William Shurniak was presented with the Meritorious Service Medal (Civil Division) from His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston (right), former Governor General, at a ceremony in Rideau Hall in Ottawa on June 23, 2017. (Photo courtesy of Sgt. Johanie Maheu, Rideau Hall)

Remembering a USask supporter, successful financier and art aficionado

From small-town roots to the world of international banking, William Shurniak became a prominent successful business executive who was also passionate about art and never forgot his Saskatchewan roots.

By University Communications

Throughout his global business travels, Shurniak amassed a truly unique private art collection, including works from the influential Group of Seven artists, and built the impressive Shurniak Art Gallery in Assiniboia in southern Saskatchewan. Shurniak, who passed away on August 8, has also been a supporter of the University of Saskatchewan (USask), which will assist family members in sharing stewardship of the collection in the coming months.

“Mr. Shurniak was visionary in all that he did: Detail oriented but always aware of just where everything fit in his much bigger picture,” said jake moore, head of University Art Galleries and Art Collection. “The same attributes that drove his luminary success in business fed his collecting practice. He assembled art and objects from all over the world as well as key Canadian and Saskatchewan works into his namesake gallery in Assiniboia.

“From its inception, the University of Saskatchewan has shared in the governance of Shurniak Gallery. Now that Bill has passed, we enter into an even deeper relationship of stewardship of this legacy. Art will continue to connect us and serve as the underpinning of a very strong Saskatchewan cultural legacy. He always brought everything home. ”

Shurniak, who was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws at USask in 1998, has been a strong supporter of USask students through the
Shurniak Memorial Scholarship Fund that he established in 1999, and has also provided financial awards to USask music students through the Shurniak Concerto Competition held every second year.

Among his major awards, Shurniak received the Saskatchewan Centennial Medal from the Lieutenant Governor in 2005, Saskatchewan Order of Merit in 2009, Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012, and awarded the prestigious Meritorious Service Medal by the Governor General of Canada in 2016.

Born on the family farm in Limerick, Sask., in 1931 in the Dust Bowl era of the Dirty Thirties, Shurniak joined the Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) out of high school, starting out as a junior clerk, soon distinguishing himself with his born-in-Saskatchewan work ethic. He would go on to spend the next 35 years in advancing roles, working throughout Canada and internationally in Jamaica and Hong Kong.

Shurniak later returned to Hong Kong to join the Li Ka-shing group of companies, later working with gas and power companies based in Australia and the United Kingdom, and at the time of his passing was serving as Deputy Chairman of the Calgary-based Husky Energy Inc.

In 2019, he reached a major milestone of 70 years of working in the world of finance, a truly Made-in-Saskatchewan success story.