TORONTO, March 28 Reuters) - Canadian mining magnate Peter Munk, who built Barrick Gold Corp from a single mine into the world's largest producer of gold, has died at the age of 90, the company said on Wednesday.
The blunt-spoken Munk was renowned for his philanthropy, donating millions to healthcare and universities in Toronto and Israel. He was named a Companion to the Order of Canada, the country's highest civilian honor, in 2008 for his charitable work and business accomplishments.
Munk forged Barrick to dominate the gold mining industry via a string of acquisitions after founding the Toronto-based company in 1983.
Born in Budapest, he fled after Hungary was invaded by Nazi Germany in 1944 and cited a "tremendous obligation" to repay his debt to Canada, which took in him and 13 family members during World War Two.
They arrived "with zero to offer, no skills, no money, no contribution, but with our hands out," he said in a speech last September at the Toronto heart hospital that bears his name.
"To give and to do what I can to help this country, to help repay this country, is never enough," said Munk.
His grandfather, Gabriel Munk, used his money from the distribution rights for European chocolatier Manner and residential rental properties to help his family escape to Switzerland on the Kasztner train, which carried more than 1,600 Jews to safety.
Munk graduated from the University of Toronto in 1952 with a degree in electrical engineering.
Six years later, he co-founded Clairtone, where he oversaw the electronic guts of high-end stereos while a partner designed the sleek wooden exteriors.
Clairtone attracted celebrity fans including Frank Sinatra and Hugh Hefner, but overly aggressive expansion plans contributed to staggering losses and Munk was ousted.
Stung by the loss of his "first love," Munk vowed to never again operate with inadequate cash or partners with different goals.
He bought his first mine in 1983, a modest Ontario operation producing 3,000 ounces of gold and C$1.7 million in revenue. He knew nothing about mining, but acquired a deep talent pool with the purchase of a debt-laden Quebec miner one year later.
That expertise paved the way for Barrick's $62 million blockbuster purchase of Goldstrike, a Nevada gold mine vastly bigger and richer than estimated by its vendor and still in operation.
"For a Canadian, natural resources were a good fit," Munk said.
($1 = 1.2912 Canadian dollars) (Reporting by Susan Taylor Editing by James Dalgleish and Tom Brown)