From resource giants to tech triumphs, we chart the evolution of B.C. business over the past 45 years
In the ’70s, B.C. gets two new sports franchises: the Vancouver Canucks (entering the NHL in 1970) and the Vancouver Whitecaps (originally of the North American Soccer League, in 1974, and, since 2011, Major League Soccer). Both teams fare better than the NBA’s ill-fated Vancouver Grizzlies, who crash and burn 25 years later.
Outdoor gear icon Mountain Equipment Co-op launches in Vancouver with six members and $65 in operating capital. Today, it’s the epitome of B.C.’s active-lifestyle cult, with more than 4.5 million members and retail stores across Canada. Lifetime memberships still sell for just $5.
B.C. gets its first socialist government in 1972, and true to form, NDP premier Dave Barrett quickly finds ways to influence the provincial economy. Insurance Corp. of British Columbia, launched in 1974, remains one of Barrett’s lasting legacies—untouched by successive right-wing regimes.
As Whistler Mountain grows in popularity, the provincial government creates Canada’s first resort municipality and begins building a village on the table between Whistler and then-undeveloped Blackcomb Mountain. The Aussies have been squatting there ever since.
Geophysicist Geoffrey Ballard–a fervent believer that the internal combustion engine’s days are numbered–launches Ballard Research to help develop proton exchange membrane fuel cells. Almost 40 years on, Ballard Power Systems Inc. is selling its fuel cells to a variety of industries, annual revenue remains under $100 million–and internal combustion survives.
Back then, he is simply Tony Mandl: a wine rep with a flair for marketing. In 1981, Mandl and two partners take control of Mission Hill Winery and help put Okanagan wine on the global map. He’s added a couple of syllables to his name–now Anthony von Mandl–and several millions to his bank account, thanks to one big former investment: Mike’s Hard Lemonade.
Don Mattrick is 17 when he co-founds Distinctive Software Inc. and starts creating games for the Apple II computer. Electronic Arts Inc. buys Distinctive in 1991, and Mattrick becomes president of EA’s worldwide studios, establishing Vancouver as a gaming giant. The Burnaby native, who’s since had stints at Microsoft Corp. and game developer Zynga, makes news in 2015 with the $51-million sale of his Point Grey manse.
A giant of B.C.’s forestry industry–Canadian Forest Products, privately held by the Prentice and Bentley families–goes public and changes its name. Canfor remains the second-largest producer of dimensional lumber in Canada, while B.C.’s richest man, Jim Pattison, is its largest shareholder.
One of the wealthiest men in Asia, Li Ka-shing, pays $320 million for the site of Vancouver’s 1986 World’s Fair. The purchase of the Expo lands is widely considered the deal (or steal) of the century, with Concord Pacific Developments Inc. generating billions from the ensuing construction. Combined with the British handover of Hong Kong in 1997, Concord Place (as it becomes known) helps usher in a new era of Asian investment in B.C.
Think Pac-Man, but for utilities: Inland Natural Gas buys the Lower Mainland gas division of BC Hydro and changes its name to BC Gas. After becoming the province’s dominant distributor of natural gas and gobbling up rivals, BC Gas rebrands itself as Terasen Gas; Texas titan Kinder Morgan purchases Terasen in 2005, then sells it to Fortis Inc. two years later. It’s FortisBC Energy Inc.–for now.
Forbes magazine labels the Vancouver Stock Exchange the “scam capital of the world.” While local lights defend the VSE as an important source of seed money, the international spotlight on its less savoury aspects–money laundering, shady promoters–proves fatal. Ten years later, the VSE disappears, rolled into the Toronto Stock Exchange.
Construction begins on a new container terminal, known as Deltaport, beside the Roberts Bank coal port; opening in spring 1997, it effectively doubles capacity at Vancouver’s port. Ten years later, the Fraser River Port Authority and the North Fraser Port Authority merge with the port to form Port Metro Vancouver–Canada’s biggest port and North America’s third largest.
In its first year of operations, after Frank Giustra and Avi Federgreen launch it, Lionsgate Films sees revenue of just $42 million; 20 years later, publicly traded Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. is making north of $2 billion a year, and has a licence to print money in the Hunger Games franchise. Giustra has moved on to mining, philanthropy–and making some mighty fine olive oil.
Lululemon Athletica Inc. launches in Vancouver’s Kitsilano as a design/yoga studio; by 2000, the store is selling a line of “yoga wear”–and a global retailing craze is born. Controversial founder Chip Wilson resigns as chairman in 2013 and helps his wife and son launch a “leisurewear” competitor, Kit and Ace, the following year. May the formfitting-est fashionista prevail!
