Ti­tans

From brew­ers, to rail barons, to oil-and-gas gi­ants, th­ese ty­coons changed Canada.

Canada's History - - CONTENTS - By Joseph E. Martin

From brew­ers, to rail barons, to oil-and-gas gi­ants, th­ese are some of the busi­ness ty­coons who changed Canada.

We asked noted busi­ness his­to­rian and Canada’s His­tory So­ci­ety Pres­i­dent Emer­i­tus Joseph E. Martin to select ten lead­ing en­trepreneurs from this coun­try’s past. Martin fo­cused on peo­ple who made their great­est im­pact within Canada and on those who died be­fore the year 2000, pre­sent­ing his se­lec­tions in the or­der of their years of death. Th­ese in­di­vid­u­als were in­volved in a great di­ver­sity of en­ter­prises, from the fur trade to brew­ing and dis­till­ing; rail­ways, agri­cul­tural equip­ment, and au­to­mo­biles; forestry and oil; and, of course, banking and fi­nance. Eight of the busi­ness­peo­ple Martin pro­filed have been in­ducted into the Cana­dian Busi­ness Hall of Fame.

THE BREW­ING BARON John Mol­son (1763–1836) The lead­ers of the busi­ness es­tab­lish­ment in late-eigh­teenth-cen­tury Mon­treal were Scots, and their main busi­ness was the fur trade. It is thus some­what ironic that the first per­son men­tioned here is an English­man, not a Scot. John Mol­son was born in Lin­colnshire, Eng­land, in 1763. He im­mi­grated to Mon­treal when he was just nine­teen years old. He lived the rest of his life in Lower Canada, dy­ing in 1836, although he vis­ited Eng­land more than once.

Four years af­ter land­ing in Canada, Mol­son started a brew­ery whose name sur­vives to this day as part of the Mol­son Coors Brew­ing Com­pany. He had a tremen­dous in­ter­est in in­no­va­tion, and, as his­to­rian Al­fred Dubuc has writ­ten, “brew­ing was at the fore­front of tech­no­log­i­cal in­no­va­tion … dur­ing the late-eigh­teenth cen­tury.” Mol­son con­vinced Cana­dian farm­ers to grow more bar­ley. While bar­ley was first grown in New France in the 1600s, when Bri­tish set­tlers ar­rived in the 1760s, they brought with them two-row bar­ley va­ri­eties con­sid­ered ideal for Bri­tish-style ales.

At the time, the pop­u­la­tion was grow­ing rapidly as a re­sult of im­mi­grants ar­riv­ing from the U.S. and Bri­tain. Brew­ing proved to be a highly suc­cess­ful busi­ness, but Mol­son also di­ver­si­fied into other in­no­va­tive fields — first steamships and then rail­ways. In 1809, two years af­ter Amer­i­can in­ven­tor Robert Ful­ton launched the first com­mer­cial steam­boat — the Cler­mont — on the Hud­son River, Mol­son and two part­ners sailed the steam-driven pad­dle­wheeler Ac­com­mo­da­tion from Mon­treal to Que­bec. The Cana­dian-built ves­sel was the first steam­boat to be man­u­fac­tured en­tirely in North Amer­ica.

Mol­son’s ini­tial in­vest­ment led to the cre­ation of the St. Lawrence Steam­boat Com­pany, pop­u­larly known as the Mol­son Line. By the 1830s he was also the largest share­holder in Canada’s first rail­way — the Cham­plain and St. Lawrence Rail­road.

Mol­son was pres­i­dent of the Bank of Mon­treal from 1826 to 1830, a time when the bank was at an im­por­tant cross­roads and needed new di­rec­tion. Fit­tingly, Mon­treal’s Con­cor­dia Univer­sity named its busi­ness school af­ter Mol­son — the great­est en­tre­pre­neur of his day and some­one who was ded­i­cated to con­tin­u­ous in­no­va­tion.

