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EllisDon co-founder dies at 89


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July 16, 2013 by On-Site Magazine

Don Smith accepts the inaugural Corporate Icon Award at London's 24th Annual Business Achievement Awards gala on March 21, 2007.
Don Smith accepts the inaugural Corporate Icon Award at London's 24th Annual Business Achievement Awards gala on March 21, 2007.

EllisDon co-founder and Canadian construction icon Don Smith has passed away at the age of 89.

A goliath in the Canadian and global construction industry for over half a century, the crown jewel in EllisDon’s empire remains the 54,000-seat Skydome (now Rogers Centre).

According to EllisDon’s website, Smith bet the entire company in 1985 “on something that had never before been attempted: a fully guaranteed $400-million retractable roof stadium.”

From humble beginnings on a shoestring budget, and with their mother as bookkeeper and backer, Smith and his brother, David, opened EllisDon on April Fool’s Day in 1951.

After starting in small home renovations the company grew quickly; tackling larger projects such as schools, universities, health care and office buildings before expanding to Nova Scotia and Alberta and bidding on airports, mining projects and civil works.

Now, the company – which is nearly 50 per cent owned by its 1,600 employees – generates more than $3 billion in volume annually and has worked around the world on every type of construction project.

Throughout his life, the Provost, Alta. native fought against bigotry and unfairness. At the age of 42 he advocated on behalf of the Jewish community and was instrumental in forcing the London Club to admit its first Jewish member. For his efforts, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Canadian Council of Christians and Jews.

He was also very active in politics and took pride in working with David Peterson to rebuild the Liberal party and help it rise to power in 1985, ending a 42-year Conservative reign in Ontario.

Smith’s accolades also include a lifelong commitment to philanthropy. “No-one ever wrote a cheque faster than Don,” says his obituary on the company’s website. “He did not die as wealthy as one might think, having given away millions.”

Known to his family as “Uncle Bus,” Smith is survived by his wife of 65 years, Joan Smith, their eight children, 21 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

“Most knew him as the stuff of legends; me as simply Uncle Bus. Tough tough exterior but also a quality shared with Aunt Joan: nobility when it comes to others, especially those in need,” wrote his nephew, Mark Ellis, in a comment forum on the company’s website. Bus’ heritage is less his formidable business savvy and success, and more the genuine warmth bestowed on us when no one was looking.”

His family is inviting anyone who would like to visit the Ivey Spencer Hall located at 551 Windermere Rd. in London, Ont. on July 18 from 1 to 3:30 p.m. and from 7 to 9 p.m.

A celebration of his life will be held at the London Hunt Club on July 23 at 3 p.m. In lieu of flowers, Smith would ask you to multiply that cost by at least ten and donate it today to your favourite charity.


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