VEHICLES (1973-2006) HISTORY
From a modest beginning in the early 70s, Superior Emergency Vehicles
grew to become Canada's largest fire apparatus manufacturer, before and
after its purchase by Emergency One, the world's largest
fire truck company. Superior was also an important part of a
historic shift of Canadian apparatus manufacture from its traditional
base in Ontario and Québec to western Canada.
Superior was founded in Red Deer, Alberta in 1973 by partners Bob
Mather, Butch Barthel and Barry Skinner. Mather and Barthel had
previously worked for Saskatoon Fire Engines, a fire truck manufacturer
based in Calgary. As an aside, Saskatoon was founded in 1924 or
the Saskatchewan city of the same name, but moved to Alberta in
1962. Little information on the history of the company is
available, but Saskatoon built trucks for many fire departments in
western Canada until they ceased operations in 1978. Superior
started operations in a small building in downtown Red Deer before
moving to a new 25,000 square foot manufacturing facility in the
industrial northwest section of the city. Superior occupied a
portion of the building, renting out the remainder, until they took it
over completely in 1985.
The first truck ordered was a GMC pumper for High Prairie, Alberta and
the first delivered was a pumper on an International chassis for
Syncrude Ltd. (Canadian Bechtel) in Fort McMurray, Alberta. The
company gained a foothold with its "Streamlined Plain Jane" model of
pumpers, a basic standard pumper suitable for small communities.
Initially, these trucks were built for Superior by the American Fire
Pump Company, but Superior produced their own version as they built up
their production capacity. The company also cracked the big-city
market early on with a 1975 order for three urban pumpers on
Hendrickson chassis for Calgary.
Orders continued to roll in from departments large and small throughout
Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba during the
70s. In 1978, the company looked south of the border to expansion
in the American market. Can-Am Fire Apparatus was formed as a
marketing arm for Superior apparatus in the United States. The
name Superior was already in use by a Montana-based fire apparatus
company, hence the Can-Am moniker. The Can-Am name was used until
sometime in 1983.
The company also had an eye on
eastern Canada. Other than one truck sold to the small township
of Nakina, Ontario, all sales had been in the west. In
1980, Superior Fire Trucks was founded as a new division and a
manufacturing plant opened
in Kingston, Ontario. Some 20-30 trucks were built in Kingston -
exact numbers are unavailable, but known trucks are listed separately
on the site. The Kingston plant was closed in 1982 due to the
difficulties encountered in operating two separate plants. After
the closure, Superior served the entire Canadian market from Red Deer
and started shipping trucks directly to Ontario customers (starting
with Sandwich West, Ontario) in 1982.
Superior also undertook a number of technical innovations during this
time. In 1978, Superior started using formed aluminum to build
its trucks instead of steel. This was a bold decision, as only
Florida-based Emergency One was using this new technology. In
1980, the company also developed a new "extruded body construction"
design using aluminum extrusions to create "tongue and groove" fits for
body panels and compartments.
Things really picked up in the mid-1980s with the closure of
King-Seagrave and Pierreville Fire Trucks. The loss of these
central Canadian companies gave Superior an opportunity to fill a much
larger share of the Canadian market, an opportunity which the company
pursued with vigour, selling many trucks to fire departments in Ontario
and the Maritime provinces. In 1987, Superior entered into
agreements with Pierce Manufacturing, Smeal Incorporated and Snorkel
Products Incorporated, giving the company exclusive rights to market
these companies' products in Canada. Superior built and delivered
over 130 trucks using Pierce chassis across Canada. Smeal
provided aerials for 30 Superior-built apparatus and Snorkel devices
for three, enabling the company
to market and build apparatus with aerial devices. Superior also
acted as a dealer for Smeal and sold a number of Smeal-built pumpers to
By 1989, Superior was delivering over 100 trucks each year and had
become Canada's largest apparatus builder. This attracted the
attention of Florida's Emergency One, the world's largest fire
apparatus manufacturer. E-One had been working with dealers to
gain a share in the Canadian market and managed to sell a number of
trucks in British Columbia and Ontario in the late 1980s. In late
1991, E-One offered to purchase 100% of Superior from the original
owners. Mather, Barthel and Skinner agreed, and Superior
Emergency Vehicles became a subsidiary of E-One on January 1,
1992. The familiar Superior nameplate changed to a version of the
oval E-One logo and the company continued to sell trucks across Canada
with E-One chassis and aerial devices as Superior served the Canadian
market for E-One. By the mid-1990s, E-One started to rationalise
their production and Superior was tasked with building initial attack
units, brush trucks and light rescues for the E-One family of
companies. These rigs were delivered to fire departments around
the world, generally with E-One nameplates. Gradually, more and
more trucks built for Canadian departments, starting with custom rigs
and aerials, were built at E-One's main
facilities in Florida and shipped north.
After 30 years of operation, Superior's name changed to E-One Canada
Corp. in 2003. However, in 2006, E-One announced that it was
shutting down the Red Deer plant and the Superior brand name.
Factors cited in the decision included the rising value of the Canadian
dollar relative to the US dollar and higher labour costs driven partly
by competition for skilled trades in Alberta's heated oil boom.
The plant wound down production and shut down by the end of the year,
resulting in a loss of 85 jobs. All production was shifted to
E-One facilities in Florida and came just two years after the closure
of E-One's Saulsbury plant in Tully, New York. E-One continues to
sell fire apparatus in Canada through a dealer network, but does not
build trucks here.
All in all, Superior built over 3600 trucks. About a third of
these were built before the company was purchased by E-One and the
remaining two-thirds after. Before the purchase, Superior
delivered trucks across Canada to departments large and small.
Most of Canada's major cities were customers, including Calgary,
Edmonton, Regina, Saskatoon, Vancouver and Toronto. Under the
Can-Am name, Superior also delivered to American departments in Alaska,
Colorado, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah and Washington
state. As noted, E-One sold Red Deer-built trucks across Canada
and the United States and to countries as far afield as Saudi Arabia,
Qatar, Argentina, and the Philippines. A small venture started by
three men grew into an impressive operation with a worldwide reach and
a legacy continued by fire departments worldwide.
of a sequential number following the company's
initials (SE for Superior Emergency). For reasons unknown, the
series started at SE 20 and increased from there. SE numbers were
also assigned to some refurbishments and sales of used trucks. A
few were allocated to trucks ordered but later cancelled.
However, most of the numbers refer to the
actual construction of a truck. Trucks built at the short-lived
Kingston plant bore serial numbers starting with SF for Superior Fire
This list consists of trucks built before and immediately after the
takeover of Superior by E-One in late 1991. The changeover to
E-One chassis was gradual, so the list goes up to mid-1992 or so.
The "Kingston Superiors" are listed separately and the list consists of
the small number of trucks for which serial numbers are known.
Thanks to the foresight of a number of fire buffs and the kind
assistance of company personnel over the years, it was possible to get
a basic but complete delivery list of trucks built by Superior prior to
the purchase by E-One. This list formed the basis of the list
given on this site, although many details are missing on earlier trucks
(specifically chassis makes). In addition, several rigs were
ordered by provincial governments (particularly the Government of
Alberta) and distributed to individual fire departments, but in many
cases, the details on where the truck was sent are not known.
Archived historical information from Superior's former website.
Dubbert, Bob, Shane MacKichan and Joel Gebet. Encyclopedia of
Canadian Fire Apparatus. Hudson, WI: Iconografix, 2004.