Canadian media pioneer JR Shaw dies at 85

The founder of Shaw Communications and Corus Entertainment made a lasting impact on Canada's broadcasting and telecommunications landscape.
JR Shaw Photo

Shaw Communications and Corus Entertainment founder JR Shaw has died.

The broadcasting and telecommunications pioneer passed away peacefully on March 23 at the age of 85.

“JR was the founder and leader of our company, but he was also an exceptional husband, a loving father, grandfather and great grandfather,” said Brad Shaw, his son and CEO of Shaw Communications, in a statement. “His legacy of love and compassion for people will live on for generations.”

JR’s media legacy began in 1966 when he founded cable provider Capital Cable Television in Edmonton. The company earned its broadcasting licence in 1970 and went on air in 1971. JR rebranded the company as Shaw Cablesystems in 1983 when he took it public, and expanded into radio in 1988. The company acquired communications companies across Canada in the ’80s and ’90s to become Shaw Communications in 1993. It introduced internet services to Calgary residents in 1996.

Shaw Communications’ radio and television broadcasting group was eventually spun out in 1999 to become publicly traded company Corus Entertainment. In 2016, Corus acquired Shaw Media, which owned channels such as Global, Showcase and HGTV Canada. By 2019, Shaw Communications had sold its 39% stake in Corus to focus on its wireless and telecommunications business, having acquired WIND mobile (now Freedom Mobile) in 2016.

JR stepped down as CEO in 1998 and was succeeded by his late son Jim. Brad would take on the CEO role in 2010, with JR serving as executive chair up until his passing. The Shaw family has announced the intention for Brad to take on his father’s role as executive chair in the interim, in addition to his work as CEO, with the board expected to confirm the appointment on April 9.

“JR was an icon in the industry, and he was extraordinarily passionate in delivering connectivity and customer service to millions of Canadians. His vision and insight combined with his warmth of character created a magic touch among everyone who knew and worked with him,” said Paul Pew, lead director at Shaw Communications. “His remarkable legacy will live on through his family’s continued leadership of the company.”

Mirko Bibic, president and CEO of BCE Inc. and Bell Canada, shared his condolences to the Shaw family in a statement released yesterday (March 24). “JR Shaw was an inspirational entrepreneur whose vision and determination made Shaw Communications into a competitive force in Canada telecommunications,” he said.

JR was the recipient of many of the country’s honours, including his appointment as an officer of the Order of Canada in 2002 and the Alberta Order of Excellence in 2008. He donated to a number of charitable causes during his career, and helped create the Shaw Charity Classic golf tournament, which has raised $48 million for charities in Alberta since 2013.

“We know we will miss his smile, his advice and his encouragement, but all of our people know that JR would want us looking out for each other, for our neighbours, and serving our customers to the best of our abilities,” said Brad. “Our tribute to him will be to continue to grow the business he loved.”