Reliance Foundry: About Us, History & Timeline
Since 1925, Reliance Foundry has maintained the best in quality, service and expertise
Reliance Foundry Co. Ltd. delivers the highest-quality stock and custom-designed products for architectural site furnishings, traffic management and industrial applications. Since 1925, Reliance Foundry has built upon a long tradition of metal casting expertise to become an award-winning supplier for high-profile and everyday operations across North America.
Reliance Foundry was first incorporated by four foundry workers in 1925. It grew to become Vancouver's largest working foundry—fulfilling contracts for municipal authorities and companies in the mining and forestry industries. During World War II, employees worked 48 hours per week, casting 10 tons of metal per day to supply parts for the Allied forces war effort. In 1966, a fire at the original Vancouver site forced the company to relocate to a new location in Surrey. By the 1990s, Reliance Foundry began outsourcing production to increase the range of offered products and expand beyond regional services to become a continental supplier. The company moved to its newest location in 2005—and in 2012 was awarded the Surrey Board of Trade's Business Excellence Award.
Original Reliance Foundry building in Vancouver
In 1925, H. G. Ireland, Ray McDougall and brothers Mike and Gerry Engelbeen—all previous employees at the Wallace Foundry—purchased a building at 149 West 4th Avenue in Vancouver and incorporated to form Reliance Foundry Co. Ltd. They purchased the property for $3,000 ($40,000 when adjusted for inflation). To show how times have changed, a single-bedroom apartment in Vancouver's False Creek neighborhood now sells for about $500,000.
Reliance Foundry lampposts in Vancouver's Gastown
Reliance Foundry's first contract was to manufacture 225 lampposts for the City of Vancouver at $38.50 per post. 90 years later, the original lamp stands are still being used in Vancouver's historic Gastown. Municipal contracts were the main source of income for the company until it expanded to supply products for the mining and forestry industries.
Mike Engelbeen stands in front of the original Reliance Foundry building in Vancouver
In 1927, Reliance Foundry had 102 employees—the most it would ever employ at one time. Leading up to the Great Depression, this number would drop to just 40 by 1928. The foundry industry in general would struggle in the years to come.
Fred Done on the telephone
Fred Done had previously worked with the Reliance Foundry owners at the Wallace Foundry—where, in 1924, he worked as a helper for 35 cents per hour. While working for Wallace, he studied electrical engineering and became proficient in designing electrical furnaces. In 1927, the Reliance Foundry owners hired Fred to construct a one-ton furnace, marking the beginning of the Done family's involvement with the company.
Vancouver's Second Narrows bridge
In 1934, Reliance Foundry was awarded a municipal contract to cast chain links for the original Second Narrows Bridge that connects Vancouver to the North Shore. The contract helped sustain Reliance Foundry through the Great Depression—a time when most foundries struggled.
Mike Engelbeen stands by a pump in front of the Reliance Foundry office at 149 West 4th Ave
Reliance Foundry produced a Cameron Pump in the early 1930s. Reliance Foundry served local manufacturers in the Lower Mainland and the rest of the province. Casting was an ideal process for metal pump housings, as it offered effective flow of design that also suited functional demands.
Fred Done's electric arc furnace with half-ton capacity
Reliance Foundry first began casting steel in 1935—made possible by Fred Done's newly designed electric arc furnace. The furnace used electrodes to create electric arcing that would heat steel to molten temperatures in a heat-proof container. Casting steel opened more opportunities for the company to fulfill contracts for the mining industry.
Fred Done’s Reliance Foundry
In 1936, Fred Done purchased shares from H. G. Ireland and Ray McDougall, establishing a two-man partnership with Mike Engelbeen that would last eight years. Fred, known as a strong-willed person, led the company during a period of world war, economic down-turns and ongoing labor disputes. His determination was a driving force in achieving Reliance Foundry's future success.
