McCall McBain

Mr. John McCall MacBain (BA ‘80) was in Montreal recently for the launch of Campaign McGill, where it was announced that he and his wife Marcy had donated $5 million to fund graduate fellowships in the Faculty of Arts. We sat down with Mr. McCall MacBain and his son Charles, to discuss the past, present and future of his relationship with the Faculty of Arts at McGill University.


He has been called the King of Classifieds, but these days John McCall MacBain is turning the pages on a new endeavor. For almost two decades, the Canadian entrepreneur from Niagara Falls, Ontario built a classified publications empire, operating with 350 titles and 50 Internet sites in 23 countries and leading positions in Canada, Spain, Russia, Australia, France, Italy, China, Hungary and Argentina. But last June, Mr. McCall MacBain, 49, sold Trader Classified Media to Montreal-based Yellow Pages Group Co., leaving him and his wife Marcy to turn their attention to an equally ambitious project: philanthropy.

As Mr. McCall MacBain states matter-of-factly, it all stems from a desire to “give back to those who need it more.”

The McCall MacBain Foundation is an organization based in Geneva, where the couple and their four children currently reside, that focuses primarily on health and education in sub-Saharan Africa, climate change and social enterprise. The Foundation also dedicates a generous portion to post-secondary education outside Africa, which is how McGill University entered the picture.

Mr. McCall MacBain received an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics from McGill, where he served as President of the McGill Students’ Society. After being named Valedictorian of his graduating McGill class, Mr. McCall MacBain went on to attend Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar and earned an MBA from Harvard Business School.

“It was a difficult time here in ’77,” recalls Mr. McCall MacBain, of the year he arrived to Montreal. “I think I was the only person from my hometown who came to McGill.” While most of his high school classmates chose to attend the University of Toronto or Queen’s, he says he was swayed by McGill’s world-class reputation and a desire to improve his French.

“I’m also a bit contrarian, I wanted to go somewhere different,” he adds with a smile. It didn’t take long for Mr. McCall MacBain to integrate into student life, first by becoming a volunteer for Welcome Week, then head of Winter Carnival and before long, the president of the McGill Students’ Society.

“There’s lots of comeraderie among the international students and those from the rest of Canada, which makes McGill so unique,” he explains. “You are forced to make new friends.”

Some of those new friendships are made after graduation, as was the case with fellow Arts alum Donald Johnson (BCL'58, BA'60, LLD'03) former Canadian Justice Minister and retired Secretary-General of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an international organization that supports sustainable economic growth, boosts employment, raises living standards and assists the economic development in more than 100 countries around the globe. Johnson has been working as an advisor to the Foundation and as Mr. McCall MacBain states matter-of-factly “helping us make sure we do the right thing.”

And the right thing, according to Mr. McCall MacBain and his wife Marcy, was making a $5 million gift, their largest donation yet, to his and Johnson’s alma mater, to create graduate fellowships in the Faculty of Arts. Principal and Vice-Chancellor Heather Munroe-Blum announced the gift at the launch of Campaign McGill, the most ambitious fundraising campaign in the University’s history.

“Graduate students are at the heart of university research and teaching, and have been behind many of the most important discoveries of our time,” said Prof. Munroe-Blum. “This gift will have a major impact on our ability to compete successfully for the world’s best graduate students, and to attract more superbly talented young researchers to Montreal.”

Returning to Montreal for the launch of the Campaign, Mr. McCall MacBain was happy to show his son Charles, who is considering a BA in History at McGill, where he spent his formative years.

“My father never gave me advice, he just said ‘never become a lawyer,’” laughs Mr. McCall MacBain, whose father was a lawyer. “Charles has the opportunity to go to McGill now and the more McGill can get students from outside Montreal, the better.”