Class of 1990
Alfred J. Billes and J. William Billes built the automotive supply company, Canadian Tire Corporation. The brothers introduced dealer-owned and operated stores, employees’ profit sharing and Canadian Tire money. Together, they revolutionized the car tire and auto parts business.
Born and raised in Toronto, Ontario, Alfred and William began their working partnership with the sharing of a paper route. After the death of their father, Alfred left school to work for the Dominion Bank; he was just 15 at the time.
Life for the brothers was very difficult, until 1922 when they pooled their resources to buy Hamilton Tire and Garage Ltd. Their merchandise included tires, auto parts and an assortment of hardware items.
In 1927 the company was incorporated as Canadian Tire Corporation Limited. "We chose Canadian Tire" Alfred explained, "because it sounded big." Setting their sights high, the brothers published the first Canadian Tire catalogue the following year. Eighty years later, the Canadian Tire catalogue is published annually in both French and English, and is distributed to almost 9 million households.
Canadian Tire flourished during the Depression, since car owners were more likely to repair than replace their vehicles during this time. Distribution and merchandising became priorities when dealer-owned stores opened in 1934. When his brother William died unexpectedly in 1956, Alfred became President of Canadian Tire, moving the company into western Canada. Alfred remained President until 1966, and acted as a director until 1988. During his time with the company, Alfred introduced the popular Canadian Tire money.
Alfred Billes became a Member of the Order of Canada in 1976. At the time of his death in 1995, Canadian Tire was supplier to over 400 stores. As of 2008, the company claims nine out of ten adult Canadians shop at Canadian Tire at least twice a year. In addition, a Canadian Tire store is within a 15-minute drive of 85% of the Canadian population.
When asked about the success he and his brother experienced, Alfred remarked, “We started young and worked hard. You can accomplish a lot when you work hard.”