Harry B. Cohen

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Harry B. Cohen, CM, LLD (1912 – July 9, 1990), was a Canadian entrepreneur, community builder, philanthropist, and Member of the Order of Canada.[1] He was married to the late Martha Cohen (née Block) and is survived by their four children, Philip, Cheryl, Faye (Hersh), and David.


Born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Cohen came from a poor immigrant family, the son of Alexander and Rose (née Diamond) Cohen. He quit school at age 15 to help support them. Working as a doorman at a theater in Winnipeg, he obtained a job at Warner Bros. as a film inspector during the Great Depression. In 1932, he was transferred by Warner to Calgary, Alberta. Taking a liking to the city, he persuaded his entire family to move West in 1934. They arrived broke, and their arrival marked the beginning of an amazing success story. [2]

Harry's five brothers, John, Albert, Morley, Samuel, and Joseph, set up a small retail store and, by 1939, the family had scraped together enough monies to create General Distributors Ltd, a wholesale import firm. While his brothers went off to war, Harry, (disqualified from service because of stomach ulcers), attended to the family business while still working for Warner Bros. It is during this time that he met and married Martha Cohen.[3]

Sony and the Cohen Brothers[edit]

Cohen Brothers of Canada

By 1950, General Distributors sales amounted to $1 million. In the early 1950s, the company obtained exclusive Canadian rights for Paper Mate pens. Then, in 1955, Harry's brother Albert landed the Canadian distribution rights to Sony products. The Cohen brothers scattered across Canada in order to manage the national business, each brother establishing himself in a major city: Morley (Montreal), John (Toronto), Joe (Vancouver), Harry (Calgary), and both Sam and Albert setting up headquarters (Winnipeg).[4]

SAAN, Metropolitan, real estate, and the Cohen Brothers[edit]

The six brothers expanded into real estate and retailing. Over the years, they established several hundred SAAN Stores and Metropolitan junior department stores in all provinces of Canada. The explosive growth of the SAAN Stores chain was guided by Samuel N. Cohen while Metropolitan's expansion was overseen by Morley Cohen. At one point, it is said the Cohen brothers owned downtown real estate in almost every major Canadian city. By 1983, the company was a diversified Canadian conglomerate, renamed Gendis.

Energy interests[edit]

Under the guidance of Albert D. Cohen, the six brothers participated in various joint ventures and/or owned several minority interests in oil & gas exploration, development, and distribution. The companies included Tripet Resources; Chauvco Resources; Pioneer Natural Resources; Fort Chicago Energy Partners L.P.; and Tundra Oil & Gas.[5]


Harry B. Cohen was considered to be one of the major community builders/philanthropists in Calgary.

A few of his notable accomplishments include:

Volunteering for some 30 organizations (his favorite being Scouts Canada), Cohen was known for his generosity and warm spirit. His partner in philanthropy, his wife Martha, is best known for creating the Calgary Centre for the Performing Arts in the downtown area. Cohen donated one million dollars toward the facility in 1983 for her birthday and had a theater named after her.[8]

Harry and Martha Cohen Foundation[edit]

The Harry & Martha Cohen Foundation is a private family foundation which provides grants primarily to Calgary-based charities. In her role as executive director of the Foundation, Cheryl Cohen oversees all applications and grant decisions.[9]

Harry and Martha Cohen Award[edit]

In 1985, Harry and Martha's four children established an annual award for individuals making outstanding contributions to the Arts.[10]


Harry and Martha Cohen were the first couple to be named to the Order of Canada