Glen Davis, 66, is seen last year at the Firth River, Yukon. The millionaire donor to wildlife causes was shot to death Friday at about 2 p.m. in a parking garage near Eglinton Ave. E. and Mount Pleasant Rd.
He cheated death twice, escaping a 1983 airplane fire, then a 2005 beating that police say may be linked to his slaying
Glen Davis was born into wealth, and until he survived a 1983 airplane fire that claimed 23 lives it seemed he was content to continue growing the $100 million empire his father left him.
But surviving that crash may have sparked a turnaround, prompting the Toronto businessman to begin a new focus on philanthropy, conservation and the environment, a life of giving cut short by a gunman’s bullet in a north Toronto parking garage Friday.
Toronto police are continuing the search for a suspect, but admit they have few leads apart from surveillance footage showing a man leaving the garage, near Eglinton Ave. E. and Mount Pleasant Rd., at about 2 p.m. Friday, about the same time Davis, 66, was killed.
The gunman – who police say may have deliberately targeted Davis – ended both Davis’s life and a remarkable record of giving millions of dollars to conservation and environmental causes including the World Wildlife Fund Canada and the Sierra Club.
Davis had cheated death twice before.
On June 2, 1983, he became one of just 18 survivors when a fire broke out in the bathroom of a Toronto-bound Air Canada jet, forcing an emergency landing at Greater Cincinnati Airport that claimed the lives of several fellow Canadians, including Toronto television magnate George Curtis Mathes Jr. and Hamilton-born folk star Stan Rogers.
Davis also survived a beating with a baseball bat in December 2005, when someone attacked him outside his Toronto office. His attacker took off in a van after witnesses intervened. Nothing was stolen during the attack and a suspect was never arrested, homicide Det. Wayne Fowler said yesterday. But police are investigating a possible connection between that beating and his death two years later.
Friends say the Air Canada fire may have given Davis a new focus.
It came four years after his father Nelson, 72, died of a heart attack while relaxing in the swimming pool of his winter home in Arizona, leaving his son a vast fortune.
Nelson M. Davis, a long-time friend and adviser of Conrad Black, amassed his fortune mainly from transportation and trucking interests. He was chair of Toronto-based holding company Argus and chair and president of N. M. Davis Corp. Ltd., which he left to his only child.
Davis carried on his father’s dealings full-time until about two years after his brush with death.
Friends say it may have been a combination of that life-changing experience and meeting Monte Hummel – current president of World Wildlife Fund – at that same time, that turned Davis to philanthropy.
“I’ve heard that story from several different people,” Stephen Hazell, executive director of Sierra Club of Canada said in an interview, adding Davis was “not a guy who sought the limelight” and didn’t speak about the 1983 incident to many people.
“I think Monte Hummel has played a great role in encouraging Glen in his philanthropy.”
Elizabeth May, a friend of Davis and leader of the Green Party of Canada, said yesterday that “about a third of his time he spent in wilderness trekking in remote locations, and about a third of his time was devoted to what business dealings he had that remained and about a third of his time was dedicated to philanthropy to a number of causes – primarily environmental causes, but also the Canadian women Olympic rowers.
“He largely took his father’s fortune and liquidated it in order to be a full-time philanthropist. He was an extraordinarily generous person,” May said. “Everybody is just devastated. The entire conservation movement in this country is going to be just devastated.”
“I think it’s fair comment to say he gives away millions of dollars a year,” Hazell said. “He’s been probably the greatest wilderness philanthropist in Canada over the past number of years, although not many people know about him.”
The conservation movement “was what spoke to him,” May said. “He liked nothing better than to be somewhere in the wilderness where there was no sign of humanity as far as the eye could see.”
In addition to countless charitable donations, Davis used his money to take friends on expeditions they’d otherwise be unable to afford, May said.
“He was not just a donor, but a friend, a very good friend to so many of us in the environmental movement. It just tears a hole in our hearts and the whole movement.”
Barry Artiste, a contributor to NowPublic.com news network, wrote on his blog Davis was “quiet, reserved and certainly not flashy, a semi-retired businessman who, if you passed on the streets of Toronto, you would not give a second look as you went about your day.”
Davis, he said, “preferred to stay silently in the background and work behind the scenes,” as he donated his millions.
Davis was pronounced dead in hospital after he was found collapsed on the bottom level of the two-level parking garage. He wasn’t next to his car when he was found, Fowler said.
“There were a number of people in that underground, coming and going, going to their cars,” yet no one reported hearing gunshots, Fowler said. “When we get into echoes and underground garages, it may sound totally different than a gunshot would normally sound,” he said.
“This is not a high crime area,” he pointed out. “Obviously there was a reason why Mr. Davis was selected versus someone else going to their car at that point in time.”
Research for a 2005 Toronto Star column revealed that there was only one fatal shooting in 15 years in a 3.5-kilometre radius around Mount Pleasant Rd. and Lawrence Ave.
The parking garage remained closed through yesterday as a forensics team examined the “extensive scene.”
Surveillance video images were released of a “person of interest” seen entering and leaving the garage by foot. The man, 25 to 30 years old, spent “a period of time” in the garage before leaving, Fowler said.
The man, standing about 5 foot 8, is seen wearing a black baseball cap in two of the images, as well as a blue sweater, waist-length dark hooded jacket, dark pants, and white shoes.
Davis leaves his wife Mary Alice. Anyone with information about his death is asked to call 416-808-7418 or Crime Stoppers anonymously at 416-222-8477. Or click http://www.222tips.