About William Gairdner

Headshot of William Gairdner

When William (Willy) Gairdner showed up for his first year at McGill University in the fall of 1959, he had dreams of training to make the 1964 Canadian Olympic Team in the Decathlon. But the coach laughed and told him he was "too small" for decathlon. So, abandoning the track coach, he trained himself: running, jumping, and throwing several hours per day, mostly outdoors, throughout a bitter Montreal winter.

Canada had no indoor tracks then. So he transferred to the warmth of the University of Colorado, and in 1963 won a silver medal in the decathlon at the Pan Am Games in Brazil. Then, right on schedule, he competed in the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo, where he set a new Commonwealth record ... in the Decathlon. After living in Japan for six months, he ended up at Stanford University in California, where he earned a PhD in English Literature, and along the way competed in the Commonwealth Games in 1966 in Jamaica, and again in 1970 in Edinburgh, in the 400 metre hurdles event.

Bill then taught at York University in Toronto for several years. But when his dad asked for help running the family business, he left teaching, and worked hard turning the business around. At the same time he chaired The Gairdner Foundation - a charity founded by his Grandfather devoted to the recognition of outstanding achievements in international biomedical science. Since 1959, 373 Awards have been bestowed on winners from 30 countries, and of those, 87 have gone on to win the Nobel Prize.

In 1988, Bill sold the business so that he could write books, for his not so secret passion was the world of ideas - especially moral and political ideas. Since then he has published many bestselling books. His first was The Trouble With Canada (Stoddart, 1990), an attack on Canada's creeping statism, which he says "caused a national uproar," sold over 60,000 copies, and hit #1 in Canada four months after release. This was followed by The War Against The Family (Stoddart, 1993), which was another blockbuster that sealed his reputation as a keen-eyed critic of social and moral breakdown of the West.

His recent works are Canada's Founding Debates (U of T Press, 2003, which has recently re-appeared in a special 150th "Anniversary" edition); The Book of Absolutes (McGill-Queen’s, 2008); The Trouble With Canada…Still! (BPS Books, 2011); and his latest - The Great Divide: Why Liberals and Conservatives Will Never, Ever Agree (Encounter Books, New York, 2015). Bill describes himself as a libertarian in economic matters, and a Burke-ian conservative in social matters. So it is no surprise that throughout his career as a writer he has been "a lightning rod for the left" appearing on hundreds of radio and TV shows to air his views and vigorously debate opponents in the name of "a free and ordered society." That is the theme of Civitas, "A Society Where Ideas Meet," that he founded in 1996 to draw conservative, libertarian, and classical-liberal thinkers together for annual discussion.

He has also kept pretty active as a keen cyclist and cross-country skier. He was the Founder of the Canadian as well as the World Masters Cross-country ski associations in the 1980s, and the latter continues to attract skiers from over 22 nations to its annual Masters World Cup.

Bill also has an interest in the arts, and has tried his hand at sculpting, watercolours, oil painting, and poetry - even pottery, for his mother was a keen potter ("much better than me" he quickly notes). Some results of his artistic efforts can be seen on this website.