THE FARM MA­CHIN­ERY MOGUL Hart Massey (1823–1896) Hart Massey was born in Northum­ber­land County, Up­per Canada, in the early nine­teenth cen­tury, mar­ried in New York State mid-cen­tury, and died in Toronto in the late-nine­teenth cen­tury. Massey’s par­ents and wife were Amer­i­cans. He re­ceived part of his ed­u­ca­tion in the United States, lived for a decade in Cleve­land, and held both Amer­i­can and Cana­dian cit­i­zen­ship.

Massey is best known for build­ing the largest agri­cul­tural ma­chin­ery com­pany in the Bri­tish Em­pire. In 1851, he joined his fa­ther’s man­u­fac­tur­ing busi­ness in New­cas­tle, Canada West (On­tario), and he took charge upon his fa­ther’s death in 1856. Massey was well aware of the tech­no­log­i­cal changes go­ing on in the United

States and ob­tained rights to man­u­fac­ture mow­ers, reapers, and other prod­ucts in Canada.

In the mid-nine­teenth cen­tury, the farm equip­ment mak­ing in­dus­try was highly frag­mented in both coun­tries. Be­sides be­ing an ex­cel­lent mar­keter and man­ager, Massey demon­strated how to sur­vive in a rapidly con­sol­i­dat­ing in­dus­try. In the late 1870s, he moved the com­pany’s head­quar­ters to Toronto, where a huge new fac­tory — then the largest of its kind in the Bri­tish Em­pire — was built.

As early as 1867, Massey was in­ter­ested in new mar­kets, be­gin­ning in Europe and shortly there­after look­ing at Western Canada, which was just be­gin­ning to open up. How­ever, he pre­ferred in­ter­na­tional mar­kets to those of the Cana­dian West and ex­panded to Ar­gentina and Aus­tralia, as well as to Europe in the 1880s.

His son Charles was ex­pected to suc­ceed him, but when Charles died sud­denly of ty­phoid in 1884, Hart re­turned to man­age­ment and ex­e­cuted con­sol­i­dat­ing merg­ers, first with the Har­ris firm — af­ter which the com­pany was re­named Massey-Har­ris — and then with Pat­ter­son-Wis­ner Co. Af­ter the lat­ter merger, Massey-Har­ris was a full-line im­ple­ment maker with sixty per cent of the Cana­dian mar­ket.

Massey ben­e­fited from a pro­tec­tive tar­iff, even though he was of­ten crit­i­cal of cer­tain parts of it. Be­fore his death, he wanted to en­ter the U.S. mar­ket.

The Massey name lives on in trac­tor sales around the world and at three im­por­tant Toronto in­sti­tu­tions: the Massey Hall per­for­mance venue, as well as Hart House and Massey Col­lege, both at the Univer­sity of Toronto. THE FUR TRADER AND TRAIN TY­COON Sir Don­ald Alexan­der Smith, 1st Baron Strath­cona and Mount Royal (1820–1914) Don­ald Alexan­der Smith was born in For­res, Scot­land, in 1820. In 1838, as an em­ployee of the Hud­son’s Bay Com­pany (HBC), he came to Labrador, where he spent the first thirty years of his busi­ness life. Smith be­gan to in­vest money for his fel­low em­ploy­ees, and he climbed the cor­po­rate lad­der to be­come chief fac­tor of Labrador — hence his nick­name “Labrador” Smith.

In 1868, he trans­ferred to Mon­treal, where he lived un­til 1896, apart from a brief pe­riod in the Red River Set­tle­ment. In Mon­treal he was the HBC’s com­mis­sioner of east­ern op­er­a­tions. By then a wealthy man with a pres­ti­gious po­si­tion, he be­gan to in­vest in ma­jor man­u­fac­tur­ers of tex­tiles and rolling stock.

In late 1869, Smith went west to the Red River Set­tle­ment to help to deal with Métis con­cerns about the sale of Ru­pert’s Land to Canada. He ne­go­ti­ated with Louis Riel, be­came in­volved in pol­i­tics, and met rail­way ex­ec­u­tive James J. Hill. To­gether they dis­cussed build­ing a transcon­ti­nen­tal Cana­dian rail­way.

