Celebrate Canada Day with the Five Greatest Canadian Entrepeneurs of All Time

Joel Anderson  |

Happy Canada Day, everyone! Canada Day is a holiday that commemorates the July 1st enactment of the 1867 Constitution Act that united three colonies (the Provinces of Canada, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia) into a single dominion, forming what would become Canada. As independence celebrations go, commemorating the day you formed a differently classified subset of the British Empire doesn’t have quite the same “oomph” to it as a war for independence, but it remains the act that brought on the birth of modern Canada, so it deserves a party nonetheless.

So, in celebration of the day, here’s a look at some of Canada’s most successful entrepreneurs. Granted, the world’s most famous Canadians tend to fall into two categories: entertainers and hockey players. But that’s missing the fact that Canada has long been the home to trailblazing business leaders who helped carve a successful and prosperous nation out of the great Canadian wild. So, here’s a look at five of those Canadians whose incredible feats in the world of business left a mark on Canada and the world.

Roy Thomson

Thomson maybe be the less recognizable and/or used name in Thomson Reuters (TRI), but it’s still one to know. Roy Thomson was born in Toronto in 1894, and attended business college during World War I after he was rejected by the army due to his bad eyesight.

Thomson’s entry into the media world was almost by accident. Thomson was a radio salesman working in Northern Ontario, but his customers needed something to listen to. For $201, Thomson would purchase what became CFCH in North Bay, Ontario, something that would eventually eclipse his business selling radios.

In 1934, Thomson would purchase his first newspaper, the Timmins Daily Press, with a down payment of just $200. From there, he kept buying, ultimately owning a family of diverse companies that included 19 newspapers. He moved to Edinburgh, the home of his family’s ancestors, and purchased The Scotsman in 1952. His stay on the other side of the Atlantic proved useful as he would continue growing his empire, starting a commercial television enterprise in Scotland and purchasing the Kemsley group of newspapers, which included The Sunday Times.

By the time of his death, Thomson’s empire included over 200 newspapers. Two generations later, Thomson’s grandson David Thomson is the wealthiest man in Canada and the 25th wealthiest in the world with a net worth in excess of $25 billion.

John Molson

In terms of names that ring out in Canada, there are few that carry the weight of John Molson. Molson was actually born in England, but he immigrated to Quebec at the age of 18 in 1782. He began working at the Thomas Loyd Brewery, which he would purchase two years later in 1784. There was a dramatically increasing demand for beer in the 1780s due to an influx of British loyalists moving to Quebec in the aftermath of the American revolution.

Molson returned to England in 1785-6 to purchase modern brewing equipment and learn new techniques, techniques he would bring to bear on the burgeoning beer market in Montreal upon his return. Soon, Molson’s beer was wildly popular, and selling faster than he could make it.

Molson would proceed to leverage his successful brewery into a business empire that included a fleet of steamboats moving goods and cargo between Ontario and Montreal and a bank that would eventually merge with the Bank of Montreal. Molson himself would also represent Montreal East in the legislative assembly, found the Montreal General Hospital, and even play a pivotal role in building Canada’s first railroad. Today, the Molson Coors Brewing Company (TAP) is among the biggest in the world with a market cap of over $20 billion.

George Weston

George Weston was actually born in Oswego, New York in 1864, but his family, British immigrants who originally settled in Canada, returned to Toronto when he was four. By the time he was 12, Weston would begin apprenticing as a baker to a small baker named C.J. Frogley.

Weston would eventually go into business for himself in 1882 and open the Sullivan Street Bakery, doing all of the baking and deliveries himself in the early days. He developed his recipe for George Weston’s Homemade Bread, which proved very popular, leading to a series of expansions that grew his business considerably.

In the fall of 1897, Weston would open his new state-of-the-art Model Bakery, reaching over 225,000 three pound loafs delivered a month by 1899. Weston would keep growing his empire, expanding to include biscuits in the early 20th century and continuing to grow his food empire and merging with manufacturers in Toronto, Montreal, and Winnipeg in 1911 to form the Canada Bread Company. Throughout World War I and through his death in 1924, Weston would continue expanding his empire to include more and more foodstuffs and products.

Today, George Weston Limited (TSE.WN) is among the largest food conglomerates in Canada, and his grandson Galen is the second richest man in Canada with a net worth of more than $9 billion.

Jim Pattison

Born in Luseland, Saskatchewan in 1928, Jim Pattison had humble beginning. He would work picking fruit during the summers while in high school before working in a canner, a packing house, and even building mountain bridges for the Canadian Pacific Railway. He would spend his earnings on a degree from the University of British Columbia.

Pattison would begin selling cars after school, and he managed to convince a Royal Bank manager to exceed the bank’s limits eight times over to lend him $40,000, which he spent on opening a Pontiac Dealership. Pattison would parlay his success selling cars into the founding of the Jim Pattison Group in 1961. From there, Pattison was indiscriminate in his acquisitions as he proceeded to build his company into the second largest private company in Canada, with nearly 40,000 employees and over $8 billion in annual sales. It includes a wide variety of interests, including radio stations, car dealerships, food makers, advertising, real estate, fisheries, forest products, and financial services.

Pattison himself is the fourth richest man in Canada, worth nearly $5 billion, has become a notable philanthropist, and was on the committee to bring the 2010 Winter Olympics to Vancouver. I’m guessing he ultimately managed to pay that loan back.

Edward S. Rogers Jr.

Born in Toronto in 1900, Edward S. Rogers Sr. received his first radio receiver at the age of 11, an event that would set off a life-long love affair with the medium, but one that was cut tragically short at the age of 38 when he died suddenly. He passed that love of radio along to his son, Edward S. Rogers Jr., who would go on to purchase the local radio station CHFI while still a student at Osgoode Law School. Rogers would then decide to continue with his father’s legacy, founding Rogers Communications (RCI) in the 1960s.

From radio, Rogers would expand into cable television in the 1970s, a move that proved to be a lucrative one. As was his foray into mobile phones, which would bring about the birth of Rogers Wireless, a company Rogers Communications still owns a 51% stake in.

By the time of his death in 2008, Rogers had built on his father’s initial fascination with the radio to build a media empire. He also owned the Toronto Blue Jays and had the stadium in which they play, the Rogers Centre, named after his company. Rogers’ son, Edward Rogers, III and family represent the fifth largest fortune in Canada, valued at almost $7.5 billion.

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