Burnco 100th Anniversary Timeline

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Burnco History Timeline


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    Jim I was born in 1882 in Petrolia, Ontario and he came to Alberta when he was 21 years old. Jim transited through Calgary in 1903 following a tip from a CP Rail sta-tionmaster that his skills were needed at the Bankhead coal mines, just outside of Banff. Jim had become very adept at handling horses and was hired as a teamster: driv-ing horses to pull loaded coal cars from the mine. After a few winters spent at Bankhead, and summers on a new homestead in the Gadsby/Stettler area, around 1908 Jim was drawn to the ever-growing business activity in Calgary. He initially worked for others as a teamster, but it wasnt long before he bought his own team of work horses and a dump wagon with aspirations to own a business.

    As Calgary started to take shape, teamsters and their horses and wagons were found working on a variety of projects. One of Calgarys earlier projects required teamsters to cut through the upper edge of the North Hill riverbank to access the new Centre Street Bridge.

    In 1912, Jim started BURNCO as a concrete and excavation business where his team of work horses, a four-wheeled dump wagon and hand shovels were the tools of the day. A slip scraper was used to excavate basements and during the colder months, dynamite was used to loosen the frozen ground. During the initial years, Jim drummed up concrete work that included sidewalks, concrete floors and poured foundations that quite often replaced wooden basement walls. Sand and gravel was screened through the tines of a coal fork at the Elbow or Bow River, then shovelled into the dump wagon. Upon arrival at the job site it was again shovelled onto a batter board, cement and water add-ed, hand-mixed and placed into the concrete forms.

    The Bowness Golf and Country Club, on Bowfort Road, was one of his first large-scale excavation and concrete projects. In later years, it became a restau-rant known as the Romeo and Juliet Inn, and provided a castle-like landmark for travellers heading west on the Trans-Canada Highway.

    During the early days, he ran the business from his home on 15th Avenue NE, complete with a large barn and a garage to house two teams of horses and a blacksmith shop. He hired helpers as needed, but the flat-work trowelling and finishing work was still done by Jim.

    With the advent of trucks and job-site mixers, he purchased his first gravel truck and tow-behind mixer in 1923. While he was growing the business, he and his wife were also raising a family. James Francis Burns (II) joined the company after Grade 8 to labour and drive a truck. His pride was a new 1929 two-ton

    REO dump truck with a hand-crank dump. Before long, Jim II independently was involved

    with quoting jobs, supervising the crew, collecting payment and honing his concrete finishing skills. He worked along with his father for many years, but when the Great Depression hit, business slowed and the fa-ther and son had a falling out.

    In 1937, Jim II acquired a mining permit for a gravel operation on the north bank of the Bow River between the Langevin and Centre Street Bridges. His ingenuity and hard work along with periodic help from others allowed him to erect a plant with a cableway system built on a low budget and this marked the beginning of J.F. Burns Sand & Gravel.

    With the disagreement behind father and son, they started to work together again via the two businesses. By now, Jim II had started his own concrete operation in addition to the sand and gravel business, but had exhausted the supply from his permitted section of the river.

    In a discussion with an old gent one day, Jim II be-came aware of a potential new gravel deposit an old stream bed located in the Manchester area that was accessible only via a rutted trail across the prairie. The parcel was owned by P. Burns Ranches Ltd. (no rela-tion to Jim II), and after testing the land, he purchased 12 acres in 1948. The site was on the east side of 6th Street SE, which later became the Blackfoot Trail and 46th Avenue SE.

    Meanwhile, Jim Is concrete operations were con-tinuing at a mediocre pace, due mainly to the effect of the war on the economy. Jim II was managing both concrete operations and in 1945, Jim I returned to Calgary, after an extended time away, to announce his business was for sale. He gave Jim II two weeks to generate the necessary capital, otherwise it would be sold to the insurance agent who lived down the street, but as fate would have it, the business remained in the family as Jim II agreed to take on debt to buy the business albeit reluctantly. One of the drawbacks of the concrete business was finishing the concrete. Jim II had trained and hired many excellent concrete finishers, however it was not uncommon to lose good

    Today, the management team has positioned the group of companies for solid growth. We have the ability to think long-term and we have the financial strength to help us grow, and thats be-cause the family has always reinvested the profits back into the business, says Mike Powell, President. We have almost 1000 employees who are very talented and proud to work at BURNCO; we also have a very strong brand that is highly respect-ed. These are key building blocks for future growth.