In 1872, Smith was ap­pointed to the board of the Bank of Mon­treal. But his big play, act­ing with other in­vestors, was pur­chas­ing the Saint Paul and Pa­cific Rail­road, which later bought the Great North­ern Rail­way. In 1879, he re­signed as land com­mis­sioner for the HBC; but he later re­turned to the com­pany as prin­ci­pal share­holder and gover­nor, a po­si­tion he held for a quar­ter cen­tury.

Smith was one of the un­shak­able in­vestors in the Cana­dian Pa­cific Rail­way and the man who drove the last spike — as por­trayed in the most fa­mous Cana­dian busi­ness pho­to­graph. Although he was dis­ap­pointed that he did not suc­ceed his cousin, Ge­orge Stephen, as pres­i­dent of Cana­dian Pa­cific, he did suc­ceed him as pres­i­dent of the Bank of Mon­treal and served in that role for nearly two decades.

Smith was in­volved in an ex­tra­or­di­nary range of in­vest­ments in Mon­treal and in Man­i­toba, but his largest in­vest­ments were in two Amer­i­can rail­ways. And at age eighty-nine he be­came the first chair­man of the board of what be­came Bri­tish Petroleum. Knighted in 1886, he be­came the first Baron of Strath­cona and Mount Royal in 1897. His­to­rian Alexan­der Re­ford has de­scribed Smith as the “fore­most ex­am­ple of rags to riches in a Cana­dian con­text.” He died in Lon­don, Eng­land, in 1914.

THE PEO­PLE’S BANKER Alphonse Des­jardins (1854–1920) Alphonse Des­jardins was born in Lévis, Canada East, in 1854 and died there in 1920. He never moved far from home but had an enor­mous in­flu­ence upon his re­gion, prov­ince, and coun­try, as well as the north­east­ern United States.

A jour­nal­ist by pro­fes­sion, Des­jardins was also an ac­tive po­lit­i­cal Con­ser­va­tive. He was ap­pointed the recorder of de­bates in the Que­bec leg­isla­tive as­sem­bly and, later, the French-lan­guage stenog­ra­pher for the House of Com­mons.

Des­jardins be­came con­cerned about the in­abil­ity of Que­bec farm­ers and small busi­nesses to ob­tain cap­i­tal at other-than-usu­ri­ous rates, and he came across the work of Bri­tish au­thor Henry Wil­liam Wolff, who was pres­i­dent of the In­ter­na­tional Co-op­er­a­tive Al­liance. Des­jardins con­tacted Wolff and oth­ers in Europe, even­tu­ally be­com­ing a staunch sup­porter of the co-op­er­a­tive con­cept. He saw it as an ideal method for fight­ing the ridicu­lously high lev­els of in­ter­est be­ing charged in Canada.

This be­came an op­por­tu­nity to im­prove the lot of the work­ing classes and to en­able the eco­nomic lib­er­a­tion of French Cana­di­ans by al­low­ing them ac­cess to credit at more rea­son­able rates. In late 1900, Des­jardins es­tab­lished Caisse pop­u­laire de Lévis, North Amer­ica’s first sav­ings and credit co-op­er­a­tive. The or­ga­ni­za­tion was based on his own re­search, which took into ac­count the Cana­dian set­ting from a Que­bec per­spec­tive. It opened on Jan­uary 23, 1901, with a to­tal of $26.40 in sav­ings and ap­prox­i­mately 130 mem­bers.

Des­jardins orig­i­nally op­er­ated the busi­ness from his house in Lévis, be­fore es­tab­lish­ing more caisse pop­u­laires through­out Que­bec. In 1908, in­spired by his work, a group of French-Cana­dian em­i­grants founded the first U.S. credit union in New Hamp­shire, and Des­jardins at­tended the open­ing. Be­fore he died in 1920, he wit­nessed the suc­cess of his ideas, as caisse pop­u­laires and credit unions spread through­out Que­bec, across Canada (par­tic­u­larly in the coun­try’s West), and in the north­east­ern United States.

