Nicor restores the city’s history
Family works together to earn award
Chuckling, Ross Keith concedes he once had a little too much “bravado”.
As a young lawyer, he’d offer clients legal advice — then a little business advice too.
Eventually, he went into business himself — with a firm that was recently named Family Enterprise of the Year by the Regina branch of the Canadian Association of Family Enterprise.
Keith admits he’d given little thought to CAFE until family members and spouses began working in the firm, the Nicor Group of Companies. Now, there’s a CAFE sticker on the front door and the CAFE trophy is one of the first things you see in its head office.
That office is in a restored house — wherein the essence of Nicor: finding properties, rehabilitating them and finally making money through leasing or sales.
The young Keith was practising commercial law with the firm of MacLean Keith — the “Keith” in its name being his father — whose partners rehabilitated the former Patton residence at Scarth Street and College Avenue for their office — a project that won a Heritage Canada award for adaptive re-use in 1980.
It was named Nicol Court in honour of Alistair Nicol, a Regina lawyer who died too young. The abbreviation “Nicor” was given to the firm set up to do this work — and then more projects. Around 1989, Keith swapped his partnership in the law firm for ownership of Nicor and, with his wife, took it over.
It was in the 1970s and ’80s that Reginans rediscovered the old buildings in their midst. There was a highprofile public campaign to save Government House on Dewdney Avenue and an activist city planner named Ron Clark.
But there was the demolition of houses south of downtown and their replacement with what Keith calls “Stalinesque” apartment buildings and office blocks. A petition to save the house on the northwest corner of College and Lorne Street attracted 7,500 names.
Keith says some developers in those days felt “progress was measured in terms of the amount of concrete poured per-capita.” But the heritage activists found sympathy on city council. Legislation protecting heritage properties and creating tax breaks was passed.
Nicor’s projects have included the Balfour Apartments and several buildings along the Frederick W. Hill Mall on Scarth Street. He said the latter project began as a revolt against the prospect of Plus-15 pedways along the mall and ended up with those owners swapping space at the front of their properties for an indoor walkway at ground level. The buildings’ upper levels were rebuilt as condos or apartments.
Among many other projects, Nicor redeveloped Hamilton Street’s Leader Building into condos and offices, and last year acquired the Sisters of the Precious Blood Monastery on 25th Avenue for redevelopment into apartments.
Keith — who notes that Nicor has a statement of values that employees are expected to “staple to their foreheads” — feels strongly that family enterprises, with their ability to look beyond the next financial results, have a vital role in strengthening civil society and its institutions. “It’s not something that’s all altruistic — it’s in our interest to make sure that society runs right.”
From left: Courtney Keith, Ross Keith and Dan Torrie at the Nicor Group offices. Nicor recently was named
Family Enterprise of the Year by the local chapter of the Canadian Association of Family Enterprises.