J. P. Bickell's immense contribution to the fortunes of the professional hockey in Toronto was never accompanied by fanfare. His successful career in business benefited the St. Pats/Maple Leafs as well as a host of worthy causes. Since he shunned the spotlight, Bickell was not a well recognized face but his great deeds touched millions of people.
The Toronto native was highly successful as an industrialist, mining executive and financier. He was steadfast in his belief that the development of Canada's mineral resources would be a catalyst to enormous economic growth. At the age of 23 he started his own brokerage firm and later managed the McIntyre-Porcupine mine making it one of the greatest producers in North America.
Bickell became involved with hockey through his business association with Charlie Querrie, a managing director or the Toronto St. Pats. He invested $25,000 to help solidify the team and functioned as a silent partner. When the team was purchased by the newly-formed Maple Leaf hockey club in 1927, Conn Smythe convinced Bickell to transfer his financial and personal support to the new enterprise.
Maple Leaf Gardens was constructed over a five-month period in 1931 during the depths of the Great Depression. It was a daring move on the part of Conn Smythe and its ultimate completion owed much to the J.P. Bickell's involvement. The project might have failed if not for his tireless commitment while calling in as many financial favours as possible.
Smythe appointed his loyal friend as the first president, then chairman of the Board of Maple Leaf Gardens. Bickell ensured that the Gardens remained on solid financial ground by enlisting consulting a reliable banker by the name of George Cottrelle. The Maple Leafs became of the league powers and won seven Stanley Cups between 1932 and 1951. The last triumph came just a few weeks before Bickell passed away.
Following his death, on August 22, 1951, the J.P. Bickell Foundation was established as a means of looking after his vast philanthropic interests in the community. The benefactors of the foundation included the Hospital for Sick Children, various medical research projects, and a number of Ontario universities offering courses of study in geology and other related topics. Within the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey club Bickell's memory was perpetuated by the J.P. Bickell Memorial Cup. Over the years it was presented at the discretion of Maple Leaf Gardens directors to a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs who performed with a very high standard of excellence over a single season or several years.
Bickell entered the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1978.