BC Tel and Telus, based in Edmonton, merge–creating a national telecom player, to be called Telus Communications Inc. and headquartered in Vancouver. Darren Entwistle joins as president and CEO a year later, and he’s been there ever since–except for that weird spell, 2014-15, where he kinda left but didn’t (Joe who?). During Entwistle’s 17 years, the shareholder return on Telus stock has been almost 400 per cent.
Shareholders approve the sale of B.C. forestry icon MacMillan Bloedel Ltd. to U.S. giant Weyerhauser. A round of layoffs ensues–the beginning of a seven-year stretch in which B.C. will lose an estimated 30 per cent of its head-office jobs. On the positive side, the Arthur Erickson–designed MacBlo building on Georgia endures as one of Vancouver’s architectural jewels.
Teck Corp. buys out the 50 per cent of Cominco Ltd. it doesn’t own for $1.5 billion, forming a new mining behemoth based in Vancouver called Teck Cominco Ltd. Today it’s Teck Resources Ltd.–the Cominco name, going back to the turn of the 20th century, is gone–and Canada’s largest diversified miner lays claim to the best-performing stock on the S&P/TSX Composite Index since 2009. (Yay, coal!)
Early in his first mandate, former premier Gordon Campbell creates a Crown corporation committed to new ways of building infrastructure called public-private partnerships, or P3s. Partnerships BC becomes ubiquitous in the run-up to the 2010 Winter Games, responsible for steering many major projects, including the Canada Line and the Sea-to-Sky Highway expansion, that remain the Olympics’ true legacy.
Stewart Butterfield, with then-wife and business partner Caterina Fake, launches photo-
sharing website Flickr; a year later, Yahoo Inc. buys it for about US$25 million.
Butterfield stays on with Yahoo for a few years, dabbles in gaming for a few more, then launches team-messaging app Slack in 2013. Slack’s estimated worth today? A paltry US$3.8 billion.
Online bookseller Abebooks of Victoria is sold to Amazon.com in 2008 for around $100 million. Abebooks was an early Canadian success story in e-commerce and put co-founder –principal of Vancouver-based Version One Ventures, and one of North America’s top early-stage investors–on the map.
Riding the wave of social media, Ryan Holmes launches Hootsuite Media Inc. as a B2B platform for companies to manage their various social channels, from Twitter to Facebook to LinkedIn. The Vancouver tech darling now counts 1,000-plus employees and 14 million users worldwide; a much-delayed initial public offering is expected in 2017, with some estimates pegging it at $1 billion (and don’t tell Holmes otherwise!).
Citing national security concerns, the Conservative government of Stephen Harper blocks the sale of Macdonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. to U.S. firm Alliant Techsystems Inc. in 2008. Through a series of stealth moves over the next few years, however, Richmond-based MDA–Canada’s largest space company–is now American in all but name, with the bulk of employees, including president and CEO Howard Lance, based south of the border.
A relic of B.C.’s retailing past is brought back to life when the Woodward’s building reopens in the fall. The Vancouver development on Hastings–with its mix of affordable and market housing, gallery space, retail and an SFU satellite campus–is a pivot point for Canada’s “poorest postal code.” Whether that pivot toward gentrification has been good for all concerned remains hotly debated.
One of the most successful e-commerce plays of the past decade, Indochino, sees Victoria-based founder Kyle Vucko step down. The retailer, a pioneer in selling made-to-measure suits online, has made the rare evolution from web to bricks-and-mortar in recent years: by 2020, it anticipates 150 retail outlets worldwide.
B.C. biotech giant QLT Inc. merges with Boston-based Aegerion Pharmaceuticals Inc. and becomes Novelion Therapeutics Inc. QLT was started by scientist Julia Levy and four others as Quadra Logic Technologies in 1981; its Visudyne, used for treating macular degeneration, would become the most lucrative drug in the history of eye medicine.
Roger Hardy was thought to have a Midas touch, but the online Shoes.com empire he helped underwrite–with Sean Clark as chief revenue officer–goes bankrupt early this year, just as it was winning awards and planning a big bricks-and-mortar expansion. It’s a far cry from the happy exit Hardy experienced in 2014, when he sold his Clearly Contacts for $435 million.
If it truly is all about location, location, location, this is the symbolic end for Vancouver’s two major daily newspapers. The Vancouver Sun and the Province, after years of gutting their newsroom (another 54 positions, or 42 per cent of staff, were eliminated in March), unceremoniously strip the nameplates of their landmark tower at 200 Granville Square this spring. Their new home, starting June 1: an office park in East Vancouver.