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Gryphon Gallery: Michael J. Audain

Major Simpson spoke of Audain at Prize Day: “Audain has been here five years—passed an external examination in Grade 9 and he is not yet 14. Excellent marks in History and Art, he has been a particularly conscientious Prefect and his principal forte is boxing for which he won the senior championship this year.”

That fighting spirit would stand him in good stead for what was to come. Freedom rider. Student radical. Academic. social activist. Residential developer. Museum builder. Grizzly bear protector. Art collector. Philanthropist. Michael Audain has been all of these things and much more in a colourful life spanning eight decades, three continents and five careers. Born into a branch of the legendary BC Dunsmuir clan that had lost its wealth and social status, apparently little was expected of Michael. Yet he would become one of the most prominent home builders in British Columbia and a well-known philanthropist in support of the visual arts and wildlife causes. 

Along the way, Audain did time in a Mississippi prison for participating in the Freedom Rider movement. He started the Nuclear Disarmament Club at the University of British Columbia and was a founder of the BC Civil Liberties Association. He advocated for the radical Doukhobor sect, Sons of Freedom, on their protest march from the Kootenays to Vancouver and he proudly displayed a photograph of the communist revolutionary Fidel Castro at the founding convention of the New Democratic Party—until Tommy Douglas persuaded him to take it down. Audain worked for an airline in the Arctic, became a probation officer and a farm appraiser, was detained in Ireland under suspicion of terrorism, and sought wisdom from a Buddhist monk in Thailand.  

In 1980, he took the most unexpected turn of all and became a developer in Greater Vancouver’s volatile housing market and as chairman of Polygon Homes Ltd. he has been responsible for the construction of over 30,000 homes. Twenty years later the recognitions started to flow in. Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal (2002) Order of BC (2007) Order of Canada (2009) Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal (2012) Order of Patrons in Quebec (2022) Hon. degree, Emily Carr University of Art and Design (2005) Hon. degree, Simon Fraser University (2005) Hon. degree, University of Victoria (2009) Hon. degree, University of British Columbia (2014) Hon. degree, Vancouver Island University (2017) Builder of the Year Award – Urban Development Institute Pacific Region (1987) Homebuilders Association Vancouver Hall of Fame (2005) Business Laureate of the British Columbia Hall of Fame (2009) Member Urban Development Institute Hall of Fame (2012) The Fraser Institute Founder’s Award (2021) Edmund C. Bovey Award – Business for the Arts (2004) British Columbia Museums Association Award for Distinguished Service (2005) Simon Fraser University President’s Distinguished Community Leadership Award (2008) Greater Vancouver Board of Trade Community Leadership Award (2008) Vancouver Biennale Philanthropy in the Arts Award (2011)  Vancouver Mayor’s Arts Award for Philanthropy (2012) Royal Canadian Academy of Arts Medal (2013) Greater Vancouver Board of Trade Rix Award for Engaged Community Citizenship (2017) Canadian Museums Association President’s Award (2017) Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, Metro Vancouver Chapter, Architecture Advocacy Award (2017) Alma Mater Society, University of British Columbia Great Trekker Award (2019).