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Since 1907, Sobeys has been a proud part of the evolution of Canadian history and values. In celebration of Canada’s 150th and our 110th, join us in looking back at some key moments in both the history of Canada, and of Sobeys.

Eaton’s Opens

Timothy Eaton opens his first store on Toronto’s Yonge Street.

The Founder is Born

John William (J.W.) Sobey is born in Aldershot, England, third child and first son to William and Janet, and the future founder of Sobeys grocery store.

The Sobeys are ‘Home’

J.W. Sobey and his family arrive as newcomers in Nova Scotia, where the seeds of the first Sobeys grocery store would be planted.

Family Foundations

J.W. is brought up in the Scottish tradition of his mother, Janet: loyalty, self-reliance, industry, neighbourliness, social responsibility, community service and a belief in education. These values would become the foundation of the Sobeys family business culture.


Into the Food Business

J.W. Sobey hitches horse to a horse-drawn wagon to start a meat-delivery business in Stellarton, Nova Scotia. He had no way of knowing at the time, but this marks the beginning of a nationwide grocery chain.

The First Sobeys is Built

J.W. builds a store in Stellarton to sell to walk-in traffic, and expands his offerings to first include local vegetables, dairy and fish products, and then later oats, hay and other animal feed, kerosene, and staple food products.


A Real Family Business

J.W. and his son Frank formalize their business partnership, and Frank persuades his father to carry a full line of groceries, including exotic imported goods. Frank marries Irene MacDonald and the third generation in the business soon follows: William MacDonald in 1927, David Frank in 1931, Donald Rae in 1934, and Dianne in 1939.


Frank Learns From the Best

Although he had attended business school, Frank credits local farmers for his business acumen. “I learned more about sound business practices as a … young man dealing with farmers than I could have learned any other place. … There’s no other way to survive the risks of farming. Perhaps without being aware … the successful farmer was a cost accountant as well as hardworking agriculturist …” Frank opens Sobeys #2 store in New Glasgow.


Competitive Climate

J.W. and Frank compete with several similar grocery stores in the local market of four towns. To draw customers, their advertising slogans and sketches emphasize Sobeys quality, value, and local products.



Buying Local and the Sobeys Personal Touch

Like his father, Frank bought local even if it cost a bit more. “They’re worth it.” Frank always said of farmers. For more than 25 years, Frank drove 60 km to buy customers’ Christmas turkeys, as many as 3,500 a season. Sobeys was still using local suppliers 80 years later, buying fresh, grain-fed turkeys from Larkin Brothers in P.E.I.



The Women Take Charge

Women are hired to manage Sobeys stores during the Second World War. While the men would eventually return, the company continues to place women in management positions.



Dreams Come True

After years of dedication and hard work, Frank incorporates Sobeys Stores Limited.



Promote from Within

To encourage skilled and caring management, Sobeys promotes employees who come up through the ranks and are imbued with the Sobeys culture.

Sobeys Pension Plan

Frank Sobey initiates a pension plan for Sobeys employees, stating that ‘These are the people who built the business. They deserve a share in the profits.’

New Stores, New Ideas

With stores in Yarmouth and Amherst, Sobeys spans Nova Scotia. It moves into New Brunswick with a Saint John location. Store openings are big local events creating lots of buzz with gate-crasher specials, gifts, and contests. Hundreds of people would line up to get in.



Stock Report

Sobeys issues its first annual report and initiates its initial public offering.



Sobeys Maritimes Success

Sobeys has 39 stores in the Maritime provinces, with 525 full-time and 415 part-time employees.



‘Meats with Everyone’s Approval’

A new slogan & jingle takes Sobeys back to its beginnings in the meat business. Quality meat products have remained a Sobeys trademark.



Company Health Plan

Sobeys introduces comprehensive employee health and disability plans.



Optimism and Confidence

Sobeys now has 64 supermarkets in Atlantic Canada and Quebec.The company and its employees are confident in the future. The chain modernizes its look with a new logo and updates store attire. A new promotional theme reflects this optimism: “It’s Our Year,” and “We Can Prove It”, along with a new jingle, “Sobeys On The Move”.

Sobeys signs an affirmative action agreement with the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission committing to actively recruit minority group employees.





Recognition and Training

Provincial and overall Manager-of-the-Year awards are presented at annual managers’ conferences. The conferences, which began in 1967, were occasions for training and development; educating employees was always a company priority.







6,970 Employees

Sobeys grows out of the Maritimes and into Ontario, with its first store in Guelph in 1987. At this point, it has 6,970 employees and offers 250 private-label items.



Star of Christmas

The Sobeys ‘Star of Christmas’ video and jingle are launched in the Atlantic region, celebrating Sobeys having become a staple for the holiday season. The jingle becomes a major hit.





1,392 Stores, 32,000 Employees

Sobeys, now 32,000 people strong, introduces the Our Compliments store brand to its shelves. Shoppers get quality selection with a bonus – reasonable prices.



Sobeys at 100, Best Place to Work

A century has passed since J.W. Sobey left the carpentry trade for the meat and later grocery business, and Sobeys is recognized as one of the best work environments in Canada.



Better Food for Special Olympians

Sobeys Inc. Better Food Fund (founded in 2014) teams up with Special Olympics, and hundreds of employees and stores volunteer to provide nutrition education for Canadians with intellectual disabilities.



Still Buying Local & Star of Christmas

It’s Christmas 2016, and Sobeys is still supporting local suppliers. The company commits to buy 80 per cent of beef for P.E.I. stores from Atlantic Beef Products. The heartfelt ‘Star of Christmas’ jingle from 1988 is updated and relaunched to the delight of many.




Celebrating 110 Years

Sobeys celebrates 110 years of filling Canadians’ grocery carts, and continues to serve its communities. It also partners with the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 in Halifax to add stories to the country’s immigration archive.

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