Des­jardins’ name and legacy live on. By the turn of the twen­tyfirst cen­tury, Canada had the world’s high­est per capita mem­ber­ship in credit unions. In the United States there were more than six thou­sand credit unions, with more than one hun­dred mil­lion mem­bers. To­day the Des­jardins Group is the largest as­so­ci­a­tion of credit unions in North Amer­ica. THE CAR-MAK­ING MAS­TER Gor­don McGre­gor (1873–1922) Gor­don Mor­ton McGre­gor was born near Windsor, On­tario, in 1873, lived in the area his en­tire life, and was buried there in 1922. The Cana­dian auto in­dus­try was born in the Windsor area af­ter McGre­gor jour­neyed across the Detroit River in Au­gust 1904 to meet with Henry Ford and sub­se­quently es­tab­lished the Ford Mo­tor Com­pany of Canada Ltd.

In­vestors from Canada and the United States put up $125,000 (more than $2.7 mil­lion in 2017 dol­lars), of which $63,750 worth of stock was given to Ford Mo­tor Com­pany of Detroit in re­turn for the per­pet­ual rights to the Amer­i­can firm’s ve­hi­cles and technology with­out fur­ther cost. Ford Canada was a pub­licly listed com­pany a full half cen­tury be­fore Ford in the U.S. In its first year of op­er­a­tions, the com­pany pro­duced 114 cars. It grew slowly un­til pro­duc­tion of the Model T be­gan in 1908; then sales took off, and div­i­dends be­gan to be paid reg­u­larly.

As part of his agree­ment with Henry Ford, McGre­gor ac­quired the rights to man­u­fac­ture and sell cars in the Bri­tish Em­pire be­yond the United King­dom and Ire­land. He took full ad­van­tage of this, es­tab­lish­ing sub­sidiaries of the Cana­dian par­ent in In­dia, Aus­tralia, South Africa, and Bri­tish Malaya. By 1920, Ford Canada had be­come the largest au­to­mo­tive en­ter­prise in the Bri­tish Em­pire and pro­duced fifty-five thou­sand ve­hi­cles in “Ford City” (a com­mu­nity founded by the com­pany within the city of Windsor). The com­pany ac­counted for nearly sixty per cent of all Cana­dian au­to­mo­bile pro­duc­tion.

Ford was a suc­cess, along with the Cana­dian sub­sidiaries of Amer­i­can par­ents such as Gen­eral Mo­tors, be­cause of a pro­tec­tive tar­iff. The tar­iff, the com­pany’s prox­im­ity to Detroit (the world’s au­to­mo­bile head­quar­ters), and the man­date to man­u­fac­ture and sell glob­ally were all fac­tors in Ford Canada’s suc­cess. But it re­quired the en­tre­pre­neur­ial eye and man­age­rial com­pe­tence of Gor­don McGre­gor to seize the op­por­tu­nity and to work with Henry Ford.

As he neared his death, McGre­gor could look back on his con­tri­bu­tion to Cana­dian life — he had founded the largest au­to­mo­bile com­pany in the coun­try, which was by then ma­jor­ity Cana­di­anowned. In a 1922 se­ries on Ford Canada and McGre­gor’s legacy, the Windsor Star wrote that, while Henry Ford had solved the world’s prob­lem with re­gards to speedy and re­li­able trans­porta­tion, “the late Gor­don McGre­gor solved it for Canada.” THE MER­CHANT PRINCE Sir John Craig Ea­ton (1876–1922) A list of the top Cana­dian busi­ness­peo­ple must in­clude an Ea­ton, and I as­sumed that I would be writ­ing about the leg­endary Ti­mothy Ea­ton. I had many times rubbed the toe of his statue at the Ea­ton’s store in down­town Win­nipeg, and there is no doubt that Ti­mothy rev­o­lu­tion­ized re­tail­ing, at least in Toronto, where he opened a store on Yonge Street in 1869 that fol­lowed three fun­da­men­tal poli­cies: one price, cash only, and goods sat­is­fac­tory or money re­funded.

By 1884, he had es­tab­lished mail-or­der ser­vice us­ing cat­a­logues. In 1890, he started man­u­fac­tur­ing, and in the 1890s he es­tab­lished buy­ing of­fices in Lon­don and Paris.

