Despite a number of famous fires and equally famous payouts, Aviva Group companies have prospered in Canada for many generations.

Company history

Ontario specimen policy

Commercial Union, Ontario specimen policy, 1885


The Stanstead & Sherbrooke Mutual Fire Insurance Company of Quebec, Canada, later part of the Commercial Union Assurance Company, is established.


On 15 May, the Northern Assurance Company, later part of Commercial Union, starts life business in Canada, appointing Ryan Bros & Co as agent.


On 2 April, the Northern begins operating in St Johns, Newfoundland. Augustus Olive Hayward, a barrister at law, is appointed as the company’s agent. On 5 June, another future Commercial Union company, the Edinburgh Life Assurance Company, opens a branch in Canada, this time in Toronto. Mr D Higgins is appointed secretary.


On 7 June, the Northern appoints Janion and Green as agent for Victoria, British Columbia. The first entry recorded in the company’s fire policy register is for merchandise valued at £1,000 that is stored in a log building within the confines of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s fort at Victoria.  


The North British & Mercantile Insurance Company, later part of Commercial Union, appoints an agent for Montreal.


North British & Mercantile now has an office at 4 & 5 Merchants’ Exchange, Montreal, under Messrs Lorn MacDougall and Thomas Davidson


Commercial Union appoints agent Morland & Watson at Montreal, under Mr. Cole. In February, Charles Cowdy is appointed medical officer for the Northern in St Johns.


Commercial Union appoints Forsyth & Pemberton fire agent for Quebec.


On 13 September, the Northern appoints Isaac J Wylde as agent for Halifax, Nova Scotia. The following month, the company appoints George Styrest agent for St John, New Brunswick, based in Butchers Buildings, Princess Street. 


On 20 June, the Northern opens a general agency in Montreal under Taylor Bros, who already control the company’s agencies in Quebec and Ontario.  The Northern also closes its life business in Victoria.

Pilot Insurance Company logo

Pilot Insurance Company logo


Commercial Union is responsible for the railroad system in the area of Quebec and Ontario insuring the properties of the Detroit Grand Haven and Milwaukee Railroad and the Great Western Canada Railway through their Toronto agency, George Hargraft & Son.


The Manitoba Insurance Company is established by Messrs Donald Smith, Andrew Bannatyne and Sir Hugh Allan. This company is later acquired by the Scottish Alliance Insurance Company, which will become part of Commercial Union.


The Edinburgh Life Assurance Company, later part of Commercial Union, closes its Canadian branch.


Commercial Union opens an agency at Halifax, Nova Scotia, under Mr B W Salter for fire and at St John, New Brunswick, for life and fire under Mr A C Fairweather, a local barrister.


The total fire premium income for the Northern in Canada is $60,000.


North British & Mercantile appoints MacDougall & Davidson general agent for Montreal, based at 72 Francois Xavier Street.

Cartoon of Norwich Union Canada office

Cartoon of Norwich Union Canada office, 1980's


A fire destroys a large part of the city of St John. Commercial Union suffers nearly £72,000 in claims, the prompt payment of which secures the company an excellent reputation for service and ensures good business in the future. The Northern is also a prominent insurer of those involved in the conflagration.


Commercial Union opens agencies at Manitoba and Winnipeg under Mr Hyon G McMicken, a well-known local resident.


The North West Fire Insurance Company is incorporated, under the Manitoba Legislative Body Act, for the transaction of fire business with an authorised capital of $500,000. The secretary and manager is Mr G W Girdlestone. The president of the company is Duncan MacArthur, who is head of the firm of Messrs MacArthur, Boyle and Campbell.

The vice-president is Col W N Kennedy (Registrar of the County of Selkirk) and among the board of directors are many of the principal merchants of Winnipeg and Manitoba. In April, the Canadian Branch of the Norwich Union Fire Insurance Society is established in Toronto. Alexander Dixon is appointed agent while Thomas C Patteson becomes the local director.


Norwich Union Fire appoints Alexander Wilson agent for Toronto while the board of the Scottish Union and National Insurance Company, later part of Norwich Union, agreed to the appointment of agents in Canada, reporting to the company’s American branch.


Norwich Union Fire appoints M & T B Robinson agent for New Brunswick.


The Employers Liability Assurance Company, later part of Commercial Union, opens its first colonial agency in Canada under Mr F Stancliffe.

Neighbourhood Watch leaflet

Canada Neighbourhood Watch leaflet, sponsored by General Accident


The Scottish Union and National Insurance Company is now operating in Canada under the management of Mr M Bennett Jr. According to a contemporary local insurance magazine, Mr Bennett “seems to be indefatigable in the interests of his Companies.”


The City of London Marine Insurance Corporation, later part of Commercial Union, appoints Gault & Hubbard as agent for Montreal, based at 104 St Francois Xavier Street. They, in turn, appoint sub agents in Toronto, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Kingston and Waterloo.


