“The rich guy buys a football team, the poor buys a football. Wealth is all relative.”
Have you calculated your net worth recently? Ever wondered what’s it’s like to be a billionaire? Comparing your wealth with the 30 wealthiest families in Canada should inspire and not intimidate.
To get a sense of which families really run this country, here’s a list of the richest clans in Canada, some of whom are immigrants to Canada.
With a combined net worth of US$49.2 billion, the Thomson family is the richest family in Canada, and the 26th-richest family in the world, according to the annual Forbes Billionaires ranking.
Now the Thomsons own a long list of media, publishing, pharmaceutical, and financial services companies through the Thomson Reuters Corporation. The family is still based in Toronto.
Weston family (Loblaws)
The Weston family’s empire started with a single bakery in Toronto in 1882 and has grown to encompass well-known companies in industries from food to high fashion.
The family owns Loblaws (the biggest supermarket chain in Canada), Holt Renfrew, Shoppers Drug Mart/Pharmaprix, and more instantly recognizable brands across Canada through George Weston Limited, which is currently chaired by Galen G. Weston. The Westons’ net worth is approximately US$15.8 billion.
Easily one of the most recognizable names in Canada, Rogers Communications has its fingers in everything from television and broadcasting, where it owns Citytv, Omni, and a handful of specialty TV and radio stations, to cable service and wireless cellular communications.
If you own a smartphone or watch any type of major-league sport on TV, streaming or live, you’ve come across this prominent family name. Rogers is largely controlled by the Rogers Control Trust, several of whose members are descendants of Edward S. Rogers Sr. He invented the batteryless radio in 1925 and later went on to manufacture radios and found the CFRB radio station.
The family’s fortune is estimated at about US$10 billion.
With a combined net worth of US$5.1 billion, the Quebec-based Saputo family is a prime example of the generational rags-to-riches immigrant story.
Now one of the top 10 dairy processors in the world, Saputo was founded as a small cheesemaking company in 1954 by patriarch Giuseppe Saputo in Montreal, with nothing more than $500 and a bicycle to make deliveries.
The company is chaired by Lino A. Saputo, Giuseppe’s grandson, and is active in over 60 countries. The family is ranked in 586th place on the Forbes Billionaires list.
As a young man, Paul Desmarais bought and rescued Sudbury Bus Lines, an unprofitable business owned by his parents. He then took over bus lines in Gatineau and Quebec City before buying the conglomerate Trans-Canada Corp Fund in 1965. In 1968, he became chairman and CEO of the Power Corporation of Canada.
In 1996, Desmarais made his two sons, Paul Jr. and André, co-chief executive officers of Power Corp. When he died in 2013, he had an estimated net worth of US$4.5 billion.
The New Brunswick-based Irving family in its current empire is descended from James Dergavel Irving, who bought the family’s first sawmill in 1881.
Future generations expanded the company, moving from the sawmill business to forestry, and later, to energy (Irving Oil was founded in 1924) and media (the family owns Brunswick News, which operates almost all of New Brunswick’s major print publications).
Now five generations old, the Richardson family empire includes holdings in agriculture, oil and gas, financial services, and real estate, a far cry from James Richardson’s origins as a grain trader in the 1850s.
Today, the family’s Winnipeg-based firm, James Richardson & Sons, Limited, is headed by Hartley T. Richardson.
The Azrieli family made their billions in the real estate sector in Canada and Israel.
Founder David Azrieli built his empire after fleeing Nazi-occupied Poland and eventually making his way to Montreal in the 1950s. When he died in 2014, the family’s net worth was estimated at US$2.9 billion. Azrieli’s daughters Naomi and Sharon currently sit on the board of the Azrieli Foundation, which funds a wide range of organizations in Canada and Israel.
The Edmonton-based Daryl Katz is no stranger to drugstore shelves. His father, Barry, helped found the Value Drug Mart Associates chain of pharmacies, and after Daryl was old enough to join the family business, the father and son duo went on to purchase the Canadian franchise rights to the Medicine Shoppe.
Later, the Katz family also bought Rexall, expanding it into a major player in the U.S. and in Canada. Now active in real estate and sports (Katz owns the Edmonton Oilers), Daryl Katz has a net worth of US$4.3 billion.
A self-made billionaire, Michael Lee-Chin moved to Canada from his native Jamaica in the 1970s. While working as a mutual fund salesman, he took out a loan to buy into Mackenzie Investments—and it paid off.