    Many of BURNCOs senior people have been with the company for decades and were hired by Jim III. These people ascended into more senior positions and there were many others before them who helped to build the business with the same passion and vision the Burns family has, adds Mike.

    Our brand is very strong and that echoes back to Jim III. Likewise, we take great pride in our people and the work they undertake, and we work hard to ensure that our people, properties and equipment fleet sup-port our brand, asserts Mike.

    BURNCO has always taken a conservative but as-sertive approach to business and that has support-ed its legacy, but it also engages long-term growth. And as BURNCO celebrates 100 years, they thank all the business partners, suppliers, customers and past generations who played a role in the companys growth and success. Our approach to business and strong values allow us to look to the future and fifth generation with confidence, says Scott Burns, CEO.

    Before Alberta was declared a province and like many ambitious young men, James Francis Burns (I) boarded the CP Rail in Ontario and travelled west hopeful he could carve out a respect-able life, find a wife and raise a family.

    Jim headed west on the advice of his doctor, to recover from bronchitis claiming the dry climate was the only way to rid him-self of the affliction. He departed Ontario with $25 that his father had given him as a nest egg and by the time he arrived in Cal-gary, he had $1.50 to his name.

    At the time, Jim did not realize the coming years would find him running a successful excavation and concrete business that

    would eventually grow to become one of Western Canadas larg-est privately-owned businesses known today as BURNCO Rock Products Ltd.

    As 2012 marks BURNCOs centennial year, it would seem that Jim not only carved out a respectable livelihood, but one that transcended the generations even though his dream was just to provide for his family. Through lessons learned and absolute at-tention to quality, service, price, fair dealings, creativity and action, BURNCO is positioned to satisfy customers demands. Profits have been continuously reinvested in the business and the com-pany is a role model of appropriate stewardship toward safety and the environment. Today, as the fourth generation sits at the helm of BURNCO, take a glance back and honour their history.

    men periodically when tempers flared for various reasons which would leave him to do the concrete finishing work alone, often late into the night.

    Once the business was sold, Jim I moved to Vancouver, driving his meticulously kept 1932 Studebaker sedan. He often remarked that when he could no longer keep his books in the glove compartment of his Studebaker, it was time to retire.

    Jim II merged the two concrete businesses and divided his time between it and the sand and gravel. The businesses flour-ished after the war and there was no shortage of work. When soldiers began returning home, the available workforce, which had been limited for many years, expanded almost overnight, and the new Manchester Gravel Pit was a flurry of activity.

    On the concrete side, things were a bit different: a new competitor had arrived. Alberta Transit Mix was open for busi-ness complete with truck-mounted mixers, a centrally-located ready-mix plant and a sales team to offer contractors and homebuilders a better price, with concrete delivered to the job site in trucks.

    In 1950, True Mix Concrete was established with a used stationary concrete plant purchased from a dam site, and a fleet of six new White-brand trucks complete with mounted mixers. The operation was set up across the Elbow River from the Stampede Grounds.

    Jim II and Ernie Lutz established this new business as equal partners, but maintained their own gravel operations that sup-plied the plant with raw materials. In short order the new op-eration had two adjoining plants and an additional 20 larger White mixer trucks.

    A few years later, Jim II decided to sell his shares in True Mix Concrete, but Ernie didnt have the capital to buy him out. His shares were sold to an outside company and the transaction took Jim II out of the concrete business a first since he was 14 years old.

    As the Manchester Pit expanded, part of it contained lower- quality sand than what was needed for concrete and Jim II be-lieved it would work well for hot mix asphalt. At the time, there was only one other asphalt contractor in Calgary, so in 1954, Jim II along wit