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A Very Short History of Entrepreneurship in Canada

According to a 2019 report by BDC (the Business Development Bank of Canada), Canada is one of the most entrepreneurial nations of the world. In 2019, small and medium enterprises, serving as the backbone of the economy, numbered more than a million, providing 90 per cent of jobs in the private sector.

Canada’s Entrepreneurial Birth

In early 1600s French fur traders Pierre-Esprit Radisson and Médard des Groseilliers found access through the Hudson Bay to the North-Western region of present day Canada, where they would barter for beaver pelts for fur hats with the Indigenous populations for nearly two centuries. The region (almost a third of present-day Canada) got the name Rupert’s Land after the British Prince Rupert who funded their expedition. The excursion led to the formation of Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) as a joint stock corporation, symbolizing Canada’s entrepreneurial birth.

The Government of Canada bought Rupert’s Land from the HBC in the largest land-area real estate transaction of Canada for $1.5 M. Ever since Canada’s founding, the government has played an instrumental role in supporting the development of new enterprises through subsidies and infrastructure investments.

Canada boasts several discoveries and inventions: basketball, computer animation, the light bulb, the electric wheelchair, the electric oven and the co-creation of Superman. Hockey masks and kayaks are two Canada-specific product inventions. The medical discovery of insulin is credited to the Nobel laureate and Canadian scientist Sir Frederick Banting.

The 1800s

From the development of timber and wheat in the fur trading days, the 1800s saw the rise of various industries such as manufacturing and banking. One of the enterprising spirits in these years was John Molson, an English immigrant to Montreal, who started the Molson Coors Brewing Company at the age of 23, later to diversify into owning another successful business of steamboats.

Gordon McGregor travelled to the US to meet Henry Ford to set up the Ford Motor Company of Canada. By 1920, the company had set up subsidiaries in many colonies of the British Empire and dominated the Canadian automobile market with a 60 per cent stake, elevating Gordon McGregor to the status of a tycoon.

20th and 21st Centuries

These nineteenth-century enterprising spirits set the pace for the later centuries, with the big brands of today, such as McCain Fries, Jos Louis, Canada Goose, Michelin Tires, and French’s Ketchup, having been found in the twentieth century.

From the start of the twenty-first century, a decline was witnessed in the numbers for new firms quite possibly due to alternative opportunities, increased minimum wages and improved labour market conditions. 2018 saw a turnaround with 44,800 new businesses. By the end of 2020, real estate, manufacturing, construction, finance, and healthcare represented the biggest sectors of the GDP. Technology is one such sector which has the highest chances for immense growth given the spur in innovation in Fourth Industrial Revolution. Consider the growth of AI firms in Canada that doubled from 2015 to nearly 700 in 2020. In 2019, tech sector boasted the creation of 60,000 new jobs.

According to a 2020 report by StartUP Canada, currently entrepreneurship in Canada presents a diversified picture of ownership and employment with women, immigrants and multiple nationalities taking part in the ecosystem. In 2019, a report by BDC showed that new immigrants are more prone to starting fast-growing businesses with greater number of jobs per venture than Canadian-born individuals. Moreover, from 2006, newcomer entrepreneurship grew by 22 per cent to 251,600 in 2018. Furthermore, Indigenous business ownership was above 56,000 in 2020, a major improvement from the past. With average $30 B contribution every year from Indigenous-owned businesses, they are not to be taken lightly. Organizations such as National Aboriginal Capital Corporations Association exist to spur Indigenous entrepreneurship.

This Canada Day let’s celebrate a nation that allows anyone with the spirit, ambition, and drive to become an entrepreneur.

Arslan Ahmed | Staff Writer

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