Rowing Club and trained as a competitive oarsman. Over the years he competed in numerous events and won regattas regionally and nationally. In 1952, he teamed up to win the Canadian Olympic trials in doubles and represented Canada at the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki, Finland. He went on to win several more titles including a World Masters championship in 1985. He chaired the rowing venue of the 1967 Pan Am Games in Winnipeg, and served as President of the Winnipeg Squash Racquet Club (1951-1952), Winnipeg Rowing Club, and Winnipeg Winter Club. He was inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame (2009).

After completing his university studies, he worked as an accountant and auditor at Peat, Marwick, Mitchell & Company then as a member of the Fur Trade Division of the Hudson’s Bay Company, eventually becoming its Chief Financial Officer. He left the HBC after purchasing Dominion Bronze and Iron Limited, operating it until 1971. He served on the boards of Royal Trust, Molson, Indal, North Portage Development, Federal Industries, Inter City Gas, Vision Capital, and Manitoba Forest Products. He was the Chairman of Balmoral Hall School. In 1987, he became founding Chairman of the North West Company, playing a leading role in the acquisition of the HBC Northern Stores.

In recognition of his community service, he was inducted into the Order of Canada (2014) and he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Manitoba (2017).

He died at Winnipeg on 6 May 2018.

See also:

Historic Sites of Manitoba: Hunt House (43 Middle Gate, Winnipeg)


Obituary, Winnipeg Free Press, 11 May 2018.

This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.

Page revised: 26 December 2021

Memorable Manitobans

Memorable Manitobans

This is a collection of noteworthy Manitobans from the past, compiled by the Manitoba Historical Society. We acknowledge that the collection contains both reputable and disreputable people. All are worth remembering as a lesson to future generations.

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