In 1936, Fred Done bought shares from H. G. Ireland and Ray McDougall to form a two-man partnership with Mike Engelbeen (Gerry Engelbeen having died in 1928). The partnership would last more than eight years, and Engelbeen would continue to work for Reliance until 1957.
The City of Vancouver produced an engraving to commemorate the building of the Burrard Dry Dock Company's 100th cargo ship
In 1940, with the war on in full force, the company began to produce metal plates for the bow and stern of the Canadian Merchant Navy's Park Ships. Since 1938, the company had already been helping the country prepare for war by casting parts for gun emplacements. Throughout the war, Reliance incorporated a night shift into their operations, and employees worked 48 hours per week to produce 10 tons of product each day.
A list of agreed upon wages for 1940
On November 19th, 1940, Reliance Foundry formalized a working agreement with its employees. The agreement outlined a strategy for worker representation and stated that "eight hours shall constitute a day’s work"—paying double-time for work performed over eight hours and on Sundays and holidays. It also included a cost-of-living allowance to be reviewed every three months.
In 1943, Fred Done purchased Mike Engelbeen’s interest in Reliance Foundry to become the company's sole owner. Fred’s purchase marked the beginning of his family’s exclusive ownership of Reliance Foundry, which has continued to the present day. Mike was the victim of a serious car accident in 1945, but he continued to work for Reliance Foundry until 1957.
Newspaper clipping of foundry workers strike in 1946
After World War II, foundry workers across Vancouver organized a city-wide strike to increase their wages. Fred Done opposed the strike outright, crossing picket lines with his son Barry. But aside from striking workers, the foundries themselves held animosity among each other. Once a new, standardized wage was agreed upon for workers, Fred learned shortly after that another foundry had attempted to poach one of his workers with an offer higher than the agreed-upon wage.
Unionization document from 1946
On November 5, 1946, Reliance Foundry employees joined Local 289 of the Vancouver District Metal and Chemical Workers Union. Their connection to the union would be short-lived, however, as it lasted only slightly more than two years.
Newspaper clipping reports decision to close malleable iron production in 1946
Wage increases meant it was no longer feasible to produce malleable iron. The company halted production, making for big news in the industry. At the time, Reliance Foundry was the only foundry west of Ontario to produce malleable iron. "We are closing down our malleable iron operation entirely and adjusting our steel operations until such time in the future as conditions change," said Fred Done in a letter to employees.
Street view of Reliance Foundry
In 1948, representatives of the ESCO Corporation approached Fred Done with an offer to purchase Reliance Foundry. Fred noted in company records that "Mr. Lane was down at Reliance discussing ESCO buying out Reliance." Fred refused the offer and later that year went on to purchase the bankrupt Westland Foundry, later selling off their equipment.
Document announcing cancellation of union certification
Reliance Foundry workers applied to the Labour Relations Board to cancel their certification with the Vancouver District Metal & Chemical Workers Union "on the grounds that the Union had ceased to represent the employees in question." On November 29, 1948, the board "deemed it proper" to cancel the union certification.
Employee bonuses paid for profits earned in 1948
On January 29, 1949, Reliance Foundry paid employees a bonus from profits earned in 1948. The bonus was paid based on the number of days worked in 1948. If an employee was present for all 248 days of operation, he received a maximum bonus of 100 dollars. With inflation, $100.00 would equal approximately $978.04 today.
Foundry workers pour molten steel into a form
In 1950, Reliance Foundry became the first foundry in Vancouver to cast manganese steel. Manganese steel contains a higher level of manganese (1–1.8 percent) than other types of steel (typically 0.15–0.8 percent). The higher level of manganese makes the steel both harder and more ductile. These characteristics were very beneficial for parts cast for the mining industry. At the time, the mining industry accounted for almost 80 percent of Reliance Foundry's business.
Brian and Barry Done
Both Brian and Barry Done had worked odd jobs at the company when they were younger, but in 1955, they began working as official Reliance Foundry employees. Their tenure with the company would last over 45 years—a legacy that would eventually be passed on to Brian’s sons.
