One of Canada’s national institutions celebrates 100 years

Heading into yet another new year, not many businesses can say that they have 100 years of history behind them and are still growing but, everyone living in Canada knows the name … Canadian Tire, and this year 2022, the company is celebrating its 100th anniversary.

A true national institution, Canadian Tire has been celebrated on a Canadian postage stamp and has won the nation’s highest honour, the Order of Canada.

photo by Canadian Tire (corporate)

It began in 1922, when two brothers, John William and Alfred Jackson (A.J.) Billes, invested their life savings of $1,800 in the Hamilton Tire and Garage Ltd.  The company purchased tires from manufacturers at a discount in the winter and then resold them during the summer.  From their inauspicious beginning, they then opened their first retail store in Toronto on Yonge and Gould Streets.

In 1927, with the main focus on tires, the brother changed the name to the Canadian Tire Corporation Ltd. was born and, in 1928, the Canadian Tire catalogue was launched.

The first ‘associate store’ was opened in 1934 in Hamilton on King Street and, in 1944, it became a public company in order to fund growth plans and sold 100,000 shares,  By 1945, there were 110 stores and a year later, an employee stock purchasing plan was started.  Canadian Tire was a pioneer in the profit sharing concept and, today, the deferred profit sharing plan is one of the largest in the country.  Today, there are approximately 58,000 employees ranging in age from students to seniors. Martha Billes, the daughter of one of the company co-founders, is the controlling shareholder, owning more than 60 percent of the shares.

Following World War II and the shortages that it created, Canadian Tire continued to grow with the economic boom and sales soared. Having built a new warehouse in 1952 to meet demand for product space, by 1956 even that facility became too small to meet the demand for the company’s now more than 160 stores and the brothers moved to build a new distribution center.  Before the center was opened however, President John W. Billes passed away and his brother, A.J., succeeded him. To read the full history, CLICK HERE.

From its focus on tires, still one of its mainstays, Canadian Tire has expanded to include tools, clothing, household items, sports and recreation equipment, seasonal products, electronics, furniture and cleaning products, in addition to its entry into the world of finance with its Canadian Tire Bank established in 2003.

Among the many brands exclusively at Canadian Tire and that are instantly recognizable are Motormaster (tires), Mastercraft (tools), Paderno (kitchen equipment), Canvas (furniture), Yardworks (yard maintenance equipment), NOMA (Christmas lights) and many more.  Also among the companies that are owned today by Canadian Tire are Mark’s (Work Warehouse) and SportCheck.

Meeting with today’s ‘green products’ demands, Canadian Tire has also expanded to include lines such as FRANK, an economical line of food, drink and household cleaning products, and BluePlanet eco-friendly household cleaners and other ‘green’ items.

Under the leadership of CEO Greg Hicks and as of December 2021, the company now operates 667 Canadian Tire stores with the majority in Ontario, 397 SportChek stores, and 381 Mark’s stores. The company operates a network of 1,700 stores in total and gas bars that extend to every province and territory except Nunavut.

According to statistics, “about 85 percent of all Canadians live within a 15-minute drive of a Canadian Tire store; nine out of ten adult Canadians shop at one of these outlets at least twice a year; and 40 percent of Canadians shop at Canadian Tire every week.”

Closer to home, the Mowbray family opened their new Mowbray’s Canadian Tire in 2012 in Port Elgin (Saugeen Shores).  From the family’s old store (now the Dollartree) in Port Elgin, the family opened the doors at their new location, after five years in the planning, in a new 16,000 sq. ft. facility with state-of-the-art lighting, heating and all around eco-friendly design.

  The Mowbray family – (L) Dad Mike, daughter Candace, Mom Eleanor,                                           sons Max and Zach (2018)

The ground-breaking took place on Monday, October 3rd (2011) with family, Canadian Tire VIPs and Saugeen Shores Council members taking part.  The $5 million dollar site consists of the 16,500 square feet of retail space that includes 9,500 sq. ft. of indoor space, a large outdoor compound for seasonal produce, four service bays in the Automotive Service Centre, a Canadian Tire gas bar with eight pumps and convenience store and a Tim Horton’s Drive-Thru.

When it comes to community, the Mowbray family believes in “giving back” and has been an integral part of providing local support. From donating to minor sports to being the major donor of the horticultural program at the local high school (now disbanded), they have been played a key role in maintaining programming.

The favourite fundraiser of Eleanor Mowbray has been the Jump Start program in support of kids extra-curricular activities and sports.  Through the program, hundreds of local youth have been helped with costs for sports equipment and fees, through fundraisers such as the annual community BBQ.

In 2017, Mowbray’s Canadian Tire became the new league sponsor of the local 28-year-old Royals Basketball league in Saugeen Shores, which became known as the Canadian Tire Basketball League.  “We just felt with our Jump Start program,” said Eleanor Mowbray, “that this was another perfect fit to help youth.”

All generations of the Mowbray family have been involved in the growth of their Canadian Tire business.  From the senior Mowbray parents to owners Mike and Eleanor Mowbray and their children, Zach, Max and Candace.  Mom, Val, was usually at the cash, Zach is a manager, Max and Candace as youth both worked in the store and summer greenhouse and owner, Mike, is often on the floor working with employees and talking with customers.

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Help celebrate one of Canada’s national treasures while at the same time supporting local business at Mowbray’s Canadian Tire in Port Elgin.