Canadian Retail Chains

Shopping is big business in Canada, grossing nearly $10 billion USD per year. With so many Canadians flocking to malls, department stores, strip malls and drive-throughs, it is no wonder that Canadian owned-and-operated retail stores have experienced spectacular success since the post-war boom began in the 1950s.

Anyone who travels anywhere in Canada, be it the megalopolis of Toronto or the tiny mountain village of Banff, is bound to come across some of these Canadian retail giants listed below.

The Bay

The Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC), better known as “The Bay”, is North America’s oldest company. Founded in 1689 in Fort Nelson, Manitoba, on the south shores of Hudson’s Bay by Royal Charter, it originally served as a series of protected forts to ensure the safe transit of furs to England.

During the late 19th Century HBC transformed itself into a department store chain called “The Bay” and has experienced phenomenal growth. In 1989, when HBC celebrated its 300th anniversary, there were 87 Bay stores across Canada. By 2009 there were over 200!

These high-end department stores are found in every mall and in every city in Canada. They claim to cater to those with quality on their mind, but this really translates into those with money in their pocket. As the oldest chartered company in North America, The Hudson’s Bay Company remains a Canadian landmark.

Canadian Tire

Canadian Tire is one of Canada’s most popular car and home centers, offering customers everything from oil changes to tires to steering wheels, and garden supplies to plumbing to tennis rackets and baseball gloves.

As one of Canada’s largest publicly traded companies, Canadian Tire operates over 475 stores across the country. Founded in 1925 in Toronto, Ontario, it has experienced phenomenal success and with good positioning has weathered every financial crisis and increased competition from US-based Wal-Mart and Home Depot.

This hasn’t stopped Canadians from nick-naming the chain “Crappy Tire”, however.


Chapter’s is Canada’s largest bookstore chain, with 77 superstores and more than 280 mall stores across the country. Founded in 1994 in Burlington, Ontario, it has become the 4th biggest “brick-and-mortar” retailer of books in the world by sales volume and it’s domination of the Canadian markets has made a couple of the US-based giants nervous about starting operations in Canada.

Future Shop

Future Shop can be found in every Canadian suburban strip mall. This electronics chain offers everything from home entertainment systems to R/W CDs. As of 2008 there were 139 stores across Canada. In 2006, as Future Shop gained more and more market share, Radio Shack folded up it’s long operations in Canada and retreated to the relative safety of the US, although another American giant, Best Buy, has recently been giving Future Shop a run for its money.

London Drugs

London Drugs is not, as the name suggests, a British operation but is actually from Richmond, British Columbia.

Founded in 1954 as a single pharmacy in Vancouver, it has franchised out to become the second largest pharmacy in Canada. There are currently 73 stores across the country, with most of them concentrated in British Columbia.

In addition to prescription and over-the-counter medicines, London Drugs offers everything from toiletries to hairbrushes to cosmetics.

Mark’s Work Wearhouse

Wherever there is a decent-sized city in Canada, there is a middle-class suburb. And wherever there is a suburb, there is a Mark’s Work Wearhouse in a strip mall.

“Mark’s” is a large clothing chain in Canada specializing in outdoor and work clothing. They offer everything from thermal socks to steel-toed hiking boots to sun hats to heavy wool sweaters.

Founded in 1977 by a former executive of the Hudson’s Bay Company, Mark’s Work Wearhouse has grown to over 139 stores across Canada.

Mountain Equipment Co-op

Mountain Equipment Co-op is one of the more unique ideas in retailing. Founded in 1972 in Vancouver, British Columbia as an “environmentally and consumer-conscious cooperative”, MEC has expanded across Canada throughout the early 21st Century.

Mountain Equipment Co-op sells everything a person needs for any sort of outdoor adventure, from kayaks to camping forks. They have a wide range of tents, footwear, sleeping bags, first aid kits, sporting knives and everything in between. They were also the first retailer in the world to sell only environmentally and socially responsible products. Nothing in their store is made by underpaid labour in Asia, and everything they purchase is produced using environmentally-friendly methods.

The basic organization of MEC is that every shopper first becomes a member, and then they can enjoy the benefits such as electing the governing board and helping decide new environmental and social policies.

In 2000 Mountain Equipment Co-op won an award for environmental excellence and in 2006 won a UN award for it’s “Fair Labour” practices. There are over 3 million members across Canada.


Roots is not only a clothing giant in Canada, it has expanded across the globe since 1998. Roots stores can be found in Tokyo and New York, Moscow and London, Sydney and New Delhi.

Roots designs, produces and sells its own “Roots” brand of clothing and footwear in a model example of vertical integration. One of the biggest supporters of the International Olympics, Roots tries to maintain an international presence with social responsibility. Roots has been the official clothier of Canada’s Olympic teams since 1998, and became the official clothier of both the US and UK Olympic teams in 2002.