Since then, Lee-Chin has grown his fortune investing in companies such as AIC Limited and Jamaica’s National Commercial Bank. His estimated net worth is US$1.7 billion.
Bob Gaglardi started his empire when he opened the first Sandman Inn hotel in 1967.
Gaglardi went on to establish more Sandman Inn hotels across Canada and expanded into real estate and restaurants. His family is now one of Canada’s wealthiest, with his net worth estimated at US$3.2 billion. Along with his son Tom, he bought the Dallas Stars hockey team for $240 million in 2011.
Before he died in 2021, Andreas Apostolopoulos built his estimated US$4 billion fortune through his real estate corporation, Triple Group of Companies, which was known for buying up large industrial properties in unassuming areas of Detroit and fixing them up.
Headed by Apostolopoulos and his three sons, Steve, Jim, and Peter, the company bought the Pontiac Silverdome (pictured) and the Penobscot Building, both in Michigan.
Zekelman Industries is one of the largest steel pipe and tube manufacturers in North America.
The company is owned by Windsor-born Barry Zekelman and his two brothers, Clayton and Alan. Barry Zekelman serves as chair and CEO and has an estimated net worth of US$3.3 billion. He’s also an avid race car driver who frequently turns up at races in his Ferrari.
Calgary-based brothers Fred and Ron Mannix have inherited over a hundred years of generational wealth. Their grandfather, Frederick Stephen Mannix, was a railroad contractor before founding the Fred Mannix Company in 1936.
His son, Fred Charles Mannix, became a partner at the construction company in his 30s, and expanded the business to include all manner of infrastructure building, from pipelines to highways.
Fred Charles Mannix later handed the reins to his two sons, Fred and Ron, who continued to grow the business before selling off most of their energy assets.
Luigi Aquilini came to Vancouver from Italy in the mid-1950s and started his own construction company before getting into real estate development. Over the next few decades, he built Aquilini Investment Group into one of the most successful businesses in Canada.
Today, Luigi’s sons and several of his grandchildren are involved with the company. With investment arms in industries ranging from real estate development to renewable energy to food and wine, the Aquilini family are well secured for future generations ahead.
Jean Coutu was the son of a pediatrician in Montreal and opened his first pharmacy in 1969.
The drugstore chain now has over 400 franchised locations in Quebec, New Brunswick, and Ontario.
The family, including Jean Coutu’s son François Jean (who was president of the Jean Coutu Group until his retirement in 2019), has a combined net worth of US$3.2 billion.
Gerry Schwartz and Heather Reisman
Heather Reisman, the woman behind Heather’s Picks at Indigo stores, is the founder and chief executive of Indigo Books and Music, as well as the co-founder of the Kobo e-book business.
Her husband Gerald Schwartz, whose personal net worth is US$1.3 billion, owns the private equity company Onex.
The extremely private Lalji family has quietly amassed a fortune after buying up larger and larger pieces of real estate in Vancouver. Brothers Amin, Mansoor, and Shiraz are originally from Uganda but fled in the 1970s when Idi Amin expelled tens of thousands of Asians from the country.
Through their company Larco Investments, the Laljis have bought a number of hotels, malls, and office buildings in B.C., as well as several buildings in Ottawa, including the Château Laurier (pictured).
As Notorious B.I.G. wisely said, “Mo’ money, mo’ problems,” and nowhere is that more true than in the Stronach family.
In 2019, intra-family disputes led to major courtroom drama between billionaire patriarch Frank Stronach, who made his fortune in auto-parts manufacturing, and his daughter Belinda, whom he had groomed to take over as his successor.
Father and daughter eventually struck a deal wherein they each took control of some of the family’s business assets, but other family members have since filed their own lawsuits to dispute the settlement.
The Vancouver-based Wilson family, which includes father Chip, his wife Shannon, and their sons, first made their fortune from the internationally recognized athletic apparel company Lululemon Athletica.
Since Chip stepped down from the board of the brand he founded, the family has moved on to other ventures, managing their various businesses and philanthropic initiatives through their company Hold It All Inc.
The Sobey family has a long history in Nova Scotia, where J.W. Sobey founded a meat delivery business, carting livestock from local farmers to customers with a horse-drawn carriage in 1907.
Not long after, the family business expanded to include vegetables and more groceries, leading to the establishment of the Sobeys chain of stores in 1939. By 1987, the company had made its first billion dollars in sales; today, it’s worth over C$25 billion.