The Canada Accident and Fire Assurance Company, later part of Commercial Union, is established. The Northern opens its first Canadian branch office in Montreal and Norwich Union Fire appoints agents in Newfoundland.


Commercial Union now has a branch in Toronto under Mr R Wickens at 32 Toronto Street and the North British & Mercantile has an agent at St Johns, Newfoundland, under general agent George Shea.

T H Hall

T H Hall, Manager for General Accident in Canada in his office in 1929


In January, Commercial Union signs a lease on offices in Montreal. The company has now outstripped almost every other fire office in Canada.  Also operating in Canada is the Union Assurance Company, later part of Commercial Union.


By this date, Scottish Union and National also boasts agencies throughout Canada. On 9 July, a fire at St John, Newfoundland, destroys half the city at a cost of millions of dollars. Commercial Union pays out claims worth £52,000. Palatine Insurance Company, later part of Commercial Union, is now operating in Newfoundland.


The Employers Liability Assurance Company is granted a licence to undertake employers’ liability business in addition to the fidelity and general accident business it had been undertaking in Canada up to this point.


The South British Insurance Company, later part of General Accident, is now represented by R P Rithet & Co in Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia. John B Laidlaw, previously chief clerk for Norwich Union Fire in Canada, is appointed the company’s Canadian manager.


The Norwich Union Life Insurance Company is now represented in Ontario by James Sargant.


Commercial Union acquires Palatine Assurance and, with it, the Canada Accident & Fire Insurance Company. Commercial Union also pays out claims of £13,000 after a large fire in Ottawa, which had started in the French town of Hull. 

specimen policy

General Accident Canada specimen policy, 1930's


A fire in Montreal burns the board of trade office to the ground. Commercial Union pays out £10,000 in claims.


Ocean Accident and Guarantee Corporation Ltd, later part of Commercial Union, now has a branch in Canada while the Railway Passengers Assurance Co, which will also become part of Commercial Union, appoints Mr F H Russell as an agent.


The Commercial Union visiting manager reports that “prospects of business in Canada are more hopeful and the conditions more favourable than they have been for many years.” The company is now operating in Winnipeg, Manitoba and Montreal; the Winnipeg branch has opened 40 agencies in two years. The Canadian Casualty & Boiler Company, later part of General Accident, is established.


In 1904 a spectacular conflagration in Toronto started in a necktie factory and raged through the night. With no water to feed fire engines the city is engulfed and a small arms factory catches fire and blows up. The fire destroys three-and-a-half blocks and 120 buildings causing damage estimated at £1,500,000. Fortunately, there is no loss of life. Commercial Union pays out $40,000 as a result. Despite this setback, the combined year net premium income for Commercial Union and Palatine in Canada is just over £72,000.


In July, the General Accident Assurance Company of Canada is formed with a head office at General Assurance Buildings, Toronto. The Toronto agent is Szeliski and McLean, predecessor of Johnson & Higgins (Canada) Ltd. The first manager is Mr T H Hall. Norwich Union Fire opens a branch in Winnipeg. The Yorkshire Insurance Company, later part of General Accident, is now operating a branch in Montreal under Mr Wickham, and Scottish Union and National appoints Mr J H Esinhart agent at Montreal. Mr Esinhart will continue to represent the company until 1946.


General Accident purchases the Canadian Casualty & Boiler Company. In August, Norwich Union Fire opens new offices in Toronto.  The Yorkshire is now operating in Montreal at 55, St Francois Xavier Street and in Newfoundland through the agents, Bishop and Monroe.


Ocean Accident and Guarantee is granted a license to transact plate glass business in Canada.


Employers Liability Assurance begins to transact direct fire business in Canada. The Yorkshire has two women working in its Montreal branch, one of whom, a typist and stenographer, is earning more that the chief clerk in the fire department. The Yorkshire’s liability in Hamilton for fire risks this year is $25,972.


L’Abeille Compagnies d'Assurances, later part of Commercial Union, opens a branch in Canada.  Employers Liability Assurance begins to transact motor business in Canada.


Commercial Union opens a branch in Vancouver. Railway Passengers Assurance, is operating a branch in Canada by this date.


Employers Liability Assurance begins to transact workmen’s compensation business in Canada.


The Canada Accident Insurance Company is granted permission to transact fire business and changes its name to the Canada Accident and Fire Assurance Company.


The Yorkshire is now based at 136 St James Street, Montreal.


In the aftermath of the famous Halifax disaster, Palatine and Canada Accident pay out many thousands of pounds to settle claims. General Accident had withdrawn from the area five years previously on the advice of their fire manager, T H Hall.


The Canada Security Assurance Company is first listed as a Canadian subsidiary of Norwich Union Fire.


The Northern is ranked seventh among British offices in Canada. Royal Scottish Insurance of Glasgow, later part of Commercial Union, starts operating in Canada and General Accident establishes the Scottish Canadian Assurance Corporation to underwrite fire and hail insurance in Canada.