As im­por­tant as th­ese in­no­va­tions were, the T. Ea­ton Com­pany be­came a house­hold name in Canada be­cause it was the first depart­ment store to move be­yond its home city roots and es­tab­lish a na­tional chain. But as Joy Santink has writ­ten in Ti­mothy Ea­ton and the rise of his depart­ment store, the se­nior Ea­ton had mis­giv­ings about man­ag­ing a store from a dis­tance. It was his third son, John Craig, who was largely re­spon­si­ble for es­tab­lish­ing the com­pany’s first branch store in Win­nipeg in 1905. The store was an im­me­di­ate suc­cess.

Within a few months of open­ing, the num­ber of em­ploy­ees had to be in­creased from seven hun­dred to one thou­sand, and within two years a sixth floor had to be added. Its suc­cess was prophetic of the fu­ture, when the com­pany would be­come “Ea­ton’s of Canada.”

John Craig Ea­ton was born in Toronto in 1876 and died there in 1922 when he was only in his mid-for­ties. He was a di­rec­tor of the com­pany by 1898 and at age twenty-four was his fa­ther’s right-hand man. At age thirty-one, fol­low­ing the death of his fa­ther in 1907, he be­came Ea­ton’s pres­i­dent. His phil­an­thropic ef­forts — schol­ar­ships, do­na­tions to hos­pi­tals and col­leges, and con­tin­ued pay­ment of salaries to Ea­ton’s em­ploy­ees who served in the First World War — earned him a knight­hood.

In ad­di­tion to the Win­nipeg store, John Craig — the “Mer­chant Prince,” as he was called by some — had mail-or­der build­ings erected in Win­nipeg, Saska­toon, Regina, and Monc­ton. He later opened fac­to­ries in Toronto, Hamil­ton, and Mon­treal. Sales in­creased more than five­fold be­tween 1907 and 1921. He also opened buy­ing of­fices in the United King­dom, Switzer­land, the United States, and Ja­pan.

John Craig Ea­ton is one of two peo­ple on this list who are not in the Cana­dian Busi­ness Hall of Fame (his fa­ther is) but it was he who made Ea­ton’s Canada’s first na­tional depart­ment store chain. THE BANKER EX­TRAOR­DI­NAIRE Ed­son Loy Pease (1856–1930) Ed­son Loy Pease was born in the south­west­ern part of Canada East (Que­bec) in 1856. In 1875, he moved to Mon­treal, where he joined the rapidly grow­ing Bank of Com­merce. Eight years later, the Mer­chants Bank of Hal­i­fax re­cruited Pease away from the more es­tab­lished Bank of Com­merce. There he quickly as­sumed lead­er­ship roles, in­clud­ing open­ing a branch in Mon­treal and spear­head­ing a drive into the Bri­tish Columbia mar­ket. In ad­di­tion to do­mes­tic ex­pan­sion, Pease vis­ited Cuba right af­ter the Span­ish-Amer­i­can War. This was a pre­cur­sor to the ex­pan­sion of the bank’s in­ter­na­tional ac­tiv­i­ties in Latin Amer­ica and the Caribbean as well as in New York and Europe.

In 1900, the forty-four-year-old Pease be­came gen­eral man­ager of the Mer­chants Bank. At that time it was the tenth-largest in Canada — larger than the Bank of Hamil­ton but smaller than the Bank of Toronto, and the head of­fice was lo­cated in Hal­i­fax. Shortly af­ter tak­ing over, Pease had the name changed to the Royal Bank of Canada, and in 1907 he moved the head of­fice from Hal­i­fax to Mon­treal. The fol­low­ing year he re­cruited Sir Her­bert Holt, the most pow­er­ful busi­ness­man of the day, into the role of pres­i­dent. It was a largely tit­u­lar role but was im­por­tant from an im­age per­spec­tive.

Pease then com­ple­mented the bank’s or­ganic growth strat­egy with a se­ries of merg­ers. Be­tween 1910 and 1918, the Royal Bank ac­quired banks in Hal­i­fax, Que­bec City, Toronto, and Win­nipeg. Un­like other banks’ ac­qui­si­tions, those made by the Royal

Bank con­trib­uted to sub­stan­tial growth. By 1910, it was the third­largest in Canada; by 1920, it passed the Bank of Com­merce to be­come num­ber two; and with the 1925 merger, con­ceived by Pease, with the Win­nipeg-based Union Bank, the Royal Bank be­came Canada’s largest.

