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Why Northland Properties’ business empire is one of B.C.’s biggest

Recent Garibaldi at Squamish receivership case unlikely to cause much strife for successful, diversified Gaglardi family
Northland Properties bought Grouse Mountain in 2020 | Grouse Mountain

This article is second in a BIV series that profiles some of B.C.’s largest multi-generational, family-business empires. The first profile was on the Aquilini family's Aquilini Investment Group.

As Ernst & Young guides the failed Garibaldi at Squamish ski resort developer through receivership this month, the Aquilini and Gaglardi families will be watching closely, as they are collectively owed around $100 million. 

BIV has reported that the insolvent Garibaldi at Squamish companies owe secured creditors connected to B.C.’s Aquilini family approximately $79.4 million. They also owe unsecured creditors connected to the Gaglardis nearly $20.2 million.

For the Gaglardis, and their Northland Property Group, $20.2 million is chump change. 

Estimated to be worth about US$8 billion, the Gaglardis are one of B.C.’s wealthiest families. 

While Gaglardi Way in Burnaby is named after Phil Gaglardi, who was an outspoken B.C. cabinet minister for two decades until 1972, it was Phil’s son Bob Gaglardi who launched what is now Northland Properties – famously with a $5,000 loan in Kamloops in 1963.

Tom Gaglardi is CEO, while his siblings Mitch Gaglardi, Andrea Gaglardi and Devonna Gaglardi work in the business. 

Andrea is vice-president of corporate affairs, Devonna is vice-president of design and Mitch is managing director of the Sandman Hotel Group in the U.K. and Ireland.

The future for the company could evolve to include a third generation, given that Tom has three sons: Charlie Gaglardi, Bennett Gaglardi and Wilson Gaglardi.

Philanthropy has been a calling for the family, and Tom has been an active supporter of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund, in large part because son Wilson has that chronic disease.

In 2022, his family, along with Northland, donated $10 million to Thompson Rivers University in exchange for the university naming its business school the Bob Gaglardi School of Business & Economics. 

While the loss of the Garibaldi at Squamish project may be disappointing for the family, it can content itself in the knowledge that it already owns ski resorts. 

The Gaglardis reportedly spent tens of millions of dollars to be a part owner of Revelstoke Mountain Resort in late 2007. A year later, the family shifted from being a minority lender to being the management group.

The family also owns the heli-skiing operation Selkirk Tangiers Heliskiing in Revelstoke.

The Gaglardis then bought their prize mountain resort, Grouse Mountain, for an undisclosed amount in January 2020.

Grouse Mountain does not reveal revenue or exact figures for its season-ticket sales, but “sales are strong,” spokeswoman Madelaine Twomey told BIV this fall.

Season tickets are an increasingly important revenue source for ski resorts because they are paid in advance, meaning that revenue does not plummet during warm winters such as the one B.C. has had earlier this season. 

“We’re looking forward to even more people trying out the newest lift on the mountain,” Twomey said.

Grouse Mountain in December 2022 launched what it calls its short-cut handle-tow rope lift. Skiers grab onto the handle-tow lift, which travels at a maximum speed of two metres per second and is 250-metres long.

The new equipment means that the skiers do not need to use the Screaming Eagle chairlift, and it underscores that the Gaglardis are pumping new money into their marquee ski resort property. 

Hospitality is the core of the Gaglardis’ empire

The Gaglardis’ hospitality businesses likely bring in the greatest slice of its overall revenue. The family owns restaurant chains including:
• the 58-restaurant Moxies;
• the 86-location Denny’s Canada; 
• the 17-location Chop Steakhouse & Bar; 
• the 13-location Shark Club; and
• the 13-location Bar One.


Image: The Gaglardi family has expanded its Shark Club restaurant chain to 13 locations | Chung Chow

In addition, it owns Boulevard Kitchen & Oyster Bar at the Sutton Place hotel on Burrard Street and the Rockford Bar & Grill at the Sutton Place hotel at the Revelstoke Mountain Resort.

The Sutton Place locations make sense because the Gaglardis own the three-location Sutton Place hotel chain. They also own the 57-location Sandman Hotel Group, and hotels in Toronto and Dublin, Ireland.

Many Gaglardi projects are developed in-house by its own construction and design division. 

Future projects include a Sutton Place hotel in Winnipeg, Sandman hotels in Dartmouth and Fort Worth and two new hotels at its Revelstoke Mountain Resort. 

