A Car, an Engineering Degree, a Vision
Edmonton-based Stantec is known the world over, and its headquarters are situated in the tallest building in Western Canada.
The 69-storey Stantec Tower—designed and engineered, of course, by the company itself—is a major component of the downtown Ice District, a multi-billion-dollar sports-and-entertainment redevelopment in the city.
Stantec’s beginnings were less auspicious.
In 1954, founder Don Stanley, P.Eng., decided to put his engineering degrees—including a PhD in environmental engineering from Harvard—to good use. He opened a shop in a tiny office not far from where the high rise would eventually stand in today’s Ice District.
D.R. Stanley & Associates had no associates at first. It had no clients, either.
But Dr. Stanley did have a vision: to build modern, safe, and affordable water and sewage treatment systems for small Alberta communities. Many of them still relied on outhouses, septic tanks, and wells, so he figured he’d landed on a sure thing.
He sent out 600 flyers offering his services. No one replied.
“I waited for the business to come in, and it didn’t,” Stantec’s 50th anniversary book quotes Stanley saying. “Then I went out and visited these people. Several times I put on 700 miles in a day.”
From Irma to Rycroft, Lomond to Blackfalds, he travelled 27,000 kilometres in four months. His targets weren’t just in Alberta. Many of Western Canada’s other villages and towns were graced with Stanley’s presence.
His tenacity started earning actual returns when initial clients agreed to pay $200 for water and sewage feasibility studies. He developed innovative, low-cost solutions that smaller communities could afford.
The strategy worked. The firm’s reputation and size quickly grew, with partners joining in 1955 and new design contracts coming in for everything from bridges to freeways to railroad crossings.
It was a vision realized and then some. It would also prove to be a firmly laid foundation for a company that in 2020 employs 22,000 people in six continents.
Don Stanley, P.Eng. led his firm from 1954 to 1983. The four CEOs who built on his legacy are also professional engineers, including Ron Triffo, P.Eng. (left), and Tony Franceschini, P.Eng. (right), shown here with Stanley around 1998. They were followed by Bob Gomes, P.Eng. and Gord Johnston, P.Eng. Stantec’s current CEO.
Don Stanley, P.Eng., PhD, graduated from the University of Alberta in 1940 with a degree in civil engineering. A skilled hockey player, he was offered a contract with the Boston Bruins, but turned the team down to pursue his engineering career. He went to Harvard on a Rockefeller scholarship and in 1952 became the first Canadian to earn a doctorate in environmental engineering.