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The Millionaire that pranked Canada from beyond the grave

Hey, welcome to House of History. Today I’m going to tell you about Charles Vance Millar, who definitely is one of the most colourful characters in Canada’s history, but only truly managed to rise to fame, or perhaps infamy, after his death. During Millar’s lifetime, he already made a name for himself. He was a Canadian corporation lawyer and financier and for that time he amassed a considerable fortune. He was part-owner of the O’Keefe Brewery, acquired BC Express Company, gained the government mail delivery contracts in Northern British Columbia and he was an avid fan of horse-racing, owning several horses himself. All in all, he was a rather successful man. Now, during his lifetime, Millar’s became known as quite the practical joker, and he was notorious for connecting his humorous jokes to the price of people’s ethics. Some anecdotes state that he would often leave money on the sidewalk and enjoy to see people rush and pick it up, and other small innocent pranks like that.

Charles Vance Millar

But his final prank was undoubtedly his greatest. In order for it to be successful, he required quite a bit of patience, and he wouldn’t even be there to enjoy the end results. Honestly, I believe Millar’s elaborately planned prank easily make him one of the greatest pranksters of history. So what did he do? Well, on the 7th of June 1921 at the age of 68 he wrote his will. After a poor relationship as a young man, he never married and he didn’t have children. His parents had passed away long before him and as such he probably figured he could play a prank with the businesses and capital he would leave after he passes. In his will, Millar bequeathed his entire estate, but it would take five more years for anyone to find out to whom, and on what conditions.

Millar died of a heart attack on the 31st of October 1926, at the age of 73. The will was filed with Ontario’s Surrogate’s Court, and the opening passage revealed the general tendency of the entire inheritance:

“This will is necessarily uncommon and capricious because I have no dependants or near relations and no duty rests upon me to leave any property at my death, and what I do leave is proof of my folly in gathering and retaining more than I required in my lifetime”.

Alright, so there were 4 bequests that were humorous in the short term and one that I’ll leave for last, that basically rocked the entire province of Ontario and Canada as a whole for an entire decade. 

Part of Millars will

To begin with, Millar owned a vacation home on the island of Jamaica. As a lawyer, over the years he met several other lawyers that he knew detested each other. In his will, Millar bequeathed his Jamaica holiday home to all three lawyers who shared joint lifetime tenancy. After their deaths, the property would be sold and the proceeds would be distributed among the poor of the city. But until that moment these three lawyers now were joint owners of a holiday home. During his lifetime Millar had already sold his home and as such we’ll never find out how this would have went on.

The next bequest was about his shares of the O’Keefe brewery stock. He gave each practising Protestant minister and every Orange Lodge member, an international Protestant fraternity, in Toronto a share, but only if they participated in its management and drew on its dividends. Now, that shouldn’t be a problem, should it? Thing is, the O’Keefe brewery was a Catholic business. But that’s not all, it was Protestant ministers that led the Temperance movement, a movement that propagates the abstinence from alcohol. A practical problem within the company’s structure prevented the legates from receiving their money initially, until the brewery was sold for 1.35 million dollars in 1928. Every protestant minister and Orange Lodger that accepted the bequest ended up receiving 56 dollars and 38 cents. 

As for his very valuable stocks of the Ontario Jockey Club, the horseracing track, Millar bequeathed these to two very vocal opponents of horse racing, William Raney and reverend Samuel Chown. These men were known as moral pillars of the community. A third man who hated the Ontario Jockey Club, Abe Orpen, received shares as well. Orpen owned several horse-racing tracks in Canada and due to his shady reputation was not allowed to become a member of this Jockey Club, his competitor. He thus received a share of his most important rival. But there was a catch: all three men had to become shareholders within three years. Contrary to most reports only Orpen accepted his share, once again proving Millar’s notion that some men’s morals have their price. Still, Raney and Chown’s shares were supposedly given to charity.