Union Assurance is now operating a branch at the corner St. James and McGill Street, Montreal, under Mr T L Morrissey. The company is now represented in Winnipeg by Thomas Bruce.


The British General Insurance Company, later part of Commercial Union, is operating in Canada under the management of Mr T F Dobbin. General Accident begins to undertake plate glass insurance in Canada. Commercial Union appoints William Hargraft as agent for Toronto to replace his father, who had represented the company in Toronto since 1900.


General Accident moves to new head office premises on the corner of Bay and Temperance Street, Toronto.


On 7 February, British General applies for a license to transact motor business in Canada.


The Commercial Union branch in Montreal is now being run by Mr H F Roden.


The Pilot Insurance Company, later part of General Accident, is established. Ocean Accident now has an office in Toronto under Mr J A Mingay and has paid out $8,800,000 on claims in Canada since 1902. British European, later part of Commercial Union, has a Canadian Branch and local managers in Winnipeg and Vancouver.


American Central, later part of Commercial Union, is now operating in Quebec, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Western Ontario while the California Insurance Company, which will also become part of Commercial Union, is operating in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan.


The Yorkshire now has agencies in Calgary, Halifax, Regina, St John, Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg and St Johns, Newfoundland, operating from a head office at 210 St James Street, Montreal. General Accident now has branches in Montreal, Winnipeg, Calgary and Vancouver.


Scottish Union and National is now operating at 43 Victoria Street, Toronto, under John A Newlands.


General Accident opens a new branch in Edmonton, Alberta.


Norwich Union Life establishes a branch in Canada and Scottish Union and National now has branches in Ottawa, Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Truro, Montreal, Edmonton and Toronto.


The General Accident Ottawa service office is elevated to branch status. The Yorkshire in Canada is now represented by Mr C G Angas in Montreal and Mr C Wapshott at 67 Younge Street, Toronto.


General Accident in Canada is under the management of Douglas B Hall, son of the original Canadian manager.


General Accident opens a sub office in Hamilton, along with a branch in Quebec City and a new agency in Newfoundland.


Mr H J Aiken is now resident claims superintendent at the General Accident sub office in Hamilton.


Mr G McWilliams joins Mr H J Aiken at General Accident in Hamilton as engineering inspector on an annual salary of $4,720.


Scottish Union and National is operating in Canada at 60 Younge Street, Toronto, under Ronald F Swaine, with branches at Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver and Winnipeg.


The Northern now has branches in Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary and Vancouver, with service offices at Quebec City, Hamilton and Edmonton.


The Yorkshire establishes the Canadian Pioneer Insurance Company as a subsidiary company in Montreal.


General Accident opens a branch in Ontario.


Norwich Union Fire and its subsidiaries cease writing fire, accident and motor business in Canada. The business is acquired by General Accident. An inspector at the London, Ontario branch of General Accident requests a police permit to carry a gun when confronting a claimant who has buried a ‘stolen’ truck with a bulldozer.


In April, General Accident opens a full branch in Hamilton at 1 King Street West, Commerce Place.


The Commercial Union Life Assurance Company of Canada is established.


General Accident now has branches in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, London, Hamilton, Toronto Central, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City, St. John and Halifax. The company head office is situated at Exchange Tower 2, First Canadian Place, Toronto.


General Accident acquires the Pilot Insurance Company of Ontario, Canada, from Mr. Saul Steinburg’s Reliance Insurance Company in Philadelphia. The company writes personal and small commercial lines business and is purchased for C$200 million.


The Canada Accident and Fire Assurance Company merges with Commercial Union of Canada and the Stanstead & Sherbrooke Insurance Company. The Canadian General Assurance Company merges with General Accident of Canada.


General Accident acquires the non-automobile portfolio of the Manitoba Public Insurance Corporation.


General Accident acquires the Canadian business of Crum & Forster from Xerox, a business mostly in commercial and personal lines, especially high-value property.


General Accident acquires the general insurance business of Prudential Corporation in Canada for C$165 million. As a result, General Accident becomes the biggest non-government controlled property and casualty insurer in Canada with a market share of 8%. The new company is known as the General Accident Indemnity Company.


In January, the General Accident Indemnity Company merges with the Prudasco Assurance Company and, in December, is amalgamated with General Accident Assurance Company of Canada.


General Accident acquires the Canadian General Insurance Group and Norwich Union establishes the Norwich Union Life Insurance Company of Canada.


On 24 June, Norwich Union Fire withdraws from Canada.


On 31 December, the General Accident Insurance Company of Canada changes its name to the CGU Insurance Company of Canada. Commercial Union Assurance of Canada merges with the CGU Insurance Company of Canada, along with the Canada General Insurance Group.


On 5 May, the CGU Insurance Company of Canada changes its name to Aviva Insurance of Canada.