In 1937, Joseph-Armand Bombardier created a seven-passenger snowmobile. The vehicle—designed to help people travel across the snowy roads of rural Quebec—was a hit, and Bombardier’s company would go on to manufacture more models, including the famous Ski-Doo.
Since then, the company has grown exponentially, branching out into the railway and aerospace sectors. Laurent Beaudoin (pictured), the son-in-law of Joseph-Armand Bombardier, was the company’s longtime CEO and chairman before he stepped down in 2019.
Four generations have helmed the retail business that operates today as discount goods chain Dollarama. The business originated in 1910, when Salim Rossy opened a small general store in Montreal.
The network of S. Rossy Inc. stores grew slowly until 1992, when Salim’s grandson, Larry, opened the first Dollarama in Matane, Quebec.
There are now more than 1,200 Dollarama stores across Canada. The company is headed by Larry’s son, Neil Rossy, who reportedly made nearly C$8 million in 2021.
After immigrating to Canada from Morocco in the 1950s, brothers Paul and Albert Reichmann founded Olympia & York Developments Ltd.
In 1975, Olympia & York built the 72-storey First Canadian Place in Toronto, which was then the tallest skyscraper in Canada. In the 1980s, the company took on high-profile development projects in New York City and London.
Olympia & York went bankrupt in the 1990s following a global real estate crash, but the Reichmanns were able to partly rebuild their fortune.
The Calgary-based corporation, which provides services in the energy, housing, transportation, and infrastructure sectors, was founded in 1947 as a trailer-hire company to service Alberta’s oil industry.
Before he died in 2016, Ronald Southern had a net worth of US$1.55 billion.
The late media magnate Allan Slaight made his fortune in broadcasting, having owned dozens of radio stations as the head of Slaight Communications and Standard Broadcasting Corporation. His son, Gary Slaight, now runs the Slaight Family Foundation and Slaight Music, which support a variety of charities and causes.
In 2013, the Slaight family donated C$50 million to the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre; in 2017, the family’s foundation donated C$12 million to not-for-profit organizations working to support Indigenous communities across Canada.
The Bronfman family amassed their fortune in the distillery business at an opportune time. Samuel Bronfman founded the Distillers Corporation Limited in 1924, later buying out his competitor Seagram and exporting liquor to the United States during and after the Prohibition era.
Over the next few decades, the company expanded around the world. In 2000, Samuel’s son Charles Bronfman and grandson Edgar Bronfman Jr. sold Seagram for US$30 billion.
Charles Bronfman has an estimated net worth of $2.5 billion
Leon family (Leon’s and The Brick)
One of the most prominent families in Canada, the Leons also run one of the biggest family businesses: Leon’s Furniture Limited. Now one of the country’s largest retailers, the company started out as a general store founded by Ablan Leon in 1909.
Ablan Leon’s son Anthony and grandson Terry (pictured) each served as CEO for many years. Terry oversaw the company’s acquisition of The Brick, another Canadian furniture retailer, in 2013.
The Molson family empire was launched in 1786 with the establishment of the Molson Brewery, the oldest brewery in North America.
A true pioneer, John Molson also helped create the first steamship and the first railway in British North America. Seven generations later, the Molsons remain one of Canada’s most well-known families. Geoff Molson along with his brothers Andrew and Justin, is the owner of the Montreal Canadiens hockey team.
Owner of Onex, one of Canada’s largest private equity firms, Schwartz has worked with some of the biggest buyout legends in history, such as Henry Kravis and Jerome Kohlberg. He is now chairman and CEO of the firm and manages a staggering C$53 billion.
His family’s net worth is around $2 billion.
Money quotes for thought
- “If you want to get rich quicker, then solve bigger problems!” – Robert Kivosaki
- “Analyze your money mistakes. You’ve already paid the tuition, you might as well get the lesson.” – Tim Fargo
- “After a rich man gets rich, his next ambition is to get richer.” – Proverbs
- “It’s not your salary that makes you rich, it’s your spending habits.” – Charles Jaffe
- “Failure defeats losers, failure inspires winners.” – Robert Kivosaki
- “Sight is what you see with your eyes. Vision is what you see with your mind.” – Robert Kivosaki
- “My poor dad often said, I’d rather be happy than rich. My rich dad said, why not be both?” – Robert Kivosaki