When the Ball brothers began their business in 1923, they had big dreams to build big projects in their community.
One-hundred years later, their work can be seen across the Kitchener-Waterloo, Ont. region and beyond.
“They were super successful and they had a passion for construction,” said Jason Ball, president of Ball Construction of his predecessors. “It wasn’t work, it was like this is what they loved to do. I think they instilled that in every generation, so every generation of our company has that same passion. If you don’t have a passion for construction, you shouldn’t be in the business. It’s dynamic and challenging and if you enjoy that it’s not even working.”
A 100th anniversary celebration was held recently in Kitchener where the company was started a century ago by Harold and Frank Ball out of Frank’s house in the city’s downtown.
“Harold, that’s my grandfather, he believed that construction should be a fun process for everyone involved,” said Jason. “When he started in the business, he started out working with his brother-in-law John Gaffney just outside of Stratford.”
“They were doing a lot of civil work. He thought to himself…that he would like to do bigger things…not just bridges and culverts. He went to his older brother Frank Ball and he said to Frank, ‘Hey, why don’t we start our own general contracting business? We’ll call ourselves Ball Brothers (General Contracting) and we’ll do buildings. We’ll do larger projects. We’ll do municipal projects.’”
The first job they got was the Kitchener Bus Barns in 1923.
“It was like a nine-month project worth about $200,000 and they get it and they impress the City of Kitchener,” said Jason. “They went on to do many, many projects.”
The anniversary celebration was attended by about 450 people. In addition to Jason, the Ball Construction ownership group is comprised of Cameron Ball, vice-president, partner-in-charge; Gary Hauck, vice-president, estimating manager; Rod Aitkin, vice-president, pre-construction; and Brent Cochrane, vice president, general manager – small contracts.
The core values the company was built on – integrity, honesty and quality – still remain to this day.
“He (Harold) didn’t want the project just to be completed to the satisfaction of the owner, he wanted the whole project and everybody working on the project to get satisfaction out of it,” Jason explained. “He tried to change the way people thought about construction and change the industry that it was a fun thing to do.
“We have many challenges that test you, but at the end of the day when you complete a project, it’s so fulfilling. There is nothing better to do than construction, at least that’s the way we feel.”
Some things have changed over the last 100 years and the company was required to pivot.
“In the early days the Ball brothers did a tremendous amount of institutional work and then in World War II, they pivoted and they did a lot of housing, war time homes,” Jason explained. “They probably built close to 5,000 war time homes during that period. You’ve always got to watch where the market is and then adjust for the market. I think Ball brothers did that very well, the second generation did that well and we’re the third generation and we did the same thing.”
When Jason and Cameron bought the business in 1997 they had a business plan and looked at where the industry was going.
“We went after big box stores, some long-term care and we adjusted the company to meet those and address those growing markets,” Jason said.
They also looked at the recreation portfolio and decided to expand it.
“We build more hockey arenas than any contractor in Canada,” Jason said. “We just completed three arenas recently this year and we are on our fourth one. We get the right people to do those jobs and we team up with the right consultants and we deliver the project.”
Over the years, the first generation did many buildings in the Kitchener-Waterloo area such as the post office in downtown Kitchener as well as many civic buildings. One of the most notable projects the firm completed is the Centre in the Square, a 2,000-seat theatre in Kitchener in the early ‘80s.
The newer buildings in the firm’s portfolio include the Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery in Waterloo, the Stephen Hawking Centre at the Perimeter Institute, the Wayne Gretzky Sports Centre and the University of Waterloo School of Pharmacy.
“We have very thorough archives here,” Jason said. “The University of Waterloo School of Architecture borrows drawings from us and they’ve actually borrowed five or six different projects that are architecturally significant to the area and they keep them full time at the University of Waterloo’s School of Architecture in Cambridge.”
Follow the author on Twitter @DCN_Angela.
For more about Ball’s 100th, listen to The Construction Record podcast here.