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Pioneer Grain Company

The Richardson family has been synonymous with the grain industry in western Canada from the early days of settlement to the present. James Richardson came to Canada from Ireland in 1823. He started in Kingston, Ontario with a tailor shop, and when he took payment in grain, he was forced into the grain business. He gave up his tailor shop, and with his two sons formed James Richardson and Sons in 1857. He built his first elevator at Kingston in 1882, and another at Neepawa, Manitoba in 1890. James Richardson was to arrange the first shipment of wheat from western Canada through the lake system to Liverpool, England in 1883. In 1913 the Richardsons formed two subsidiaries, Pioneer Grain Company Ltd. and Eastern Terminals Ltd. By then the company had twenty-six licenced elevators, sixteen of which were in Saskatchewan. By 1921, Pioneer had expanded to over 100 country elevators. In 1931, forty-four elevators of the Saskatchewan and Western Elevator companies were amalgamated into Pioneer; these elevators had been operated by the Richardsons since the mid-1920s. In 1947 Pioneer acquired twenty-three elevators from the failed Reliance Grain Company. In 1952 it purchased 146 elevators when the Western Grain Elevator Company was sold; Federal Grain also took some of Western’s elevators. In 1953, Pioneer acquired another twenty-two elevators of the Independent line. When Federal was sold in 1972, Pioneer became the largest private grain company.

The Richardsons always had strong interests in grain terminals. After leasing terminal space for several years, in 1917 they built a terminal at Port Arthur with a capacity of two million bushels; over the years they added capacity, until in 1974 this terminal had a capacity of 7.7 million bushels. The Richardsons partnered with Federal Grain to form Westland Elevator Ltd. in order to purchase the 7.5 million-bushel terminal at Fort William. It was sold to the Pools in 1972 along with the Federal sale. On the West Coast they became one-third owners with Federal and Searle of a 1.5 million-bushel terminal in North Vancouver; the Richardsons became sole owner of this terminal in 1972. This terminal suffered an explosion and fire in 1975, and was rebuilt and expanded to four million bushels; its name was changed from Burrard Terminal Ltd. to Pioneer Grain Terminals Ltd. In 1961, the Richardsons became part owner of a five million-bushel terminal on the St. Lawrence at Sorel, Quebec.

Pioneer is a diversified company: Pioneer Chemical Division, for example, was established in 1947. It was not directly involved in overseas selling until it acquired Whitson, Neilson and Francis of London as a wholly owned Richardson subsidiary. In 1927, James Richardson and Sons Limited created the largest privately owned investment and commodity dealer in the country, which became Richardson Greenshields of Canada Limited in 1982. The firm had seventy offices worldwide; it was purchased by a major Canadian bank in 1996. Today, Richardson Financial Group Ltd. is the financial arm of the company and invests in Canadian companies outside of Pioneer’s main core business. The company is also involved in real estate, pipeline construction, shipping, fuel oil distribution and manufacturing, and air transportation: Tundra oil and gas Ltd. has wells and pipelines in the Williston Basin; Lombard Reality Limited is responsible for the company’s real estate interests; and their feed and fertilizer division is represented by Topnotch Feeds Ltd. and Topnotch Nutri Ltd. In 1999 the company purchased Canbra Foods Limited, which is located at Lethbridge and processes canola to produce margarine and other vegetable oil products.

The company has always been headed by a Richardson. James Richardson, who died in 1892, was succeeded by his son George. When George died in 1906, his brother Henry became president; and when the latter died in 1918, George’s son James became president. Upon George’s death his wife Muriel served as president until 1966, when she was replaced by her son George. The latter’s son, Hartley T. Richardson, became president in 1983—the seventh family president of James Richardson and Sons.

Gary Storey

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Further Reading

Anderson, C.W. 1991. Grain: The Entrepreneurs. Winnipeg: Watson and Dwyer Publishing; Fowke, V. 1957. The National Policy and the Wheat Economy. Toronto: University of Toronto Press; Wilson, C.F. 1978. A Century of Canadian Grain. Saskatoon: Western Producer Prairie Books.
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