Through its Northland Asset Management, the Gaglardis also own a portfolio of commercial and residential properties across Western Canada. 

Northland built its early Sandman hotels with attached restaurants, which wound up consuming much of the hotel managers’ time. 

Tom, who became Northland’s president in 1993, had a hand in the decision to close those Sandman restaurants and replace them with Denny’s.

He told BIV through two intermediaries this month that he did not want to participate in this profile. 

Bob similarly was not available for an interview.

“We had Sandman and Denny’s together, but it wasn’t the perfect fit,” Tom told BIV in 2007. “We had a corporate clientele who enjoyed Denny’s for lunch but wanted something different for dinner.”

His solution was to shell out $13 million in 1998 to buy what was then the 20-location Moxies chain from founder John Carcasole.


Image: Northland Properties bought Moxies for $13 million in 1998 | Chung Chow

He closed poor performing Moxies and opened new Moxies restaurants in Sandman properties.

Devising hotel strategy came naturally for Tom, who first worked at a Sandman restaurant as a bus boy when he was 13 years old. 

At 16 years old, his father told him to work on the company’s construction sites. He swung hammers for six years, working his way up to managing the sites, he said in 2007. 

That’s when he dropped out of the University of British Columbia half a year before completing his economics and history degree and his father promoted him to be a regional manager of eight B.C. Sandman hotels. 

Did that move ruffle non-family employees who had more hotel experience?

BIV asked Bob that question in 2007, and he said that when he started the business, he was looking to leave a legacy.

“It did jilt some people to a degree,” Bob said about his decision to promote his son. “That was a bit of a problem, but he had the right name.”

Second time lucky in buying an NHL team

Tom became interested in buying the National Hockey League’s (NHL) Vancouver Canucks from Seattle Billionaire John McCaw after KPMG phoned him to discuss the idea in 2003, he told BIV in 2007.

He, Beedie owner Ryan Beedie and Aquilini Investment Group managing director Francesco Aquilini grouped together in a loose partnership to discuss buying the team. 

Aquilini then approached McCaw on his own, and his company hatched a deal to buy the team in two 50-per-cent tranches by 2007, for an undisclosed amount estimated to be around $250 million.

Tom and Beedie sued Aquilini in B.C. Supreme Court, alleging that he went behind their backs and used their confidential strategy to reach a deal to buy the team. 

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Catherine Wedge in 2008 dismissed that lawsuit, and an appeal failed the following year. 

“Tom is very smart,” Beedie told BIV last week. 

“He takes business very seriously. He is passionate and driven. He is a great family person too.”

Beedie said some view Tom as having a “tough exterior,” but that “he is a kind-hearted person. I have seen this many times over the years.”

The sting of losing that first bid to buy a hockey team was short lived. 

Tom teamed with NHL players Jarome Iginla, Shane Doan, Mark Recchi and Darryl Sydor to form River City Hockey Inc. and buy the Western Hockey League’s Kamloops Blazers franchise in 2007. 

Tom fronted half of the more than $7 million necessary to buy the Blazers.

His partners all played in Kamloops during their junior days and the Gaglardi family has close ties to Kamloops so the transaction made sense.

Tom has referred to Kamloops as “my second home,” as he was born and raised in Vancouver.

Bob grew up in Kamloops and Phil lived there until he died in 1995.

Sometimes the family has endured controversy in that Interior B.C. city.

Tom and Northland were fined $140,000 in Kamloops provincial court in 2014 for work Tom directed for a boat ramp that altered fish habitat near his family’s Kamloops Lake vacation home. 

The family’s next big hockey-club purchase came in 2011, when a bankruptcy court judge approved Northland’s US$240 million bid for the Dallas Stars National Hockey League franchise. 

The move similarly made sense because of geographic connections with the Gaglardi family. 

Tom’s mother, Karen Gaglardi, grew up in Longview, Texas, and she met Bob when he was studying at that city’s LeTourneau College. Tom is reportedly a longtime Dallas Cowboys fan.

Northland in 2014 added the Texas Stars, Dallas’ development affiliate in the American Hockey League.

The family’s foray into hockey appears to have been a success. 

Statista in 2022 estimated that the Dallas Stars were worth US$925 million – 285-per-cent more than when the Gaglardis purchased the team.

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