Canada Cartage. Celebrating 100 years
In 1914, the beginnings of what is now one of North America's largest transportation companies started with a single horse...
Robert Leslie, a 32-year old Scottish immigrant, was working in Toronto as a sales representative for the Brunswick Billiard company. The city was growing rapidly due to rising immigration and industrialization, and he saw an opportunity to earn some extra income for his family by helping local businesses to move their goods across the city. He purchased a horse and a wagon, hired a driver, and Canada Cartage was born. One of the company's first jobs was to move imported stained glass windows from the docks in downtown Toronto to the city's grand new castle - Casa Loma.
Canada Cartage. Celebrating 100 years
Early Days: A One Horsepower Beginning That Started a Canadian Success Story
While delivery services were very much in demand, Robert wasn't totally sure about the future of his new venture, so he continued with his job with Brunswick Billiards, but also fit in a few hours a day selling his new delivery services. Soon, as new customers signed on, demand was exceeding his "one horse power" enterprise. More horses were purchased, wagons were procured, and soon Canada Cartage had a fleet of horses and delivery carts.
The business model that Robert Leslie chose back then continues to this day - "dedicated" delivery services. Essentially, customers get a driver and truck "dedicated" to their account, versus using a "for hire" carrier on a transactional basis. In the early days, the wagons were often branded with the customer's logo, rather than Canada Cartage's branding. While Robert took care of sales and customer relationships, his wife Mary ran the day-to-day operations of the young business. Mary was a critical part of the early success of the new venture. She would take delivery orders from customers, schedule the deliveries, handle the paperwork, and make sure that everything ran smoothly.
In 1917, the first motorized truck was purchased by the company. But it took many years before trucks took over from horses. Early trucks were prone to mechanical breakdowns, and getting them fixed quickly was a challenge. The speed limit on most highways at this time was 25 kilometers/hour, so it gives you an idea of the efficiency of both trucks and roads in those days. Through the 1920s, horses and motor trucks worked alongside one another at the company. By 1929, Canada Cartage boasted 14 horses and wagons, and 20 motorized trucks, and was becoming one of the largest delivery fleets in Toronto. Early customers included grocery stores, bakeries, potato distributors, and beverage companies.
1930s and 1940s: Survival in Difficult Times and a Second Generation Takes the Reins
In the 1930s and 1940s, businesses across Canada struggled through the Great Depression and World War II. Canada Cartage was no different, and the company had to fight for survival. One saving grace was that a significant number of customers were in the food and grocery business, and these companies did relatively better than most.
In 1930, Robert Leslie's son Rodger became General Manager of Canada Cartage, and took over the day-to-day operations of the business. Robert turned his energy towards municipal politics, and ran successfully as an alderman in Toronto, a position that he held for many years. As the company grew, it adopted progressive management practices such as the introduction of a Management-Driver Relations committee to ensure that drivers had a strong voice in the operation of the firm.
In 1946, founder Robert Leslie passed away, and son Rodger was named President of Canada Cartage. The ownership of the firm was held in a trust, until Rodger eventually purchased the business from the trust in 1955.
1950s and 1960s: Growth of the Trucking Industry in Ontario
During the 1950s, the transportation industry went through a phenomenal period of growth, as long-haul shipping of goods continued the shift from railways to roadways. With the completion of the first section of the Highway 401 super highway in 1948, and further expansion of it across the province through the '50s and '60s, transporting goods by truck became more efficient, and made more economic sense. As a result, the trucking industry grew and Canada Cartage grew along with it.
In 1954, the company moved into a large new terminal located on the Queensway in western Toronto. The Canada Cartage sign was a prominent sight from the recently opened Queen Elizabeth Way highway as commuters drove into and out of the city.
Our company newsletter, The Beaver, was introduced in 1952 and is still published today. In 1960, the company introduced a scholarship program for employees' children, and this tradition also continues today. In 1968, the "Safety Committee" was created to promote the safe operation of trucks and proper workplace safety procedures for drivers and warehouse dock workers. A third generation of the Leslie family joined Canada Cartage during this time, when Rodger Leslie's son Fred joined the company in 1952 as an office clerk. Fred learned the business by working in a number of different departments in both administration and operations over the next twenty years, until he eventually became co-owner of the firm in 1974.
A number of company programs were introduced during the '50s and '60s that still continue to this day. The firm's logo was changed in 1950 and the familiar beaver icon was added to it. The success of the company also required an expansion of facilities and in the late '60s a new depot opened in Rexdale, and building expansion occurred at the Martingrove facility.
1970s and 1980s: Ownership Expansion & Industry Leadership
In 1974, the company ownership expanded as Fred Leslie partnered with the company's Vice President of Finance, Bill Lindsay, and the two partners assumed ownership of Canada Cartage. While Fred Leslie ran the operations of the firm, Bill Lindsay ran the finance and administrative side of things, and the two forged a successful partnership for almost 30 years.
The company continued to grow and attracted customers in industries such as grocery, home appliance delivery, paper and cardboard products, building and construction materials, and compressed gas. In 1989, the company celebrated its 75th anniversary.
1990s to Today:
Through the 1990s to today, the transportation industry has gone through significant change, primarily driven by technology, and advances in the science of logistics. Companies have moved to "just-in-time" delivery environments and lower inventory levels, which requires carriers to meet more stringent on-time delivery demands. Canada Cartage has kept pace with these customer demands and introduced industry-leading transportation management systems for the dispatching and deployment of trucks and drivers. GPS tracking and on-line freight visibility web portals give customers complete visibility into the movement and delivery of their freight.
From a leadership perspective, partners Fred Leslie and Bill Lindsay passed the torch to the 4th generation of the Leslie family and 2nd generation of the Lindsay family to run Canada Cartage. Rodger Leslie and Jeff Lindsay took over the management of the company in 2001, and the company entered its most significant period of growth in its history.
In Ontario, the company acquired well-known names such as Mel Hall Transportation in 2005, All-Ontario Transportation in 2006, and OK Transportation in 2007. The company's largest expansion came from the merger with Winnipeg-based Direct Integrated Transportation in 2006, which had operations in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. And finally, the 2009 acquisition of Cur-Quin Delivery Systems in Vancouver gave Canada Cartage fleet coverage and facilities from British Columbia to Quebec, providing national customers with reliable, consistent service across the country.
To help support the company's expansion, the Leslie and Lindsay families took the company public in 2006 and it was later acquired by Nautic Partners private equity group. Original ownership and management still retain a sizeable portion of the company.
What started with a single horse in 1914 is now Canada's largest provider of dedicated fleet outsourcing. With over $500 million in annual revenues, 4,300 trucks, and 3,600 employees, Canada Cartage has grown in parallel with our country, and continues to be a leader in Canadian transportation.