The Ambitious ’90s

In the era of Y2K worries and online business, Internet companies waxed and waned with the dot-com burst.

Business in the 1990s | BCBusiness

In the era of Y2K worries and online business, Internet companies waxed and waned with the dot-com burst.

The 1990s will forever be known for its acronyms. There were B2B and B2C business platforms, which fuelled an explosion of IPOs. And then there was Y2K. Would the world really have come to an end if every business hadn’t hired consultants to ensure its computers kept computing when the calendar ticked over to January 1, 2000? We’ll never know because being “Y2K compliant” was just one cost of doing business at the end of the century.

It was an era of outsized ambition, not only for e-commerce entrepreneurs, but also for “real” businesses with tangible assets. Perhaps the symbol of the decade’s aspirations, 360networks began in 1998 with a sign taped to a door on West Hastings Street reading “WorldWide Fiber.” Aiming to wire the world for Internet connectivity, within two years the spin-off of Ledcor Industries would change its name to 360networks, hire a former top Microsoft executive and raise more than $4 billion in debt and equity.

When 360networks filed for bankruptcy protection in 2001 its workforce would be a paltry 400, down from 1,900 at its peak. With $250 million in debt and just $100 million in the kitty, it would be taken over by the banks, which would divest the company’s Canadian assets to Bell Canada in 2004.

Although the decade’s claims for a “new economy” proved unfounded, so too did declarations of the death of the Internet during the dot-com bust that followed. The decade perhaps saw more losers than winners among dot-com visionaries, but there’s no doubt that the world, in fact, would never be the same.


1993: Vancouverites bid goodbye, in January, to the flagship downtown Woodward’s store. It closes its doors for good while the company winds down under bankruptcy protection.

1995: The Vancouver Grizzlies win their debut NBA game on November 3. Euphoria would prove short-lived; the team would post 15 wins and 67 losses in its opening year, and would finish last in the league in five of its six seasons before moving to Memphis in 2001.

1995: The Ford Centre for the Performing Arts opens on Homer Street downtown. It would close in 1999 and remain dark until being reborn in 2002 as the Centre in Vancouver for the Performing Arts under new ownership.

1995: GM Place opens, nicknamed the Garage. The home of the Canucks would be renamed Rogers Arena in 2010.

1996: On December 5, U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan warns that markets are being driven by “irrational exuberance.”

1997: A bull run on gold stocks comes crashing down in May when an independent report confirms that the Bre-X gold deposit in Busang is a fake. Having topped out at $280 in May 1996, shares are trading for pennies when the stock is delisted on May 29.

1998: Vancouver construction company Ledcor Industries Ltd. spins out a separate fibre-optic cable division, Worldwide Fiber Inc. After changing its name to 360networks Inc., the company would raise $900 million in an April 2000 IPO. The stock would trade for pennies in June 2001 when the company files for protection from creditors.

1999: MacMillan Bloedel, B.C.’s biggest forestry company, with 9,500 employees and $4.2 billion in annual revenue, is bought by U.S.-based Weyerhaeuser for $3.6 billion in stock.

1999: The Vancouver Stock Exchange and Alberta Stock Exchange merge to become the Canadian Venture Exchange, becoming the TSX Venture Exchange in 2001, based in Calgary.

1999: Chip Wilson opens his first Lululemon store, on West Fourth Avenue.

1999: B.C. Tel and Alberta’s Telus Corp. combine, later adopting the name Telus Corp.