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The evolution of the Trade Commissioner Service

Canada is, and always has been, a trading nation. For 125 years, the Trade Commissioner Service (TCS) has been on the ground in global markets supporting Canadian businesses and contributing to Canada's economic prosperity. Since Canada's first trade commissioner, John Short Larke, arrived in Australia on January 8, 1895, we have evolved into a network of more than 1,000 trade commissioners in over 160 offices worldwide and across Canada, serving more than 14,000 active Canadian firms. This is our story:

  • 1800s

  • 1895

    Canada’s first full-time trade commissioner, John Short Larke, arrives in Sydney, Australia, January 8, 1895.

    A proud history of helping Canadian companies succeed in global markets

    Selling products in Australia was not an easy undertaking for Canadian companies during the last half of the 19th century. The time and distance involved as well as the many unknowns, from market demand to the potential of new tariffs, were obstacles for firms with few resources or connections in that part of the world.

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    John Larke, 1893; From Oshawa Museum's Archival Collection, A000.1.49

    The TCS gets its first client request in a letter dated January 15, 1895, from the Cockshutt Plow Company of Brantford, Ont.

    The first client of the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service

    It didn’t take long for Canadian businesses to make use of Canada’s first permanent trade commissioner, John Larke, who arrived at his post in Sydney, Australia, on January 8, 1895. The first official request put to Larke came in a letter dated a week after his arrival on January 15, 1895, from the Cockshutt Plow Company. The manufacturer of farm equipment in Brantford, Ontario, wrote that it was looking for information from Larke regarding freight rates and other aspects of trade in Australia. “We are considering the advisability of sending a representative to the country at an early date,” the letter read.

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    The TCS gets its first client request in a letter dated January 15, 1895, from the Cockshutt Plow Company of Brantford, Ont.
  • 1900s

  • 1907

    A new trade treaty is negotiated with France. Trade commissioner Anatole Poindron participates in the discussions.

    Trade agreements bring competitive advantages for Canada’s exporters

    Making Canada’s exporters more competitive in world markets has been a consistent goal of the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service (TCS) over its 125 year history. The way that the TCS achieves this has expanded over time to include the promotion of Canada’s network of trade agreements that reduce and eliminate trade barriers.

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  • 1909

    The Department of External Affairs is created.

    A Trade Commissioner Service to meet the changing times

    The evolution of the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service (TCS) over the last 125 years is a window into the growing and changing world economy—as well as the new markets, priorities and opportunities it presents for Canada’s exporters.

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  • 1914

    The first efforts are made to recruit career trade commissioners from universities, specializing in economics.

    The TCS’s first professional salesperson to the world

    Dana Wilgress was part of the first class of trade commissioners recruited out of university. During his career in the Foreign Service, he became one of the world’s foremost trade negotiators and helped advance trade on a global scale.

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    The first efforts are made to recruit career trade commissioners from universities, specializing in economics.
  • 1916

    Plant tours are included as part of the training of trade commissioners, before heading overseas.

  • 1927

    The responsibilities of trade commissioners expand to include new international assignments, such as being seconded to the Egyptian government to work on the introduction of tariffs in the country.

  • 1929

    The first trade commissioner is assigned to a Canadian mission abroad, in Tokyo.

    The Canada Shop, stocked with Canadian products, opens for two weeks in Glasgow, Scotland.

    The Canada Shop, stocked with Canadian products, opens for two weeks in Glasgow, Scotland.
  • 1930

    Henry Herbert Stevens, Minister of Trade and Commerce, calls for trade commissioners to focus on new markets for Canadian wheat.

  • 1932

    The first program is created to help Canadian exporters defray their international marketing costs.

    The prohibition against recruiting married men as trade commissioners is lifted.

  • 1933

    The department appoints the first officers in Canada to act as a liaison between trade commissioners abroad and companies at home.

    The department creates commodity divisions to better communicate with industry and trade commissioners begin to specialize. W.A. Wilson is given the title of animal products trade commissioner.

  • 1936

    The Canada Calling campaign is established to promote Canadian food products in the United Kingdom.

    The Canada Calling campaign is established to promote Canadian food products in the United Kingdom.
  • 1944

    The Export Credit Insurance Corp., today’s Export Development Canada, is created to provide financial and insurance services to Canadian exporters.

  • 1946

    The Canadian Commercial Corporation is created to serve as a platform to deliver Canadian aid and assist in the development of Canadian trade.

  • 1948

    Canada becomes a member of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).

  • 1959

    The TCS expands to include Canada’s objectives in international development. That responsibility moves to the Department of External Affairs in 1960.

  • 1965

    Canada signs its first international Science & Technology Agreement.

  • 1969

    Canada’s first female Trade Commissioner is hired.

    The Department of Trade and Commerce merges with the Department of Industry to become the Department of Industry, Trade and Commerce.

  • 1982

    The trade functions of the Department of Industry, Trade and Commerce, including the TCS, are transferred to the Department of External Affairs.

  • 1994

    The North American Free Trade Agreement is signed.

  • 1996

    In a joint initiative with Industry Canada, the TCS takes on the promotion of foreign direct investment. It becomes a full part of the TCS in 2005.

  • 2000s

  • 2003

    The TCS and Trade Negotiations are combined into International Trade Canada. In 2006, International Trade Canada is reintegrated into the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

  • 2007

    Drawing on the successful promotion of international education by some trade commissioners, the EduCanada pilot project is launched. International education becomes a permanent line of work for the TCS in 2014, which is further expanded in 2019 with the International Education Strategy.

    Drawing on the successful promotion of international education by some trade commissioners, the EduCanada pilot project is launched. International education becomes a permanent line of work for the TCS in 2014, which is further expanded in 2019 with the International Education Strategy.
  • 2016

    The TCS launches CanExport, a program that helps firms with the cost of exploring and expanding into new markets.

  • 2018

    The TCS creates a team to help Canadian businesses take advantage of Canada’s free trade agreements.

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