Canada's Oil Billionaires

By Geoffrey Michael | August 02, 2010 AAA
Canada's Oil Billionaires

Canada is one of the world's largest producers of unrefined petroleum with proven reserves second only to Saudi Arabia. Most of Canada's production is located in the western interior of the country, which is not well-connected to the highly populated eastern and coastal areas. It imports crude to supply these areas, primarily from Algeria and Norway, while importing refined products from the U.S. Ninety-nine percent of Canada's oil exports go to the U.S., and it is the No.1 foreign supplier to its southern neighbor.

The Canadian oil industry owes some measure of its success and dominance to several men who took risks that paid off handsomely over time. They are all included in the Forbes list of the world's billionaires for 2010.

IN PICTURES: 6 Simple Steps To $1 Million

The Irving Brothers

At No.212 on the Forbes list, the three grandsons of JD Irving inherited a fortune and made it even larger. Members of Canada's second-richest family, James, Arthur and the late John Irving all assumed key roles in the company's vertically integrated group of businesses. Forbes lists their combined net worth at $4 billion and growing.

The Irving empire got its start in 1881, when JD founded the company that bears his name. He was later joined by his son Kenneth, and they built a conglomerate that now dominates the economies of New Brunswick and surrounding areas. The broad reach of the privately held company includes publishing, sawmills, forest products, potato farms, oil refineries and gas stations. Irving Oil opened for business in 1924 with one garage and service station and has grown to be one of Canada's energy giants. (For more, see 5 Billionaires That Live Below Their Means.)

N. Murray Edwards

Murray Edwards is a self-made billionaire who holds the rank of 721 on the Forbes list. Before entering the world of high finance, he was a partner at the Calgary law firm Burnet, Duckworth and Palmer. He is currently owner and president of the management and consulting firm Edco Financial Holdings, and vice chairman of the board of Canadian Natural Resource (NYSE: CNQ). The latter company has $9.7 billion invested in the first phase of its Horizon Oil Sands Project in the Athabasca region of Alberta. Its plant is engaged in both bitumen extraction and surface oil sands mining.

His estimated $1.4 billion fortune was boosted by recent rises in the prices of natural resources, adding to the value of his huge stakes in Ensign Energy and the Penn West Energy Trust (NYSE: PWE). Beyond oil and gas, he also owns interests in the Calgary Flames hockey club and several well-known resort properties. (To learn more, check out our Oil And Gas Industry Primer.)

Clayton Riddell

Not far behind Edwards at 773 is Clayton Riddell, with an estimated net worth of $1.3 billion. He spent 10 years as a geologist with Chevron (NYSE: CVX) before leaving to start his own company in 1969. Five years later he founded Paramount Oil and Gas, subsequently incorporating the company as Paramount Resources. The IPO sold 40% of the stock to the public and netted $5 million.

His fortune was propelled by scoring valuable natural gas finds in remote areas where there was little competition. The company is involved in all phases of energy production including the exploration, development, processing, marketing and transportation of petroleum and natural gas. Today more than 90% of Paramount's revenue is from natural gas sales.

In addition to his business interests, this Winnipeg native owns a share of the Calgary Flames as well as the Wildwood Grill and Bonterra Restaurants. He also has a passion for horses and breeds thoroughbreds on his sprawling ranch southwest of Calgary.

Beyond The Billions: Philanthropic Efforts

While these men have all become wealthy as a result of Canada's vast natural resources, they have all given back to their communities in their own ways. The Irvings' contributions extend well beyond their successful business enterprises. Named for their father and mother, the three brothers donated the K.C. Irving Environmental Science Centre and Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens to Acadia University. The family's philanthropic efforts have benefited hundreds of other organizations throughout the Atlantic region.

Edwards, who graduated from the University of Saskatchewan, has been an active supporter of the university and its business program. In recognition of his major donations, the College of Commerce was renamed the N. Murray Edwards School of Business. He and wife Heather have pledged to donate $1 million over the next five years to the Banff Centre of culture. The funds will create the Edwards Legendary Leaders Series, which will feature outstanding artists from around the world.

Riddell has contributed significantly to Calgary's Potential Place, a facility dedicated to rebuilding confidence, self-esteem and social skills for those suffering from mental disabilities. He also established a scholarship in his name at the University of Manitoba, and he has been actively involved in fundraising for the Between Friends charity golf tournament and the Calgary Flames Charity Foundation. (For more, see Billionaires: Can They Solve The World's Problems?)

Catch up on your financial news; read Water Cooler Finance: The Unrelenting Claw Of Bernie Madoff.

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