Dur­ing the First World War, Pease served as pres­i­dent of the Cana­dian Bankers As­so­ci­a­tion. In that role he looked favourably on the no­tion of the cre­ation of a cen­tral bank. As Dun­can McDowall has writ­ten in his his­tory of the Royal Bank, “the term ‘rev­o­lu­tion­ize’ can­not usu­ally be ap­plied to Cana­dian banking’s care­ful evo­lu­tion, but Ed­son Pease had forced the pace of change more than any other Cana­dian banker.” THE DIS­TILL­ING GI­ANT Sa­muel Bronf­man (1889–1971) Sa­muel Bronf­man was born in im­pe­rial Rus­sia in 1889 but ar­rived on the Cana­dian prairies in the year of his birth. His fam­ily lived in what is now Saskatchewan when it was still part of the North­West Ter­ri­to­ries and then in Bran­don, Man­i­toba, and Port Arthur, On­tario. Bronf­man went into the fam­ily busi­ness — own­ing ho­tels — with his pur­chase of the Bell Ho­tel in Win­nipeg in 1912.

With the in­tro­duc­tion of pro­hi­bi­tion in Man­i­toba in 1916, the Bronf­mans got into in­ter­provin­cial mail-or­der sales of liquor. Four years later, the United States passed the Vol­stead Act, which pro­vided an op­por­tu­nity for ex­ports to the much larger Amer­i­can mar­ket. Since the mid-1850s, Cana­di­ans had been good at dis­till­ing and sell­ing whisky, and a num­ber of well-known firms saw the op­por­tu­nity cre­ated by pro­hi­bi­tion — but the Bronf­mans were the best. The fed­eral govern­ment went along with the dis­tillers be­cause it could col­lect ex­cise fees on their sales.

By the mid-1920s, the Bronf­mans had moved their head of­fice to Mon­treal — in the prov­ince thought least likely to adopt pro­hi­bi­tion. They pur­chased a de­funct U.S. dis­tillery and brought it back to Mon­treal. At the same time, Sa­muel Bronf­man went to Glas­gow, Scot­land, and signed a deal with Dis­tillers Cor­po­ra­tion. Shortly af­ter that, in 1928, he ac­quired the Joseph E. Sea­gram and Sons dis­tillery in Water­loo, On­tario.

As it be­came ap­par­ent that U.S. pro­hi­bi­tion would not last for­ever, the Bronf­mans’ strat­egy for that huge mar­ket came to be based on three prin­ci­ples: ac­quir­ing ex­ist­ing in­ex­pen­sive U.S. dis­til­leries, rather than build­ing anew; pro­duc­ing “blended” whisky; and em­pha­siz­ing qual­ity but also mod­er­a­tion. By the mid-1950s, Sa­muel Bronf­man had one third of the Amer­i­can mar­ket and had sur­passed such ven­er­a­ble Cana­dian com­pa­nies as Im­pe­rial Oil, the T. Ea­ton Com­pany, and the Cana­dian Pa­cific Rail­way to be­come the sec­ond-largest non­fi­nan­cial cor­po­ra­tion in the coun­try, af­ter Gen­eral Mo­tors.

