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Men of Steel

A family business through and through, George Third & Son has crafted an impressive resumé and reputation in the steel manufacturing industry

Twenty-eight years before the legendary Superman character was created, a young blacksmith from Scotland started a business in Vancouver called George Third & Son (GTS) that would grow into one of the most successful and reputable enterprises in British Columbia.

The business, founded by George in 1910, has evolved over a century with his descendants leading at the helm to fabricate and erect: airports, bridges, mines, complex stair systems, stadiums, performing arts centers and an array of landmark structural steel projects.

“We excel in steel contracting and we are committed to service and quality,” says Rob Third, president of GTS. “Our reputation is what I am most proud of. Everyone has heard of GTS, knows our reputation for tackling the tough jobs and wants us on their project.”

Mounted on a wall outside Rob’s door is a celebratory brass bell with a plaque beside it that reads: “To be rung for all to hear when a new contract is awarded to the firm.” The photos of two past presidents and the array of awards in the lobby are reminders that the bell has kept ringing over the years.

For 104 years, George Third & Son have been quality steel craftsmen in the province. George “Geordie” Third founded George Third & Son; and in 1946, his son, Bruce took over the company. Today, Geordie’s grandsons Rob, Brett and great grandson Geordie Third II manage and operate the steel fabrication and erection firm.

“Our company grew from a small shop into an international corporation, and then formed a partnership with a consortium of steel fabricators; and now we’re back to a small family-owned firm with a tremendous history and breadth of steel knowledge unprecedented in the industry,” Rob explains.

George Third & Son has touched most of the Vancouver landmarks over its rich history. These projects include: the Sun Tower Building’s exterior fire escape, seismic upgrades for the Port Mann Bridge and Lions Gate Bridge, the Robson Square Ice Rink’s stainless domes, the Richmond Oval, Science World, Vancouver Aquarium, the original Vancouver Convention Centre and BC Place when it was originally built and retrofitted in 2011.

Rob and his son Geordie, the grandson and great grandson of George respectively, are overseeing the family-run company’s latest projects. These new projects include the TELUS Gardens Office Tower in Vancouver and the Audain Art Museum in Whistler. Both are multi-million dollar contracts awarded to GTS and are complex one-of-a-kind jobs. The TELUS Gardens Office Tower will include a 250-foot-arched pavilion entrance canopy that includes a complex hybrid steel, glulam and glass design.

“We are delighted to have George Third & Son working on TELUS Garden,” said Greg Henriquez, managing partner of Henriquez Partners Architects. “Their reputation for exceptional craftsmanship and attention to detail is unsurpassed. Our design for the project is very complex and has demanded multiple mock-ups and creativity, which has improved our design solutions. This is a rare contractor who contributes meaningfully as a true partner in making our ideas manifest in the world. Thank you George Third & Son.”

The project will also feature a six-storey structural steel horizontal cantliver extending over Richards Street and Seymour Street. “The TELUS Garden’s project is really going to be a showcase, and we are proud that GTS was sought out to do this project,” says Rob. “This is the work George Third & Son is known for. This is why my guys in the shop love working with us! It’s challenging and complex, but the rewards of making the architect’s dream become a reality, and seeing another timeless landmark that we built standing blocks from where George Third started the business 104 years ago, makes it worthwhile,” he adds.
The iconic Audain Art Museum will be 55,230-square-feet in size, house a unique collection of B.C. art in the heart of Whistler Village and boast a 900-ton structural steel art gallery that will be tucked into a forest. “Architect Arthur Erickson once asked us to replicate the heavy ornamental rails on the old courthouse we were renovating to the present Art Gallery,” Brett Third explains. “We gave him a price to make some new rails to match the old ones, but Mr. Erickson thought the price was too high and he said he was going to go into the City’s archives and find out who built them originally.”

Erickson had hoped the City of Vancouver would have drawings and templates, and could offer a better price. “He came back three weeks later and said he found out that my grandfather had made them originally,” Brett recalls. “So he paid our price.”

The generations of Third family members who worked at the company learned their craft in the steel fabricating plant. Rob’s elder brother Brett is mostly retired from the business and now advises the family as a director. Like the generation before him, Rob’s son Geordie joined the business in his teens and started in the shop before becoming a draftsman. Eventually he made his way into project management, and now oversees the operations.

“Us Third’s all have rust running through our veins,” Geordie quips during a tour of the plant. “We are truly ‘Men of Steel’—except for Bruce’s wife Violet Third who, at 92, still keeps a watchful eye on the business that she managed the books for 30 years.”

The GTS production office and fabricating plant located in Burnaby is a busy scene with 35 employees working on fabricating, rolling and forming steel for industrial and architectural projects. “The family history of our business helps us remember the men that came before us and built this company, and their strong business ethic of doing business on a handshake,” Rob explains. “We also take pride looking after our employees, and realizing they are the strength of the firm’s longevity.”

Welding, cutting and forming steel is visible in the three large bays, and the forge rages in the blacksmith shop with an array of anvils akin to those George would have used in his day.

“We have a long history of doing what we say we will do, which is a co-operative, creative and innovative approach to steel delivery,” says Rob. “We service our customers’ needs by putting together the precise team of steel professionals for their project. Knowing our strengths includes getting partners to help us where we need it.”

An example of such a project includes working with Lister Chain & Forge Inc. on the giant shackles and hot rivet work for a 20,000-pound anchor as part of the U.S. Navy carrier USS Gerald R. Ford, which is scheduled for delivery to the U.S. Navy in 2016.

GTS has won numerous accolades for its work, including several awards for excellence from the Vancouver Regional Construction Association (VRCA), a members-based professional association serving general contractors, trades and manufacturer suppliers. The Canadian Institute of Steel Construction (CISC) has also awarded GTS 18 distinctions for merit and outstanding steel construction.

The Third family has learned awards come from having the right approach to business.

“Stay true to your values and give the customer more than they ask for, and they will keep coming back,” says Rob. “Stay loyal to the people that are loyal to you and are there for you in the bad times.”

And just like Superman, George Third & Son continues to stand the test of time thanks to an unparalleled understanding of steel, and its application.