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Joseph D. Carrier Biography

Joseph D. Carrier was an Italian-Canadian business leader, real estate developer and philanthropist who’s generous contributions to the Columbus Centre led to the creation of the Joseph D. Carrier Art Gallery, a premier venue for world-class art in Toronto.

Born Giuseppe Domenic Carrier in 1910, Joseph Carrier immigrated to Toronto with his parents, Antonio and Cristalla, in 1912. The Carriers settled in downtown Toronto near what is Nathan Phillips Square today.

Carrier’s father was an art lover and shared that love with Carrier, showing him pictures torn from papers and magazines of the work of the great masters and painstakingly explaining the work and devotion that went into making the masterpieces.

As a young boy, Carrier would shine shoes and sell newspapers to help his family financially.

At the age of 14, Carrier left school and found work in a cobbler’s shop, becoming adept at making shoes. He was soon employed in a shoe factory where he became a master craftsman. While working in this shoe factory, Carrier became passionate about workers’ rights and became a union organizer before reaching his 20s. Shortly thereafter, he was named president of a local union with 4,000 members.

In 1937, Carrier’s married his wife Josephine and opened his own business, the J.D. Carrier Shoe Company. The company grew into a manufacturing empire, which, at its peak, included factories in Toronto, Brampton, Midland, Montreal, Buffalo and Florence, Italy, employing over 2,000.

While expanding his business, Carrier never forgot his passion for community work, helping the less fortunate and connecting Italian-Canadians with the resources they needed to thrive. He became a member of the Knights of Columbus and was active in the Columbus Boys Club, establishing a camp for underprivileged children during his time at the organization. Carrier also helped organize the Italian Immigrant Aid Society and the Canadian-Italian Business and Professional Association.

As part of his life-long involvement in the Italian-Canadian community in Toronto, Carrier was heavily involved with the creation of the Italian-Canadian Benevolent Corporation (now Villa Charities) and the establishment of the Villa Colombo Home for the Aged and the Columbus Centre.

Carrier always remembered the informal but impassioned art lessons given to him by his father and, as an art collector himself and a witness to the benefits that the flourishing Columbus Centre provided to the community, he decided to donate one million dollars to Villa Charities with the goal of creating an art gallery that could showcase exceptional Canadian and Italian art for generations to come.

Most of the million dollars went to the enlargement of the initial space as well as to the installation of additional elements that would make the space eligible for classification as a public gallery by the Ontario Association of Art Galleries.

The Joseph D. Carrier Art Gallery, officially opened in 1987, bears the name of the man who was instrumental in taking a dream and making it a reality. The 21,000 square foot Joseph D. Carrier Art Gallery welcomes 20,000 visitors annually and has been referred to as “Toronto’s mini-Guggenheim,” with its significant permanent collection of contemporary works of art.