Karel Velan (1918-2017)

Entrepreneur, philanthropist and loving patriarch of the Velan family, Karel Velan passed away peacefully in his sleep on Friday, September 29, 2017 at the age of 99.

Born on February 8th, 1918, the son of a Czech father and a Polish mother, he grew up in Zywiec, Poland. His mother died of leukemia when he was only 10 years old and his father and sister died during the Second World War. In 1941, he met and married his lifelong love, Olga in Brno, Czechoslovakia. Following the war, he completed his Master of Engineering studies at the University of Brno.

After the communists seized power in Czechoslovakia in 1948, Karel and Olga escaped with their two sons, first settling in Switzerland and then immigrating to Canada in 1949. His ability to speak six languages gave him greater options for immigration. In 1950, he founded Velan Engineering Ltd. in his new hometown of Montreal and soon patented a revolutionary bimetallic steam trap, his first of many successful patents. Always a global visionary, Karel established the company’s first overseas manufacturing plant in 1954 and in 1956 he travelled around the world in order to build a network of international distributors. The company grew to be a world leader in industrial valves employing 1900 people and manufacturing valves in 9 countries on three continents. Passionately dedicated to the valve business he founded, Karel continued to come into the office until the age of 96, culminating a career of steadfast and inimitable leadership spanning more than six decades.

Karel received recognition for his hard work, excellence and devoted service to society receiving awards, notably Chevalier de l’Ordre national du Quebec; Quebec’s Entrepreneur of the Year-1996; Grand Prix d’excellence from the Quebec Order of Engineers; Engineers Canada Gold Medal Award; Officer of the Order of Montreal, the Telus Great Humanitarian Award; The Jan Masaryk Award; the Association of Fundraising Professionals Jury’s Pick Award; and Rotary named him one of the great Rotarians of the century and a Paul Harris Fellow. He was also proud to be the only businessman to receive an honorary membership of the CSN Union.

Philanthropy was always a very important priority and passion for Karel, and this went well beyond just donating money as he was personally involved in many charitable projects. Notable achievements were the establishment of the Olga House for homeless women with La rue des Femmes; establishing the Velan Foundation and the Velan Foundation Award given annually to a Canadian for “distinctive and outstanding humanitarian work overseas”; and being a founding member of the Olga Havel Foundation in the Czech Republic. In the Brno region, where he and Olga met, he created the Domov Olga as a skill center for people with special needs as well as a center for Roma children. For his work on a project for the Kanesatake Mohawk Band near Montreal, he was named, Kanerahtio (Good Leaf), and Honorary Chief of the Bear Clan Family.

Velan Inc., Montreal

I have met Karel Velan at 1985 during his visit in Toronto. At that time the Canada Czechoslovakia Chamber of Commerce was four years old, learning its first steps.

A. K. Velan was enthusiastic about the new post velvet revolution free Czechoslovakia. He traveled there immediately  and was giving  seminars  “How to run a business in a free society” to the management of industry used to the government directives.

Mr. Velan was involved in establishing the Czech-Canadian Chamber of Commerce. He became its president. Together with Thomas Bata and Petr Pithart, President of Czech Senate, Mr. Velan was also a co-founder and president of a Czech-North American Chamber of Commerce, founded in 1998 in Boston on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the creation of Czechoslovakia. The chamber of commerce CNACC&C – Czech-North American Chamber of Commerce and Culture Inc. It is registered in the U.S.A. and has an office in Toronto. Its president and main sponsor was again, Karel Velan.

The creation of the Czech North American Chamber of Commerce & Culture Inc. was preceded by the Canada-Czech Republic Chamber of Commerce, established  after the fall of communism and the “Velvet revolution“ in former Czechoslovakia. Originally, the activities of the organization involved establishing commercial ties between Czechoslovakia, Canada and the United States.

Since the  opening of the office of the Canada  Czechoslovakia Chamber of Commerce, January 6, 1981, I had the opportunity myself have to work with A.K.Velan on many occasions. I wish to thank him for rewarding carrier as the Chamber’s Executive Director. Mr. Velan was always there with advice, assistance, moral and  financial support.

The Velans were instrumental in the first positive impact of the Goodwill Committee—The Olga Havel Foundation. In 1991, they organized Olga Havel’s visit to Canada and, over time, they sent more than half a million dollars to charitable and humanitarian projects (for example Charity Blansko, Brno Children Hospital, study visits of Czech doctors in the U.S.A. and Canada, Olympic Games of Mentally Handicapped, assistance during the floods etc.) in the Czech Republic.

Another hobby of Mr. Velan was music. He supported concerts of Czech artists and ensembles in Canada. In 1991, on the occasion of Antonín Dvořák‘s150th anniversary of his birth, together with Josef Suk and Alain Nonat, he established Antonín Dvořák Foundation in Montreal.In addition to promoting business contacts between American, Canadian and Czech businesses its other goal is to help increase the number of top Czech classical music interpreters and artists performing in North America. I wish to thank Mr. Velan for the over thirty-years of  joint work for the country of our birth. Working in “The Czech-North American Chamber of Commerce & Culture Inc.” has been both demanding and rewarding.

I wish to thank Mr. Velan for all these years of support. I will be honoring him by continued working for the Chamber in my best capabilities.

Lubomir Novotny, Toronto