Employees paid bonuses for 1955
On February 10, 1956, Reliance Foundry paid employees a bonus from the company's 1955 profits. The bonus was based on the number of days worked in the previous year. The notice states that if an employee worked all 242 days the foundry was operational, that employee would receive 100 percent of the bonus.
New foundry wages in 1959
On August 16, 1959, a new pay schedule took effect. With the new agreement, the top workers in the foundry were paid $2.42 per hour or what would equal close to $20.00 per hour today. The new pay schedule also shows that Reliance Foundry was once again producing malleable iron.
Brian and Barry Done’s Reliance Foundry
Brian and Barry Done succeeded their father at the helm of Reliance Foundry in 1963. Their tenure was marked by a fire that destroyed the original site and the eventual relocation of Reliance Foundry to a location that would last for nearly 40 years. Brian and Barry kept the company profitable through industry shifts and economic downturns. During their time in charge, Reliance Foundry's business focused on producing industrial castings for the forestry industry and drilling manufacturers.
Brian and Barry Done
In 1963, Brian and Barry Done officially assumed control of Reliance Foundry, establishing a partnership that would last over 45 years. Their family members say there was never any doubt the two would one day take over the business. Although they took official responsibility, the brothers say Fred never really left the company and would often be seen at the foundry until his death in 1979.
Reliance Foundry employees at local fishing derby
On February 17, 1965, Reliance Foundry workers voted to join the United Steelworkers. Reliance Foundry employees would maintain their certification with the United Steelworkers, Local No. 2952, for the next 40 years.
Fire destroys Vancouver foundry in 1966
In the early morning hours of May 5, 1966, four mysterious explosions on the roof of the original Reliance Foundry started a fire that burned the building to the ground. No one was able to explain what caused the fire, but onlookers stated the foundry was destroyed within minutes. The fire ended Reliance Foundry's 40-year operation at 149 West 4th Street and forced the company to move its operations to Surrey, BC.
Foundry workers return to work
May 9, 1966, the Monday following the fire, some employees returned to work at the foundry. Although they were surrounded by burned rubble, the office and a small amount of equipment was still useable. In a newspaper article dated May 7, 1966, Barry Done states that "there is a small area of the plant which is not totally damaged where [employees] can still work."
Road built for new Reliance Foundry site
On July 26, 1966, the company began construction on a new location in Surrey. A new road was built near 128th Street and 76th Avenue, where heavy machinery cleared a site at 7764 129A Street. The new foundry would cost a half-million dollars to complete and would be Reliance Foundry's home for the next 39 years.
Rick Pasternak is a second-generation employee at Reliance Foundry. His father worked at the foundry while he was growing up, and in 1974, Rick began working at Reliance as a foundry helper. Rick has worn many hats at Reliance Foundry and, with nearly 40 years of experience, he now works as Reliance Foundry’s Sales Manager.
Len Cranmore was hired as a foundry helper in 1976. Len has performed tasks in virtually every department at Reliance Foundry, from welding, to shipping and sales. He now works as the product manager and is heavily involved in research and development. After nearly 40 years with the company, Len laughs about his longevity with Reliance. "When I first got here, I only wanted to try it out for a few months," says Len. "I thought it would only be a summer job."
Dave Doerkson demonstrates bollard care
Dave Doerkson was hired as a foundry helper in 1976. Dave can easily be recognized from much of Reliance Foundry's training material, where he demonstrates how to perform proper installations. Dave worked with Reliance Foundry for 39 years, many of these as the company's Warehouse Manager, before retiring in 2015.
Fred Done's hand-written notes scrawled on adding machine paper
Fred Done sadly passed away in 1979. His death marked the end of an era at Reliance Foundry. Fred had a reputation for being a man who wouldn't budge once he made up his mind. His resolve helped drive Reliance Foundry toward the level of success it would achieve. Just before Fred died, he began to write notes about his time with Reliance Foundry on, oddly enough, a roll of adding machine tape (pictured right). The notes offer valuable insight into the early foundry industry in Vancouver.
