Abstract: Insuring Canadians: The Wawanesa Mutual Insurance Company to 1976

Heather E. Nelson


This paper offers a brief explanation of my dissertation, which explores one of Canada's largest insurance companies, the Wawanesa Mutual Insurance Company. Wawanesa was created in 1896 by a small group of farmers intent on constructing a company to meet the needs of local farmers. Over the next thirty years, the company became a national company offering all lines of property and casualty insurance. One of the unique characteristics of this study is that it examines a national company that was headquartered outside of Canada's power and financial centers. What remains clear throughout the eighty years under investigation is that the company's expansion and its ability to adapt to both the social and economic difficulties make the company atypical in insurance, particularly in Canada. Many Canadian insurance companies started as responses to challenges posed by American and British competitors, but failed to adapt to changing circumstances, leaving the Wawanesa Mutual Insurance Company as one of the few remaining Canadian-owned and -operated property and casualty companies. This corporate success story affords an excellent opportunity to examine the company, its internal operations, and its interaction with society. In arguing that the company's strategies were responses to social pressures, resulting in successful adaptations in its structure, an understanding of issues like the role of regionalism in business, the development of appropriate distribution and marketing networks, and the development of regulatory practices as they pertain to insurance is developed.