He didn’t stop there. Bronf­man ac­quired the Chivas Re­gal brand, and Sea­gram’s ex­panded in­ter­na­tion­ally into Europe and Ja­pan while form­ing al­liances in Latin Amer­ica. By the time of his death in 1971, fif­teen per cent of the com­pany’s sales were out­side of North Amer­ica — and that per­cent­age would grow un­der his son Edgar. Sa­muel Bronf­man, the child of im­mi­grant par­ents, cre­ated a great Cana­dian com­pany that was be­com­ing a global gi­ant with a strong U.S. pres­ence. THE FORESTRY IN­NO­VA­TOR Henry Regi­nald MacMil­lan (1885–1976) Henry Regi­nald (H.R.) MacMil­lan was born in 1885 on a small farm north of Toronto. He at­tended the On­tario Agri­cul­tural Col­lege in Guelph, where he learned about forestry and about cre­at­ing a sus­tain­able re­source. MacMil­lan re­ceived a mas­ter’s de­gree in forestry from Yale Univer­sity and, upon grad­u­a­tion, went to Bri­tish Columbia to work in the rapidly de­vel­op­ing for­est prod­uct in­dus­try. He later joined the civil ser­vice — first in Ottawa and then in Vic­to­ria, where he was Bri­tish Columbia’s first chief forester.

The First World War pro­vided chal­lenges for the B.C. for­est in­dus­try, which re­lied on sell­ing to in­ter­na­tional mar­kets through U.S. agents. Af­ter the war, MacMil­lan, with back­ing from a Bri­tish tim­ber mer­chant, es­tab­lished H.R. MacMil­lan Ex­port Com­pany, Ltd. to de­velop the in­ter­na­tional sale of Pa­cific Coast tim­ber prod­ucts. The com­pany ex­panded in the early 1920s into ship­ping and the man­u­fac­ture of sawn lum­ber.

In re­sponse to com­pet­i­tive pres­sures, the com­pany ex­tended its op­er­a­tions in the mid-1930s to in­clude ply­wood. It ac­quired ex­ten­sive tim­ber ar­eas on Van­cou­ver Is­land and be­gan milling op­er­a­tions, be­com­ing the prov­ince’s first truly in­te­grated for­est prod­ucts com­pany. From there it ex­panded into door man­u­fac­tur­ing, rail­way-tie pro­duc­tion, and ship­ping and sales.

The H.R. MacMil­lan Ex­port Com­pany was a pi­o­neer in ver­ti­cal in­te­gra­tion, pur­chas­ing firms in­volved in all parts of the lum­ber trade. Dur­ing the Sec­ond World War MacMil­lan’s com­pany ex­pe­ri­enced boom­ing busi­ness, and it ex­panded at an even faster rate af­ter the war.

This cul­mi­nated in the 1951 merger of MacMil­lan’s com­pany with Bloedel, Ste­wart and Welch to cre­ate MacMil­lan Bloedel Lim­ited, the largest con­sol­i­da­tion in the Cana­dian for­est in­dus­try. MacMil­lan had a larger mar­ket­ing op­er­a­tion, and Bloedel had more tim­ber­land. The merger re­sulted in Bri­tish Columbia’s largest lum­ber and pulp op­er­a­tion.

When MacMil­lan stepped down as chair­man in 1956, MacMil­lan Bloedel was not only the largest cor­po­ra­tion in Bri­tish Columbia, it was also the largest for­est prod­ucts com­pany in Canada snd one of the big­gest forestry in­dus­try com­pa­nies in the world, ex­port­ing to Ja­pan, Aus­tralia, New Zealand, Great Bri­tain, and the United States. And it was as prof­itable as it would ever be.

Through­out his ca­reer, MacMil­lan re­tained an in­ter­est in sus­tain­able forestry. His com­pany in­au­gu­rated long-term plan­ning that in­cluded re­for­esta­tion.

His suc­ces­sor, Bert Hoffmeis­ter, stated that MacMil­lan was “in ev­ery way a great Cana­dian, and his emo­tions were eas­ily aroused when Canada’s in­ter­ests were in­volved.”

THE EM­PIRE BUILDER Ken­neth Colin Irv­ing (1899–1992) Ken­neth Colin (K.C.) Irv­ing was born at the end of the nine­teenth cen­tury in New Brunswick to de­scen­dants of Scot­tish set­tlers and died in New Brunswick in the last decade of the twen­ti­eth cen­tury. In his life­time he built a huge con­glom­er­ate that dom­i­nated New Brunswick and had a pres­ence through­out the Mar­itimes, east­ern Que­bec, and the north­east­ern United States, par­tic­u­larly the state of Maine.

