Tuesday August 16, 2022

Liliane Stewart, who died on May 3 at age 85, gave over $100 million to Montreal causes.


By Alan Hustak for VMO
Tuesday, May 13th, 2022

A funeral Mass was celebrated Tuesday for the billionaire tobacco heiress who gave over $100 million to Montreal causes but became a Canadian citizen only in her last years.

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Liliane M. Stewart died May 3 at age 85. She lived in Montreal for 47 years under American citizenship. She took Canada’s citizenship oath in 2006. A year later, she became an Officer of the Order of Canada. Her funeral was held at Notre Dame Basilica.

Mrs. Stewart endowed and supported several Montreal museums, including the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the Château Ramezay, the Stewart Museum on Île Sainte-Hélène, and as well as a number of hospitals including the Hotel Dieu. She was an intensely private, sometimes difficult woman, who carried on and expanded her husband’s philanthropy.

Mrs. Stewart refused to talk about herself or answer personal questions.  Once, when asked to furnish biographical material to a journalist, she declined.

“Me, I am me,” she said. “That’s all you need to know.  I am a very private person.”

She was, in fact Liliane Spengler, one of two daughters in a Czech engineer’s family. Her mother was Italian.  She was born in Cairo, Sept. 2, 1928.  
Her formative years were spent with her sister in Egypt where they were educated in French.

‘It was paradise,” she confided. “We had the best opera, the best French theatre, and the museums, they were filled with Egyptian history.”  

Mrs. Stewart was fluent in six languages: Arabic, French, Italian, Spanish, Czech and English.  In 1954, she married a New York import dealer, Bob Rubin.

She was 38 years old when their daughter, Roberta, was born.  

Bob Rubin was killed in a car accident shortly afterwards and she went to work to support her family.  

In 1967, she married David M. Stewart, the Montreal tobacco magnate who had five children of his own and had been one of her husband’s clients.  In 1973, Mr. Stewart sold the tobacco company for $70-million and created the Macdonald Stewart Foundation. Liliane Stewart became the Foundation’s vice-president.

“They were a perfect complement to each other,” said Bruce Bolton, executive director of the Macdonald Stewart Foundation, “He was the macro manager. She was the micro manager. She was the artist.  She was exposed to and appreciated quality. He was the dreamer.”

Initially, the Foundation bought the historic Forget mansion, a Victorian mansion on Sherbrooke St. in the city’s Square Mile. They restored it and opened the Musée des Arts Decoratifs de Montréal in the Château Dufresne, then bought and restored the Manoir Jacques Cartier in St. Malo, France. It also supported the Château Ramezay Museum and made substantial contributions to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and other cultural, medical and educational institutions, especially Macdonald College where Mrs. Stewart was took an interest in youthful endeavours.

After David M. Stewart died in 1984, Mrs. Stewart became Foundation president, sat on the boards of four museums, and under her direction donated more than $100-million to various societies, associations and museums.

“Another page of Montreal’s history has been turned,” said Guy Ducharme, the director of public affairs of the Macdonald Stewart Foundation.  “Few people have contributed as much to this city as she did.  She was one of those people who believed, like her late husband David, that if she didn’t do it herself, things wouldn’t ever get done.

“When she was challenged, she was always right. She was the artist who understood quality, and she was the one who made her husband the man of the world that he became.”

During the 1980s, Stewart was embroiled in a nasty public family feud when her late stepdaughter, Victoria, an employee of the Stewart Museum for several years, claimed that her father’s trust was being mismanaged.  A decade later, Victoria Stewart was let go. In 1999, Liliane Stewart donated her decorative arts collection, worth an estimated $15 million, to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. In recognition of the gift, one of the wings of the museum was renamed the Liliane and David M. Stewart Pavilion in 2001.  

She was a marksman, a keen supporter and Life Governor of the Dominion of Canada Rifle Association, which opposed gun control.
“There are things you can do with a gun that are not deadly,” she explained.  

Mrs. Stewart was appointed Honorary Colonel of the Queen’s York Rangers in 1984, and was honorary colonel of the Compagnie franche de la marine and the Old 78th Fraser Highlanders.

She served on McGill University’s Board of Governors, and was awarded the French government’s highest cultural order when she was made an Officier des Arts et des Lettres in 1988 and invested as Officier de l’Ordre national du Québec in 1989.

Until recently, she travelled extensively, making three or four trips each year to Europe.

Her only daughter from her first marriage, Roberta, died in 1983.



  • Montreal
  • Obituary
  • Liliane Stewart
  • David Stewart
  • MacDonald Stewart Foundation

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