The Canadian sporting-goods industry has grown and diversified a great deal in the past 60 years, as a result of the increasing amount of leisure time available to Canadians. As early as 1929, 30 manufacturers, employing 1212 people, produced goods (eg, skates, lacrosse equipment, snowshoes) worth $4.8 million. The GREAT DEPRESSION of the 1930s severely curtailed the infant industry, and by the beginning of WWII production had declined by over 50%. The war years spurred recovery and output increased from $5 million in 1940 to $8.6 million in 1945. The industry reacted positively to the buoyant economy of the 1950s and to the first signs of changes in living patterns that favoured active and outdoor life-styles. Shipments increased from $9.4 million to $31.6 million during the 1950s; the number of manufacturers grew from 70 to 107. Throughout the 1960s, the industry grew steadily, as nonwork activities took on even greater importance for Canadians and as family outdoor recreation and physical fitness activities became more attractive. Industry shipments increased during the 1960s from $31.6 million to $81.7 million and employment in the industry rose by 45% to 5463 persons.
The greatest period of growth occurred in the 1970s, when significant export markets opened up for ice HOCKEY and CAMPING equipment, and for sports goods ranging from swimming pools to fitness and gymnasium equipment. Domestic shipments increased about 400% in this decade, from $81.7 million to $321.3 million. Exports rose over the same period from $22 million to $96 million. Annual shipments in 1997 reached 1.2 billion of which 48% was exported, primarily to the US. Also in the 1970s, the number of manufacturers grew from 123 to 189 and employment increased 24% to 6798. By 1997 there were about 200 manufacturers, of which 82 were in Ontario and 70 in Québec. Most of the rest were in BC, Alberta and Manitoba. Manufacturers are equally divided between large-city and small-town locations. Most (68%) are small operations, employing less than 20 workers and usually specializing in one product area. They account for only 10% of total shipments and only 9% of employment.
Pressure from trading nations in Asia, Europe and the US has resulted in increasing rationalization of the Canadian industry in the past 20 years, and several large manufacturers (more than 100 employees) have emerged. They represent only 8% of establishments, but they produce 60% of all shipments and employ 61% of workers. Most Canadian sporting-goods firms are domestically controlled. The main sectors of the industry are ice sports, bicycles, swimming pools and skiing, gym and golf equipment. Canada exports about 24% of total domestic shipments. Although 75% goes to the US, significant new markets have developed in Europe, Australia and Japan. Total sports exports grew from $22 million in 1970 to $116.3 million in 1986. The market for sporting-goods equipment grew 183% in Canada in the first half of the 1970s. Domestic suppliers could not meet the demand for more and newer products; therefore, imports increased 200% from 1970 to 1975, while domestic production increased 133%. By 1975, imports represented $146 million in shipments, while domestic production represented $190 million. In the latter 1970s, the total market increased by 68%, as did imports, and domestic shipments increased by 94%, reflecting increased export activity by domestic manufacturers. Recently, several European suppliers of equipment, such as hockey sticks and cross-country skis, have established plants in Canada to serve growing US and Japanese as well as Canadian markets. Canada is still known primarily for skating, hockey, cycling and personal protection equipment and increasingly for skiing and snowboarding goods.