Steve Johnson was born in Winnipeg in 1901 and became a journeyman plumber by 1920. In 1929, he opened a plumbing shop, S.E. Johnson Ltd., concentrating on service work, small apartments, and housing.
The depression years that followed made it difficult to expand and difficult to collect money. Steve was not the best accountant, and often trusted his memory as to whom he had invoiced and who had paid, or not paid. Many of his clients were from an Icelandic settlement outside of Winnipeg. At times, members of the community didn’t receive a bill for the service work done by S.E. Johnson, and considered Steve as a generous benefactor who at times, during major periods of mass unemployment, didn’t charge his neighbors. More than likely it was a case of forgetting to send or leave an invoice.
The company was incorporated in 1934, and by 1945 Steve’s son Norman had joined the business and soon the company expanded into commercial, institutional and light industrial construction. Norm’s brother Keith became the company accountant in 1954 and by the early 1960’s the company was one of the largest mechanical contractors in Winnipeg.
In 1966, due to a lack of larger projects, the family made the difficult decision to close up their office in Manitoba and move to Alberta. The loyalty and high esteem for the company shown by the employees resulted in twelve families leaving Winnipeg and settling in Alberta. Calgary became head office, and an Edmonton office opened in 1967, with Barney Thorlakson as president and general manager. Barney had moved with the company from Winnipeg and upon his retirement in 1991, had served forty-seven years with the company.
The company has worked in all of the western provinces over the years with offices in Calgary, Edmonton, Lethbridge, Vancouver and Victoria and has employed as many as one hundred and fifty tradesmen at peak.
Major projects include the General Hospital expansion in Saskatoon in 1967, the Performing Arts Centre, Convention Centre, Hyatt Hotel, Olympic Ice Oval, Olympic Saddledome and the Health Research Innovation Centre in Calgary, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Grande Prairie, Red Deer Regional Hospital, the new City Hall, Commonwealth Stadium and Northlands Coliseum in Edmonton, Port Coquitlam Courthouse, Abbotsford Agriculture Research Centre, Chilliwack School of Military Engineering and a major renovation to the Royal BC Museum in Victoria, among many others.
In 1988, Norm and Keith Johnson sold the company to a group of eleven employees, which included branch managers, project managers, estimators, and superintendents. By 2004, all but Bruce Thorlakson had retired or sold their shares.
Bruce Thorlakson started as an apprentice plumber in 1973 on the Northlands Coliseum project in Edmonton. His field experience included running field operations primarily on commercial & institutional projects, with a large focus on laboratories. In 1978 he moved into the office as an Estimator, becoming Chief Estimator in 1980, and a Project Manager in 1983. He was part of the eleven-member employee group that purchased the company from the Johnson family in 1988. In 1991 he became Vice President & Branch Manager and moved to Vancouver, BC in 1993 to open the Vancouver office and oversee all BC operations. In 1996 the company decided to focus on Southern Alberta which brought Bruce & family to Calgary. Bruce became President & sole owner in 2004 and is celebrating fifty years with the company & industry in 2023.
Throughout the company’s history, a significant number of our partners and employees have been very involved in industry associations, such as the Alberta, Edmonton, and Calgary Construction Associations, Mechanical Contractors Association, Construction Labour Relations Alberta, Bid Depository Committees, Calgary District Pipe Trades and have been instructors at the MCA / UA Training Schools in both Calgary and Edmonton.
S.E Johnson Management Ltd. is providing the mechanical installations for some of Calgary’s premier buildings and projects.
See our current projects in our present/past section on our webpage.