Lastly Millar left one stock of the Kenilworth Jockey Club to each practising ministers of three towns close to Ontario. Obviously accepting the stocks would go against a certain moral conviction for these ministers, and there was quite a public struggle on whether they would accept the stock or not. Thing is, the Kenilworth Jockey Club wasn’t publicly traded, and after the embarrassing public struggle it turned out the share was worth around half a cent. 

But although these clauses were funny in itself and caused a public uproar, it was clause 9 that really did the trick and dominated the news for a long time to come. Basically, Millar left the rest of his estate to the mother that would be able to give birth to the most children in the ten years following his death. As such, the Great Stork Derby began. Clause 9 read: 

All the rest and residue of my property wheresoever situate I give, devise and bequeath unto my Executors and Trustees named below in Trust to convert into money as they deem advisable and invest all the money until the expiration of nine years from my death and then call in and convert it all into money and at the expiration of ten years from my death to give it and its accumulations to the Mother who has since my death given birth in Toronto to the greatest number of children as shown by the Registrations under the Vital Statistics Act. If one or more mothers have equal highest number of registrations under the said Act to divide the said moneys and accumulations equally between them.

In short: the woman in Toronto that would in the ten years after Millar’s death have the most babies would receive the remainder of Millar’s estate. Right, so some other things were set in motion during these ten years that Millar could not have known about. For one, the great depression from 1929 led to a massive unemployment wave in Canada. Jobs were very scarce and families often were fully unemployed: around a quarter and a third of all working-age Canadians were out of work in 1933. As such, by 1929 some families started to seriously consider the Great Stork Derby as an only viable way to survive and have any income. 

The thing is, due to a fortunate sequence of events the value of Millar’s left-over estate increased significantly. He had made some long-term investments, for example, in the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel. He invested 2 dollars, but his share would be worth over 100.000 dollars by the time the Stork derby was over. His entire estate was valued at around 750.000 dollars by the time the derby was over. Considering the minimum wage was 12 dollar 50 for a 60-hour workweek, even a fraction of Millar’s estate could lift many families out of poverty.

Throughout the years, several mothers that were ‘competing’ became famous in Canada and the Derby itself became famous around the world. Though many women that were in the race didn’t necessarily have their children because of it, and would probably have had large families if it wasn’t for the derby either. Anyway, after a decade of a media spectacle, the Great Depression and an ever-increasing estate, by 1936 the results were in.

Four women eventually tied “first place” with nine babies each. All four received 125.000 dollars each. In the aftermath of the great depression, this windfall obviously was lifechanging. Two other women were awarded 12500 dollars after a court battle. One of them had an uncertain claim because of two stillborn children when Millar’s will expressly stated ‘live children’. A very sad and grim twist to an otherwise funny and curious event. The other woman simply cheated on her husband and bore several illegitimate children.

All in all, Charles Vance Millar ended up indirectly fathering 36 children, and another 16 of the two women with disqualified claims. Not bad for someone that never had any children himself. According to a news article, the four families that won the fortune spent it in a very responsible manner. They bought a home and a car and provided a proper education for their children. As for Millar, 10 years after his death and during the worst economic crisis in history, he managed to improve the lives of six families with his final and incredibly sensational practical joke.

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The Last Missing Japanese Soldier to be found after World War 2

Welcome to House of History. Today I want to talk about one of the longest missing, presumed dead, Japanese soldiers that turned up alive. Now the aftermath of the Second World War was incredibly chaotic and missing Japanese soldiers that turned up years later weren’t that rare initially. One of the most curious cases must have been that of Hiroo Onoda, one of the last Japanese soldiers to surrender after the Second World War. He held out for close to another 30 years after the war ended and astonished the world by emerging in 1974, still wearing the uniform he wore during the war. If you haven’t heard of him, don’t worry: I’ll link my video about him in the description.

Ishinosuke Uwano

But today I want to talk about another bizarre case, one that arguably is more bizarre than Onoda’s case. Ishinosuke Uwano was last seen by his family when he went off to fight in the Second World War. Uwano was drafted to the Imperial Japanese Army as a teenager and in 1943 he was sent to Sakhalin Island, to the north of Japan. The northern part was occupied by the Soviets, with the Japanese on the south. When in august 1945 the Soviet Union declared war on Japan, they rapidly invaded and seized the remaining half of the island. All Japanese soldiers that surrendered were forced into a prisoner of war camps, frequently spending decades in these gulags.