In July 1984, Brian Done’s son Brad began working full time at Reliance Foundry as a foundry helper. His employment marks the third generation of his family’s legacy at Reliance Foundry. Brad took a year off from the foundry in 1985 to concentrate on school and travel but has been with Reliance ever since. He has filled roles ranging from production to design and is currently the Vice President of Sales and Marketing. Brad played a leading role in transforming Reliance into a web-based business.
On February 1, 1991, Brian Done’s oldest son, Brent, was hired full time as Reliance Foundry’s controller. During school, Brent had worked summers helping out in Reliance Foundry's accounting department. Brent has received extensive education in computer programming and systems analysis. He would later go on to implement state-of-the-art, cloud-based accounting and efficiency software at Reliance Foundry. He currently serves as President.
Marine bollards being ground for the Roberts Bank Superport
In 1994, Reliance Foundry produced marine bollards for the Roberts Bank Superport. Reliance Foundry has a long history of casting top-quality marine bollards—available as custom cast products.
Cherie Ferbey (née Done), Brent and Brad's sister, joined the company in March of 1994. She worked as the Office Manager for six years.
Chris Whitmee, Brian and Barry Done's nephew and Fred Done's maternal grandson, joined the company in 1994 and worked as a shop employee for 10 years. Chris's life ended tragically on May 16, 2009, when he was killed as an innocent bystander in what appears to have been a drug-related crime.
Steel Wheels cast for Vancouver's Wooden Rollercoaster at the PNE
In 1995, Reliance Foundry cast steel wheels for Playland’s world-famous wooden rollercoaster in Vancouver. Reliance Foundry offers several options for industrial-grade steel wheels, carried in-stock and ready for immediate shipment. They feature a tensile strength that exceeds industry norms and can be finished to meet the exact requirements of almost any application.
Cover image of Fire in the Blood
In February 1995, Henry Bromley published Fire in the Blood: A History of British Columbia and Alberta Foundries. The book features history, anecdotes, poetry and profiles on foundries in Western Canada—including a section on Reliance Foundry (pages 104–8).
The original Reliance Foundry website
Reliance Foundry first launched Reliance-Foundry.com in 1996. Soon after, the company received its first web inquiry from the Little Rock Wastewater Utility in Little Rock, Arkansas. For a foundry that had earned its primary sales by supplying local industries, the prospect of international sales were huge—and a tiding of the direction the company would eventually take.
Brad visiting manufacturers in China
By 1997, the domestic foundry industry was in drastic decline. High costs and outdated equipment made it difficult for Reliance Foundry to compete with international markets. The company began exploring producers outside of Canada, contracting an Asian manufacturer to cast a lot of R-3561 Double Flanged Wheels. By 2003, Reliance Foundry had established an international production network to supply a more lucrative online market.
Keel blocks at the Esquimalt Graving Dock
In 1999, Reliance Foundry cast custom-designed keel blocks for the Esquimalt Graving Dock. Keel blocks are designed to support the weight of a ship by its keel, requiring significant knowledge and expertise to ensure the material and design will perform without failure. While shifting to standardized products, Reliance Foundry would still continue to offer custom cast products.
The Next Generation
Brent and Brad Done's succession marked a complete shift in the direction of Reliance Foundry. By the year 2000, a large portion of the company's casting production had been outsourced and it wouldn't be long before the brothers oversaw Reliance Foundry's final on-site castings. Through search engine marketing and a strong web presence, they led the business to a new level of success. Their efforts would lead Reliance Foundry to being awarded the Surrey Board of Trade's Business Excellence Award in 2012.
Brent and Brad Done at a Surrey Board of Trade event
In the year 2000, Brad and Brent Done assumed control of Reliance Foundry. The change marked a drastic change from offering in-house casting services to selling outsourced products through web-based marketing. Where Reliance Foundry once catered to a local client base, it would grow to provide services to all of North America.
