In April 2021, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released a report stating that Canada’s richest only got richer since the Covid-19 pandemic started. In fact, Canadian billionaire wealth went up by $78 billion one year into the pandemic. While no similar report has been released recently, WEALTH-X shared some insights in September 2021, analyzing the status of the world’s billionaires and this includes Canada’s wealthiest percentile. For starters, the number of billionaires in Canada has reached 53, according to the report, with a combined wealth of US$100 billion, growing by 15 (or 4.5 per cent). While overall, today’s billionaires are younger than the billionaires of yesteryear, there are some legacy family institutions that continue to hold immense wealth in this country. But who exactly are some of these billionaire family empires? Here are 20 families you should make note of.
1 / 20
The Thomson Family
The Thomson family is not only the richest family in Canada but is also one of the richest families in the world. Patriarch David Thomson, or Baron Thomson of Fleet, inherited his British title and the Thomson Corporation from his father. He then turned the family business into media giant Thomson Reuters.
McCain Foods was founded in 1956 by brothers Wallace and Harrison McCain, with some help from their two older brothers, Robert and Andrew. Wallace and Harrison built the company into what is without a doubt one of Canada’s most successful brands. However, after they had a falling-out in the 1990s, Wallace and his son left the company and bought Maple Leaf Foods.
Pharmacists have one of the highest paying jobs in the world, so it could have been a blow for a recent pharmacy graduate to be refused when he asked to become an associate of the pharmacy he had managed as a student. Instead, Jean Coutu started his own chain of pharmacies and became the head of one of Canada’s richest families.
5 / 20
The Saputo Family
Giuseppe Saputo, an Italian cheesemaker, immigrated with his family to Montreal in the 1950s. In 1954, his son Lino convinced him to start a business. Saputo Inc. was founded with $500 and a bicycle. Today, it’s one of the world’s top dairy brands.
Edward Rogers Sr. invented a component that brought radio to the masses. His son Ted, who was only five when his father died, was determined to continue the legacy and started Rogers Communications in 1967. It grew into one of Canada’s largest media conglomerates. The Rogers family also owns the Toronto Blue Jays.
Richardson International started life as James Richardson and Sons, founded in 1857. James Richardson had come to Canada from Ireland and had a tailor shop. Because he took payment in grain, he had no choice but to go into the grain business, with much greater success. Today, his descendants also have major stakes in property management, financial and oil and gas businesses.
Starting a business isn’t one of the worst things you can do with your money in your 20s. Just ask the descendants of K.C. Irving, who started Irving Oil in 1924, when he was 25. He built it into a conglomerate of business in fields as diverse as paper, retail and broadcasting. These were eventually divided among his sons J.K., Arthur and Jack.
An old Quebec family, the Desmarais family have Paul Desmarais to thank for their wealth. After he graduated, Paul Desmarais bought a nearly bankrupt bus company, which his grandfather had started, for a dollar. He rescued it, bought additional bus companies and started investing in other business, including Power Corporation of Canada. This is the company that has made the Desmarais family one of the richest families in Canada.
The largest privately held company in Canada is the Jim Pattison Group, founded by Jim Pattison in 1961. Pattison started out with a General Motors car dealership, which he bought with a $40,000 bank loan. The Jim Pattison Group now owns food companies, TV and radio stations, Ripley Entertainment, Guinness World Records and many more. Jim Pattison also owns Marilyn Monroe’s “Happy Birthday, Mister President” dress, one of the most expensive dresses of all time.
In 1934, a mechanic named Joseph-Armand Bombardier couldn’t get to hospital in time to save his sick son because of a blizzard. A year later, the grief-stricken father invented the snowmobile and in 1942 he founded Bombardier. After his death, his other sons and sons-in-law took over and eventually branched into aerospace, public transport and financial services.
Linamar Corporation is headed by Linda Hasenfratz (pictured) also making her one of Canada’s highest paid CEOs. The manufacturing company was started in 1966 in a basement in Ontario by her father, Frank. He was a Hungarian refugee who had worked as a toolmaker. Frank is still chairman of Linamar.
The Gaglardi Family owns Northland Properties founded in 1963 by Bob Gaglardi, the son of a B.C. politician. Bob opened the first Sandman Hotel in 1967 and the chain quickly spread across Canada. He still serves as Chairman of the Board while his son Tom (pictured) is President of the company, which now also owns restaurants chains like Moxie’s and Denny’s.
The Triple Group of Companies has made the Apostolopoulos family Canada’s richest family of Greek descent. Its Chairman and CEO is Andreas Apostolopoulos, who came to Canada in 1969 and started working as a labourer and janitor. Today the family is known for buying properties in run-down areas and breathing new life into them. They’re living proof that investing in real estate is one of the best ways to earn money while you sleep.
15 / 20
The Sobey Family
John W. Sobey founded Sobeys in 1907, originally only as a meat delivery business. His son Frank convinced him to expand and became the one building up the company into the well-known supermarket chain. Empire Co. Limited, Sobeys parent company, has been run by four successive generations until 2013. Several family members still have positions on the board.
The Lalji family, headed by brothers Amin and Mansoor, fled Uganada in the 1970s and came to Canada. Their Larco Group of Companies owns the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, the Park Royal Shopping Centre in West Vancouver and several federal government buildings, among others. In 2016, the Toronto Starreported that the Lalji family, from whom the Canadian Revenue Agency rented its offices in three cities, had been moving millions of dollars to top tax havens.
Gerry Schwartz and Heather Reisman are that rare power couple where each made their own fortune independently from the other. Schwartz founded private equity firm Onex Corporation in 1983. Reisman founded Paradigm Consulting in 1979 and Indigo Books & Music in 1996. In 2009, she also co-founded Kobo. The couple married in 1982.
Michael Lee-Chin was born in Jamaica but came to Canada to study Civil Engineering. He struggled to find work back in Jamaica and returned to Canada. This time he studied business, became a financial advisor and started investing his own money. It paid off and the father of five is now one of Canada’s richest people.
Luigi Aquilini came to Vancouver from Italy in 1953 and started a construction company. Later he started buying and selling older buildings before venturing into property development. Overseen by himself and his sons Francesco (pictured, left), Roberto and Paolo, the Aquilini Investment Group now owns properties like berry farms, restaurants, vineyards, the Rogers Arena and the Vancouver Canucks themselves.
20 / 20
The Slaight Family
Allan Slaight started his professional career working for his father’s radio station in Moose Jaw. He founded Slaight Broadcasting in 1970 and eventually bought Standard Broadcasting. His son Gary (pictured) is now known as a philanthropist who could easily be counted among the world’s most generous millionaires and billionaires. The Slaight Family Foundation has committed to donate $12 million over five years to non-profit organizations working with Indigenous people.