And as for Uwano, well, after the Second World War ended, he didn’t come home. Now, it wasn’t rare for the Soviet Union to send captured Japanese off to labour camps which was assumed had happened to him. And Uwano wasn’t a rare case of a missing soldier either; there were thousands of Japanese that were either left stranded on islands in the pacific, perished in gulags or were never found again and probably killed in action. The last part did not happen to Uwano for sure because the last confirmed sighting of him was on the Sakhalin island in 1958. Other sources state that year was the last time he had been in touch with his family. Either way: it was certain he was alive by 1958. One theory goes that once he found himself behind enemy lines on the island, he tried to survive in the wilderness of Sakhalin. After realising Japan had lost the war he must have surrendered himself to the Soviet Union. Even today the Sakhalin island remains Russian territory, so it isn’t too odd for Uwano to surrender himself after realising there would be no Japanese counter-offensive.

Uwano during the Second World War, ca. 1943

Now it is certain Uwano was put in a forced labour camp for several years, if not decades after the war. But it is blurry what exactly happened after 1945 and after 1958. What is certain is that in 1965 Uwano somehow ended up in Ukraine, probably after he was allowed to resettle by the former Soviet government. He moved to Zhytomyr, a city in central Ukraine. Over there, he married a local woman and raised three children, living his life closed-off from his past for multiple decades. Considering the last sighting was in 1958, his family tried their best to locate him in the following decades, but without any success. In 2000 they gave up hope of ever finding him alive, assuming he probably perished in a forced labour camp. Even the Japanese health ministry, which was tasked with finding missing overseas veterans, said they believed Uwano had died. So imagine the surprise when the Japanese embassy in Ukraine contacted them in 2006 saying that Uwano came to them and asked them to locate his surviving family in Japan.

So why didn’t he reach out to them earlier? According to Uwano, the Soviet government prevented him from contacting his family and considering the circumstances that is very likely. The Soviet Union was notorious for being secretive. Since Uwano seems to have been both captured and moved to Ukraine at the height of the Cold War, it is understandable the Soviet Union didn’t feel like informing the Japanese government, let alone Uwano’s family. When the Japanese embassy of Ukraine reached out to the family, the Japanese government prepared for Uwano to come over to Japan. It finally happened in 2006, when Uwano was 83 years old, as he arrived at Tokyo airport to meet his family he hadn’t seen in over 60 years. His Japanese was rusty, which is understandable, after all, he hadn’t spoken Japanese in 6 decades. Because he was declared legally dead in 2000, he could only visit Japan as a Ukrainian tourist instead of an actual citizen, something the Japanese government promised to resolve. 

I wish I could tell you more about Uwano, but literally all sources are of his visit from 2006, which lasted for 9 days. I don’t think there has been an English news-outlet that has done a follow-up article. It is curious, because even today, 14 years later, Uwano is still alive. He is currently 97 years old and although the Japanese government said that they would try to give him back his Japanese citizenship, I assume he is still living in Ukraine. 

Although Uwano is the last missing Japanese soldier to turn up, the year previous to his discovery there was another fascinating case. In 2005 a media-craze erupted about supposedly missing Japanese soldiers. On the island of Mindanao two men, Yashio Yamawa who was  87 years old and Tsuzuki Nakauchi, who was 85 years old, claimed they had been Japanese soldiers during the second world war. It seems these men knew the war was over but decided to remain on the island to start a new life. Not quite for any easy reasons though: according to the men they had stayed on the island for 60 years because they feared returning home. It was because of their fear of being court-martialed for getting lost from their division during the fighting. Now, if you’re interested in Hidoo Orona, the soldier that emerged from the jungle in 1974 to surrender his weapons finally, then make sure you watch that video after this one. I’ll link it here.