KAMLOOPS — There was a time when Canadians made things, and owned what we made. I’m thinking about this as we struggle with the sale of Retirement Concepts to a Chinese outfit, and in the wake of the opening of a Trump Tower in Vancouver.
Canadians have brought a lot of wonderful things to this world, the sorts of things we like to bring up whenever there’s a need or an opportunity to display some pride. I’m talking, of course, about the telephone, insulin, the Wonderbra, various sports — that sort of thing.
Alexander Graham Bell wasn’t born here but he invented the telephone mostly in Ontario, then patented it in the U.S. and the Americans pretty much took it over. (And don’t even get me started on Blackberry.)
Frederick Banting, Charles Best and James Collip sold the patent for insulin to the University of Toronto for $1 each. Most insulin is now made in the U.S., France and Denmark, some in Europe and Asia, where Big Pharma makes vast sums of money from it.
A Canadian named Louise Porier designed the Wonderbra to create cleavage, then licensed it to a British firm. Playtex took over from there and was selling one bra every 15 seconds in the 1990s.
Arthur Irwin, a Toronto-born shortstop, invented the baseball glove after he hurt his hand. Speaking of baseball, Abner Doubleday supposedly invented it in Cooperstown, but the real story is that the game began in Beachville, Ontario.
And we all know that James Naismith, who invented basketball, was a Canadian. What would the Americans do without basketball? (Personally, I’ve never been able to figure out the attraction of a sport in which the winner is only ever determined in the final two minutes of the game. Why not just make the game two minutes long?)
Despite what the Americans say, duct tape was invented in Canada, though if anybody in Canada manufactures it any more I’m not aware of it. Roots is now owned by an international company that also has an investment in M&M Meats. Petro-Canada counts Barclays and Capital Group among its investors. Fewer and fewer American cars are being built in Canada as jobs are moved to places where it’s cheaper to make them.
But how I drone on. Back to present day. As we now know, the new owner of Retirement Concepts is a subsidiary of a Chinese conglomerate called Anbang Insurance, based in Beijing and said to have ownership ties to higher-ups in government there.
Yet it isn’t that simple. The B.C. family that started Retirement Concepts will retain a minority share and continue to run it. That seems to be the way it is, these days. Corporate DNA gets more and more complicated.
There are no two companies that say “Canada” more than Tim Hortons and the Hudson’s Bay Company. We know Tim Hortons was started by a Toronto Maple Leaf of the same name, and we’ve been drinking Tim’s coffee and eating Timbits since 1964.
But trying to figure out the current Tim’s ownership structure requires an MBA, which I definitely don’t have. We do know that Burger King bought it up, but Burger King is owned by a Brazilian company called 3G Capital.
Then I think it was Canadian again, at least for awhile, but here’s another thing. We used to pull into a Timmy’s in the morning and buy dougnuts fresh-made on the spot. Now they’re pre-made, frozen, shipped to the “store” and made ready with some process I’m not clear on.
Tim Hortons, which we so proudly identify with Canada, now sells doughnuts in places like the U.K., Philippines, Ireland and Saudi Arabia. There’s a Tim’s at Fort Knox.
As for the HBC, the company of adventurers that actually started our whole country, it was purchased years ago by Americans and moved around subsidiaries, as near as I can tell, before being merged with Saks and acquiring a German department store chain. Then came the Netherlands.
It all makes one’s head spin.
By the way, those membranes that filter the water at the Kamloops Centre for Water Quality plant? They were developed and manufactured by, and purchased from, a Canadian company called Zenon Environmental Inc. Zenon was the last big Canadian company involved in water treatment technology. I met the founder, Andrew Benedek, when the Kamloops plant was being built.
General Electric bought Zenon for $760 million the year after our water plant went on line.
All these things are understandable. The world has changed, the lines are blurred. Some would say we’re losing Canada little by little. Maybe it’s because we’re so polite we just hand our stuff over to whoever wants it.
But the ultimate insult is that shiny new architectural wonder that was officially opened this week on West Georgia Street in Vancouver. Many major buildings in downtown Vancouver have foreign landlords but this one is special — it was built with Malaysian money but bears the name Trump Tower.
Putting Donald Trump’s name on a building in Canada is going one step too far. All things considered, you get the feeling we’re becoming tenants in our own country.
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