ICBA president remembers construction icon Larry Fisher
Chris Gardner reflects on the open-shop advocate and Lark Group founder.
I wanted to reflect on some sad news we received over the weekend about the loss of an icon in our industry, someone who gave much to the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association (ICBA), the construction industry, the open shop movement, and to British Columbia.
Over the weekend, Lark Group founder and ICBA Life Member Larry Fisher passed away after a courageous battle with cancer.
Larry was an incredible supporter of ICBA and open shop construction from our earliest days. When he formed Lark in 1972, he quickly became a strong and outspoken advocate for free enterprise – for the investment, jobs and opportunity that result from open and fair bidding on government tendered projects and on an economy founded on free markets.
Not one to stand on the sidelines, Larry’s passion for getting things done and building B.C., led him to unapologetically support Social Credit and, later, the BC Liberal Party.
It’s impossible to overstate how important Larry and Lark Group have been to open shop construction. Larry was one of the leaders who successfully pushed to open EXPO 86 to non-union construction companies. It was a simple proposition – if companies and their workers had the skill and experience to get the job done, why shouldn’t they have an opportunity to work on taxpayer-funded projects? And he practiced what he preached: Lark sites have a healthy mix of open shop and building trades sub-contractors working on their projects. It was hard work and results that mattered to Larry.
His affection for ICBA never wavered, and he always looked back fondly at his work in the 1980s: “Convictions were so strong that we just believed in what we were doing and if you ran across a concrete wall, you’d step back, go sideways and find a hole in the wall and just keep marching on,” he told ICBA in 2016.
I first met Larry in 1990, when he invited Kevin Falcon and me, university students at the time, to meet with him at 6AM in his office in Surrey to talk about politics. Not one for small talk, he got to the point, and our meeting was over in half an hour. While short, it’s a meeting I will never forget. I will also never forget Kevin and I, who lived on the North Shore and in Vancouver, looking at each other following the meeting and one of us saying, “It’s 6:30AM in Surrey – now what do we do?”
From that first meeting onward, when it came to discussions about construction, building the province or what was happening at City Hall, in Victoria or in Ottawa, Larry’s voice was never too far from the conversations.
In 2019, ICBA wanted a long-term solution for its head office, and we were looking at sites in Burnaby (where we had been for more than 20 years) and Surrey, (where, in our early days, we had a single room office in a basement), so I called Larry. Lark Group was building City Centre 3 across from Surrey Memorial Hospital. And, two weeks before the COVID-19 lockdown, we signed an agreement to purchase the 8th floor of the new building. The timing was interesting to say the least, but like Larry, we never looked back.
In the summer of that year, Larry called us with the idea for a photo opportunity that only he could have come up with. After workers poured the 8th floor of our building, he had a desk craned up and placed in the exact location where my new office was to be located. I will always cherish that amazing photo of he and I, in full PPE, proudly standing behind a desk in the open air, with the Lark Group CC1 building looming behind us.
A couple of months ago, as he was fighting cancer, he called me. “Chris, I’m just on hold waiting for the results of my most recent tests, so I thought I would give you a call. I want to talk about what’s happening in Victoria and Ottawa.”
That was Larry – ever driving, persistent, principled, and always fighting for what he believed in.
As I think about Larry now, I am so glad that I answered his call and had an opportunity to speak with him for a few minutes. I will think of him often as I pass by ICBA’s Builders’ Wall and glance up at his name.
Our thoughts and prayers are with Larry’s family, the Lark Group team, and his many friends. He was an incredible builder and a remarkable person. We mourn the loss of a true icon.