Workers pour molds at the now-closed Surrey foundry site
In 2003, with the writing already on the wall, Reliance Foundry made the decision to cease all in-house casting operations. Brad and Brent had already shifted the company's primary manufacturing operations off-site to remain competitive in the highly cost-sensitive industry. The company continues to provide casting services on a consultancy basis, providing knowledgeable custom cast solutions for clients across North America.
Smallville film set at Reliance Foundry
A scene from the Smallville episode "Gone" (season 4) was filmed at Reliance Foundry on July 29, 2004. The scene depicts a battle between the characters Clark and Trent in a foundry. While the inside of the Reliance Foundry building clearly recognizable, unfortunately, none of the company's employees made the final cut.
Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Brad Done, was working in the foundry at the time and says "The crew of Smallville took over our plant on Anvil Way. I remember getting to eat from the crew trucks the days they were there, and because they had to close up the plant to make it entirely dark inside, the building was hotter than it had been since our in-house foundry days!"
Watch the first scene in the compilation of "Smallville Best Saves Part 2" to see the Reliance Foundry set.
Street view of Surrey foundry facilities in 2004
With all casting operations being outsourced, Reliance Foundry no longer required the extensive space at its 129A Street location. After 39 years of operations, in August 2004, the company sold the location and relocated to its current site on 148th Street in Surrey.
Document shows union certification cancelled
By 2005, only one member of the United Steelworkers Union was still employed by Reliance Foundry. The Labour Relations Board set up a polling station for the last remaining member to cast his "anonymous" vote on whether or not to maintain union certification. As a result, the certification was officially terminated.
Reliance Foundry warehouse
In October 2005, Reliance Foundry began operations at its current location at #207–6450 148th Street in Surrey. Brad and Brent designed the building to offer a fresh, well-maintained atmosphere for all guests and staff, including individual offices for office employees.
Bollards in front of the Schermerhorn Symphony Center
In 2006, Reliance Foundry supplied decorative bollards to the Schermerhorn Symphony Center. Located in Nashville, the Schemerhorn is a world-famous concert hall decorated with intricately carved facades. The bollards used on site are made from ornamental ductile iron to extend the building's traditional ambiance into the surrounding streetscapes.
Conner Done drives forklift in the warehouse
In 2007, Brent's son Conner began working part-time in Reliance Foundry’s warehouse—increasing to fulltime by 2010. Conner's employment marks the fourth generation of the Done family's connection to Reliance Foundry—following in the footsteps of his father, grandfather and great-grandfather.
Barry Done's obituary
Frederick Barrit (Barry) Done sadly passed away on September 10, 2008. Barry served as Vice President of Reliance Foundry for over 40 years. He was a key contributor to the Metal Industries Association and often helped at the BC chapter of the American Foundry Society. Barry helped oversee the relocation of Reliance Foundry from Vancouver to its original Surrey location, where it operated for almost 40 years.
Bollards in front of Cirque du Soleil headquarters in Montreal
In 2009, Reliance Foundry supplied bollards to the Cirque du Soleil headquarters in Montreal, Quebec. The popular entertainment company selected Reliance Foundry's signature R-7539 to be installed around the building grounds.
Bollards in front of Oriole Park
What do bollards have to do with baseball? That question was answered in the fall of 2012 when Reliance Foundry's bollards were used to tie the old-fashioned style of Major League Baseball's first retro-classic ballpark into its surrounding streets. Reliance Foundry’s bollards at Oriole Park
Reliance Foundry staff receive the Business Excellence Award
Between the years 2004 and 2012, Reliance Foundry's sales grew faster than any another period in the company's history. In 2011, the company's sales increased more than any other year in its entire history. On November 15, 2012, at an awards gala held at Surrey's Sheraton Hotel, Reliance foundry was awarded the Surrey Board of Trade Business Excellence Award for its economic performance and business success.