Third governor of the Bank of Canada
Finance expert and the third governor of the Bank of Canada, Louis Rasminsky was born in Montreal on February 1, 1908. His father’s family’s roots were in Poland and his mother came from a prominent Jewish family in St. Catharines, Ontario. As a young man, Rasminsky was a committed Zionist and involved with Young Judaea.
The family moved to Toronto, and Rasminsky graduated from Harbord Collegiate Institute in 1925. He continued his studies, earning a BA in economics from the University of Toronto, where he was active in Jewish life on campus. In 1928, Rasminsky completed a post-graduate fellowship in political science at the London School of Economics. From 1930 to 1939, he was a member of the financial secretariat of the League of Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, where he became the league’s leading expert on financial issues and where he began to establish his reputation as one of the world’s leading authorities on financial, economic and trade matters.
Rasminsky joined the Bank of Canada in 1940. He organized the research and statistical section of Canada’s Foreign Exchange Control Board, played a key role at the 1944 Bretton Woods Conference, and helped shape the consensus that gave birth to Canada’s post-war system of international finance and trade.
In 1955, Rasminsky was passed over for the position of governor of the Bank of Canada, a decision that reflected anti-Semitism in the civil service and banking sector of the day. Nevertheless, he continued to hold important positions at the bank and was appointed deputy governor in 1955. In 1961, prime minister John Diefenbaker appointed him governor of the Bank of Canada, a position Rasminsky held until his retirement in 1973.
During his tenure with the Bank of Canada, Rasminsky served as Canada’s executive director at the International Monetary Fund from 1946 to 1962. He was also executive director at the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development from 1950 to 1962. He held positions on many committees and delegations concerning financial, economic and trade matters, and served as chair of the International Development Research Corporation.
Rasminsky received an honorary doctorate from the University of Toronto in 1953 and was made an honorary fellow of the London School of Economics in 1959. In 1968, Rasminsky was made a companion of the Order of the Canada. That same year, he received the Outstanding Achievement Award, the highest honour in the Public Service of Canada, and he became the first Canadian to receive an honorary degree from Yeshiva University in New York City.
After years of working in the public service, Rasminsky created the Louis Rasminsky Endowment Fund, which grew out of his desire to improve the world. Proceeds from his fund went to Ben-Gurion University in Beer Sheva, Israel, and enabled the university to extend its outreach programs in the community, particularly to poor communities in the region that had emigrated from North African and Arab countries in the 1950s and 1960s.
Rasminsky was the first Jew to head the Bank of Canada. His appointment by Diefenbaker signaled a breakthrough in the acceptance of minority groups in leadership roles within Canadian society.
Rasminsky died in Ottawa on September 15, 1998 at age 90. He is survived by a daughter, Lola Rasminsky, founder of the Avenue Road Arts School in Toronto, and Michael Rasminsky, a neurologist in Montreal.
Throughout 2017, in celebration of Canada’s sesquicentennial, the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin is publishing a series of profiles spotlighting the contributions of historically important Jewish Canadians to our country. Previously in the series: