Monday, July 5, 2010

The Great Stork Derby

Charles Vance Millar
Charles Vance Millar loved practical jokes. And the biggest prank he ever pulled came in the form of the will he left behind when he died in 1926.

To seven Protestant ministers who fought hard for prohibition, the rich Toronto financier left $700,000 in O'Keefe brewery stock. To some of Ontario's biggest opponents of horse racing, a $25,000 investment in the Ontario Jockey Club. To three local lawyers who absolutely despised each other, a shared vacation home in Jamaica. And, as a satirical comment on a conservative province where birth control was still very much illegal, the rest of his money—$750,000—was left to the woman who managed to produce the most offspring over the course of the next ten years.

So began the Great Stork Derby.

People were appalled. Millar's relatives were outraged. TIME worried that the prize might be won by "mental defectives". Or, worse, an immigrant. One legal challenge after another was mounted, but the will was airtight; each, in turn, was defeated in the courts.

In the weeks leading up to the deadline, the race heated up. Toronto's most fertile women started coming forward to make their claims. One was disqualified for having married an illegal Italian immigrant. Another because half of her ten children weren't her husband's. Others were ruled out because their children had died—at least one killed by rats.

In the end, the prize was split between four women who had given birth to nine children in ten years. Another two settled out of court for smaller amounts. Procreation went back to being the boring, ho-hum task it has always been...

At least, that is, until 1945, when the death of Thomas Foster—a former mayor with a familiar sense of humour—started the whole thing over again.

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