Francesco Aquilini and His Canucks Breakaway


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The Aquilinis and Gaglardis went way back. Luigi had been good friends with Tom Gaglardi’s grandfather, “Flying Phil” Gaglardi, the flamboyant former Social Credit cabinet minister. Luigi helped bail Phil’s son, Bob – Tom’s father – out of some financial difficulties in the 1980s. The two families would become jointly involved in developing a sprawling resort on Garibaldi Mountain north of Vancouver – a project still in the planning stages.

Beedie is the son of Keith Beedie, who’d built a fortune as the province’s largest industrial landlord. Francesco Aquilini met Ryan through the Young Presidents Association, a group of CEOs under the age of 40.

Originally, he had been associated with a bid by the two to buy a stake in the Canucks; after Aquilini severed his connection to that effort, Gaglardi and Beedie pressed on by themselves. When John McCaw ultimately ended up doing a deal with Aquilini, Gaglardi and Beedie were stunned. The pair would accuse their old associate of a vicious double-cross and launch a civil suit to have Aquilini’s ownership of the team nullified.

The trial that spread out over five months in 2007 provided juicy fodder for local media – the scions of three B.C. dynasties going at it in open court. The Vancouver Sun’s Ian Mulgrew would cast the drama in Shakespearian terms, making comparisons to the Montague and Capulet rivalry of Romeo and Juliet. For the 48-year-old Aquilini, the legal showdown would eat up three years of his life between the lawsuit being filed and a decision being made. In the end, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Catherine Wedge threw out the lawsuit, dismissing the complaint in January of this year as mostly sour grapes.

Aquilini would have been forgiven for thinking he could now breathe a little easier, that he wouldn’t be subject to any more name-calling for a long, long time. But he was going to find out that when you own the Canucks, you are always one decision away from being publicly flogged and pilloried.

When the city’s beloved team failed to make the playoffs for the second time in three years, there were the predictable howls of outrage. But when Aquilini fired general manager Dave Nonis, he couldn’t have anticipated the media firestorm that would ensue. While many fans supported the move, many commentators didn’t. The Sun’s Cam Cole warned the team’s faithful in a front-page column that they should “be afraid . . . be very afraid,” for the future of the club under Aquilini’s leadership. His counterpart at the Province, Ed Willes, called the Nonis firing “the latest act in an ongoing farce.” CKNW’s Neil Macrae started referring to the owner as “Francesco Aquiloony.”

Suddenly, people were asking: just who is Francesco Aquilini, and what is he doing with our hockey team?

The offices of the Aquilini Investment Group take up three floors in a section of the Standard Building, a heritage tower at Hastings and Richards. On the main floor, there are boxes strewn about and filing cabinets open while a group of women sitting behind desks clustered in the centre of the room work on computers or talk on the phone. The floor is ringed by executive offices with glass doors filled by men. There is a set of stairs with an ornate banister that leads up to the second floor.

No one is sure what the privately held Aquilini Investments is worth, although one report in the Sun last year estimated its holdings at close to $5 billion. The family owns nearly 2,000 hectares of land in the Pitt Meadows area, including a 570-hectare blueberry farm and 530-hectare cranberry field; it also owns the Bordertown movie set, which is in the area. There is a management company that runs 60 hotels in Canada, seven of which the company owns. Aquilini Developments, a division headed up by Dave Negrin, formerly of Concord Pacific, is embarking on $1-billion worth of construction, mostly condominium towers. The company also owns five office towers across the country, several golf courses and the Pizza Hut franchise in B.C., and it has just started Aquilini Renewable Energy (headed by Negrin’s brother, John), which is looking for opportunities in green energy, including waste-to-power and wind power. But the company’s Hope Diamond is the Canucks.

For the headquarters of a multibillion-dollar corporation, it is modest and nothing like the refined dwellings of red leather couches and glass-topped coffee tables you find in classic corporate fortresses such as Bentall IV or the Shaw Tower. But the home of Aquilini Investments, with its overtones of Italy, is in many respects an appropriate reflection of company founder, Luigi.

The 76-year-old patriarch emigrated from Brescia in northern Italy in the summer of 1953. His wife, Elisa, was already in Vancouver, where she’d come to join her family (he had stayed behind to finish his obligations to the Italian military). Luigi arrived in Vancouver on a Friday evening, penniless; by Monday he had a job in a foundry.


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