Irv­ing’s em­pire-build­ing be­gan in the 1920s, when there was a boom in au­to­mo­bile sales. Car registrations in­creased dra­mat­i­cally in that decade, and the trend prompted Irv­ing to take own­er­ship of a Ford Mo­tor deal­er­ship. In ad­di­tion, he took on a more ac­tive role in his fa­ther’s gen­eral store by adding a gas sta­tion, as store busi­ness was suf­fer­ing due to com­pe­ti­tion from Ea­ton’s na­tional mail-or­der ser­vice.

Orig­i­nally, Irv­ing made a deal with the Im­pe­rial Oil Com­pany. But when that fell through he es­tab­lished the Irv­ing Oil Com­pany, which even­tu­ally built an oil re­fin­ery in Saint John, New Brunswick, that is the largest in Canada to­day.

In the 1930s, he di­ver­si­fied fur­ther. Upon the death of his fa­ther, Irv­ing took over the fam­ily lum­ber busi­ness. He also pur­chased ma­jor me­dia out­lets, which led to even­tual crit­i­cism of his me­dia mo­nop­oly. By the time of Irv­ing’s death in 1992, his em­pire in­cluded oil re­fin­ing, for­est prod­ucts, dry docks, gas sta­tions, and me­dia. It con­sisted of more than two hun­dred suc­cess­ful com­pa­nies spread through­out the Mar­itimes, Que­bec, and the east­ern United States.

In New Brunswick, one in twelve res­i­dents worked for Irv­ing’s com­pa­nies, and many peo­ple in his home prov­ince stood by the phrase “K.C. Irv­ing is New Brunswick.”

The Irv­ing fam­ily’s hold­ings in its home prov­ince form what Cana­dian Se­nate in­ves­ti­ga­tors have called “an in­dus­trial-me­dia com­plex that dom­i­nates the prov­ince” to a de­gree that is “unique in the Western world.”

Un­like many Cana­dian en­trepreneurs, K.C. Irv­ing stayed at home. Rather than ex­pand be­yond his re­gion, he ex­e­cuted a strat­egy of dom­i­nat­ing the New Brunswick mar­ket. This is not a strat­egy taught in busi­ness schools, but, ac­cord­ing to For­tune mag­a­zine, at the time of his death Irv­ing was the eleventh-wealth­i­est per­son in the world. The Irv­ing group of com­pa­nies was the largest sin­gle landowner in New Brunswick, Nova Sco­tia, and Maine and one of the world’s largest pri­vate landown­ers.

Au­thor’s Note

I was as­sisted in mak­ing the above se­lec­tions by three no­table Cana­dian busi­ness­men: Hal Jack­man, Mark Leonard, and Lyn­ton “Red” Wilson. All pro­vided in­put, but the fi­nal de­ci­sions were mine. I also had help from Cana­dian his­tory stu­dent Har­ri­son Kennedy. In com­pil­ing this list, many great names were omit­ted, Sir Joseph Flavelle to name only one. And, while I looked hard, I ul­ti­mately did not in­clude a busi­ness­woman in the top ten; I could not find the Cana­dian equiv­a­lent of a He­lena Ruben­stein (the Pol­ish-Amer­i­can cos­met­ics mogul). I am sure some read­ers will dis­agree with my choices — so let the de­bate be­gin.

Mol­son’s Brew­ery beer cart, Mon­treal, circa 1908.

Don­ald A. Smith drives the “last spike” at Craigel­lachie, Bri­tish Columbia, Novem­ber 1885.

An ad­ver­tise­ment for the Ford Mo­tor Com­pany of Canada pro­motes Ford’s “sturdy” and “de­pend­able” au­to­mo­biles.

Ti­mothy Ea­ton, left, speaks to his son John Craig Ea­ton at their Ea­ton’s depart­ment store in Toronto, circa 1899.

Clock­wise from top left: An ad­ver­tise­ment for Sea­gram’s V.O. Cana­dian Whisky. A truck at Camp­bell River, Bri­tish Columbia, hauls logs for MacMil­lian Bloedel, date un­known. Saint John, New Brunswick, is home to the Irv­ing Oil re­fin­ery, the largest in Canada.

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