Founded in 1973 to share the camping lifestyle of Algonquin Park with the world, the Roots success story has seen hundreds of stores open around the world.

Shopper’s Drug Mart

Shopper’s Drug Mart is Canada’s largest pharmacy and cosmetics chain. Founded in 1962 in Toronto, Ontario, “Shopper’s” has grown to 1,149 stores in every city and town in the country.

Shopper’s offers everything from prescriptions to free pharmacist advice to cosmetics to magazines to toilet paper. They are the world’s 3rd largest pharmacy chain by sales volume and open an average of 12 new stores per year.


Sobey’s is a Nova Scotia supermarket chain that exploded onto the scene in a very short time. Sobey’s was originally founded in 1907 in Stellarton, Nova Scotia and enjoyed huge success with its stylish interior, quality food and mid-range prices. By 2010 there were over 1,300 stores across Canada!


Petro-Canada is not only Canada’s largest oil and gas producer, but also the largest gas-station chain in the country. Petro-Canada, the world’s sixth largest oil company, was originally founded in 1973 as a government Crown Corporation to bring stability back to the gas sector following the global oil crisis.

It was auctioned off to the public during the early ’90s and has since grown into a gas giant. With over 2,000 gas stations and service centres across the country, it also owns and operates a series of stations in the UK under the name “Suncor” and in Germany under the name “Veba Oil”.

Petro-Canada has recently opened up a pre-paid mobile phone service, available in any of its gas stations, and is preparing to launch a series of fast food outlets with drive throughs so that drivers can fill up and then grab a quick bite to eat.

Pizza Pizza

What is a free market without pizza? This may indeed be the question the original founders of Canada’s largest pizza chain, Pizza Pizza, asked when they started the first restaurant in 1967.

Since then, Pizza Pizza has gone on to open 500 locations across the country, with most of them located in Ontario. Although many consider Pizza Pizza to be the “McDonald’s of pizza”, they continue to enjoy good sales and increasing expansion.

Second Cup

The Second Cup is a Canadian coffee chain with over 350 stores across the country. It was started in 1975 as a specialty coffee shop for hip people but has since run into stiff competition from the Seattle-based Starbuck’s coffee chain.

In 2001 a former Quebec terrorist from the FLQ (Front de Liberation du Quebec) firebombed three Montreal Second Cup stores and is now serving life in prison.

Tim Horton’s

Tim Horton’s is not only the largest quasi-fast food enterprise in Canada, it is also a national icon and a national craze to rival hockey. Despite operating over 3,598 restaurants across North America, not a single Tim Horton’s location has ever had a defecit quarter. Proof of this can be seen by the long line of cars at every Tim Horton’s drivethrough in the morning and the nearly full restaurants in the middle of the night.

Founded in 1964 by Canadian hockey player Tim Horton (who later died in a car crash), it has gone on to be the world’s second biggest coffee chain after Starbuck’s, although the majority of it’s operations are in Canada. Since 2001 Tim Horton’s has begun operating stores in the United States where the same spectacular success has seen over 500 US locations in just over 5 years!

Tim Horton’s serves coffee, tea, doughnuts, sandwiches, bagels, pastries, cakes, and many other goods, all made fresh in the store. They have experienced wild summertime success with their original “Ice Cap” (ice cappuccino) brand of beverages.

Tim Horton’s can be found in every corner of Canada. If one were to lift up a rock in a farm field, one wouldn’t be too surprised to see a Tim Horton’s underneath, jam packed with happy customers.


Founded in 1931 by Walter Zeller of Brampton, Ontario, Zeller’s has gone on to become Canada’s 2nd largest discount retailer with 276 stores across the country.

Zeller’s offers everything from men’s, women’s and children’s clothing to furniture to cutlery to garden supplies. Most Zeller’s stores include a diner-style restaurant.

In 1978 the Hudson’s Bay Company acquired Zeller’s and increased the chain’s visibility, but in more recent years Zeller’s has come into bitter competition with the US giant Wal-Mart and has seen sales drop. Zeller’s, as a result, is trying to re-orient itself as a “middle-range” discount superstore, a bit pricier than Wal-Mart but a lot cheaper than The Bay.


3 thoughts on “Canadian Retail Chains

  1. Updates:

    Zellers is almost done for, with U.S. retail giant Target planning to buy most of the store's leases and converting them to Target stores.

    Also, Best Buy and Future Shop cannot accurately be called competitors, since Best Buy owns Future Shop. However, there are instances when a Best Buy is located right across the street from a Future Shop, which is kind of weird.

    Other Canadian retailers that are successful chains: Winners, HomeSense, Home Outfitters.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s