Courtney Agencies celebrates 65 years
Born on the shores of the mighty Fraser, family-owned Courtney Agencies celebrates its history on its 65th anniversary
We’re the Courtneys, and we’ve owned and run a customs brokerage firm for 65 years.
This company was set in motion by the career choice of my grandfather, started by my father, later run by my mother, with decades of hands-on support from their two sons – one of which is me. I now own the business and operate it with my talented wife, Virginia.
Our history, our longevity and our ownership model is valuable to our clients. As a family-owned company, we have been able to center our clients in every decision we make. We’re not bound to shareholders or distant owners so we can keep our focus on our business, our teams and our relationships.
I was literally born into this business. For years my grandfather, J.A. ”Alex” Courtney, was the manager of a successful shipping and storage business based in New Westminster, BC. For West Coast shippers and customs brokers, the Port of New Westminster was where you wanted to be. The Fraser River – a working river – has a history of moving logs and lumber, coal and other industrial products into and out of Canada.
My father, Richard “Dick” Courtney, worked with my grandfather, learning the ropes while gaining confidence and growing interest in an enterprise of his own. After my grandfather’s passing, my father – with the help of his mother (Laura Courtney) – established a business of their own, and Courtney Agencies Ltd. was born. My grandmother worked with the business until she was in her eighties!
Top left, The Port of New Westminster; Top right, Columbia Street – aka “The Golden Mile”; Bottom, left, Teenaged Dick Courtney picture believed to have been captured by famous street photographer Foncie Pulice; Bottom right, Courtney’s first “office” – a shack on the dock. (Grateful to the New Westminster archives.)
A shack on the docks in New Westminster was the first home of Courtney Agencies and where it served as Ship’s Agent and Customs Broker for this west coast port of entry. No shipping containers, no computers, not even an electric typewriter in those days.
Later, my mother, Veronica “Ronnie” would join the Courtney Agencies’ crew; my parents dedicated more than a decade to their business before my brother and I were part of the picture. For as long as I can remember, we breathed the shipping air. We practically learned the trade by osmosis after school and in the summers.
Not surprisingly, the kids would have an interest in carrying on the tradition. My brother, Don, dedicated twenty years to building Courtney Agencies. I went to university to learn more about business and take professional courses to earn industry-specific certificates. My father’s passing in 2000 put the reins in my mother’s hands as I prepared myself to take the leadership role.
In the past 65 years, we have seen some significant changes. We moved our offices to the historic Marine Building in Vancouver. We needed to be closer to the Port of Vancouver which, by the seventies, had outpaced the one in New Westminster. The Telex machine hummed with communication between the ships and us – the ship’s agent.
Eventually, I got to hang up my Keds for a pair of Florsheims when I no longer had to physically run paperwork from the Courtney offices to those of Canada Customs.
We brought in Laurence Lovett, of Lovett Ventures, who for more than 30 years transitioned our business from paper to digital. We were one of the first Customs Brokers to have a website with resources for clients, and no-one was more prepared for the Y2K millennium switch. Laurence retired at 85 but, in many ways, he will be with us forever. We have a physical space on West Pender in Vancouver but, like so many others, much of our business is being conducted through the cloud for now.
In the last twenty years, we’ve broadened our service offerings, and developed the ability to bring goods to and from locations anywhere on the globe. We have grown our “extended family” of specialists to more than 20 people, starting with Serrena who just over a year ago celebrated 25 years of service with Courtney! We have drawn expertise from all over the world and creating a vibrant, multicultural workplace. Most recently, we have rebranded and aligned our offerings under a bold banner and newly articulated purpose statement. We invite you to watch for more on this in the coming months.
Drawing on the strength of our past, we’re more than ready to be a force for the future.
Happy 65th anniversary to Courtney Agencies and all the family, clients, friends, partners and staff members that have been part of this journey.
And to our “littles”, aged 14 and 7, we have the door open for you to join us one day in the wonderful world of shipping.