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Our history - Canada Life

The Canada Life Assurance Company, Canada’s first life insurance company, began in 1846 in Hamilton, Ontario.

The Canada Life Assurance Company

On January 1, 2020, Canada Life, Great-West Life, and London Life came together under one, strong brand — the new Canada Life.

Each of the companies has a vibrant and proud history, having formed more than 125 years ago.

Together under one brand, we look forward to continuing to deliver on our purpose — to improve the financial, physical and mental well-being of Canadians.

View Canada Life's history below, or view the history of Great-West Life and London Life.


Canada Life offers insurance and wealth management products and services to individuals, families and businesses across Canada.


On January 1, 2020, Great-West Life, London Life and Canada life came together under one, strong brand — the new Canada Life.


Canada Life’s head office in Toronto receives the prestigious Historical Building of the Year Award from the Toronto chapter of the Building and Office Managers Association (BOMA).


Canada Life becomes part of the Great-West Lifeco group of companies, joining London Life and Great-West Life.


Canada Life grows domestically with the acquisition of Crown Life Insurance Company of Canada.


Canada Life acquires MetLife in the United Kingdom.


Canada Life acquires the Canadian individual insurance operations of New York Life and the individual insurance operations of Manulife Financial in the United Kingdom.


Canada Life opens the first transatlantic link to carry computer, voice, teletype and facsimile transmissions.


A.H. Lemmon, Canada Life’s thirteenth president, adopts automated data processing. The advanced technology allowed the company to process data quicker and more efficiently than ever before.


A change in government legislation allows Canada Life to become a mutual company – or a private company owned by clients or policyholders – as founder Hugh C. Baker had originally envisioned.


At the request of a vice-president, a weather beacon is placed atop Canada Life’s head office on University Avenue in Toronto. Lights attached to a support tower indicate variations in temperature, while a beacon light at the top – which Environment Canada updates four times daily – forecasts approaching weather systems.


Canada Life’s head office opens for business on University Avenue in Toronto.


Construction begins on a new Canada Life head office. The 18-month project in downtown Toronto provides steady employment for tradesmen during the first and hardest year of the Great Depression.


Leighton McCarthy takes over as president after Herbert Coplin Cox retires. McCarthy continues Canada Life’s prudent investment strategy during the Great Depression. The company makes cash surrenders available, provides loans against policies, helps farmers stay on their land and does not lay off any staff. Later, McCarthy serves as Canada’s first ambassador to the United States.


Canada Life introduces its first group policy.


A total of 55 Canada Life employees enlist for overseas duty during the First World War. Four do not return. Under then-president Herbert Coplin Cox, Canada Life avoids adding extra fees to the policies of those entering the armed forces. Also, people without policies serving overseas are still eligible for life insurance, with an extra premium because of the dangerous nature of work. No other company matches Canada Life’s offer.


Edward W. Cox replaces his father George Cox as president of Canada Life, but passes away five months later. Edward is then succeeded by his brother, Herbert Coplin Cox.


After years of doing business in the United Kingdom and Ireland, Canada life officially establishes branches in the region to better serve its customers. Only 35 years after Confederation, a Canadian company had come full circle: instead of British companies insuring Canadians, a Canadian company was operating full branches in Great Britain.


Canada Life’s fourth president, Alexander Gillespie Ramsay, retires. Senator George Cox is elected president of the company. The businessman and top agent in Ontario oversees a period of rapid expansion, including moving the company’s head office from Hamilton to Toronto. Canada Life also expands across Canada by establishing branches in Calgary and Vancouver.


Canada Life publishes the country’s first mortality tables, which reveal that life expectancy in Canada is similar to the U.S., the U.K. and Germany. Previously, it had been assumed Canada’s colder climate shortened lives.


Following The Great Fire of St. John, N.B., in 1877, which destroyed two-fifths of the city, Canada Life president Alexander Gillespie Ramsay oversees the donation of a large sum of money to help with relief efforts.


Alexander Gillespie Ramsay moves his family from Scotland to become president at Canada Life. Ramsay introduces new guidelines, allowing those living in remote or dangerous places to get life insurance policies with premiums based on their locations.


Canada Life’s first president, Hugh C. Baker, passes away. He is succeeded by John Young, (1859-1873) and E. Cartwright Thomas (1873-1875).


Canada Life is granted a Provincial Charter of Incorporation. To commemorate the occasion, Canada Life obtains a coat of arms depicting a pelican feeding its young – a medieval symbol for charity and devotion. The symbol was used in Canada Life’s logo for more than 50 years, and the staff newsletter at the time was called The Pelican.


With Canada’s small but growing population spread out across a vast amount of territory, Canada Life hires George Baker Jr. as a travelling agent. In addition to signing up new businesses, Baker Jr. promotes the assurance business in free lectures and through local newspapers.


Canada Life is founded by banker Hugh C. Baker in the library of the Mechanics Institute rooms in Hamilton. The notion of a Canadian insurance company occurs to Baker after an arduous journey to New York to purchase life insurance for himself. He assumes the roles of president, actuary and general manager at Canada’s first life insurance company. Canada Life issues its first life insurance policy to Baker. Over the course of the first year, the fledging life insurance company turns a substantial profit.