Businesses faced ruin from the pandemic. Then Canada came calling for vital supplies


As the extent of the COVID-19 catastrophe became clear last spring, Toronto entrepreneur Marcus Fraser thought first of his family, then he thought of his friends, worried what this would mean for all of them.

"My third thought was, 'Oh crap, I'm out of business,'" he said.

Fraser makes high-end clothing. He imports material from China and sells to retailers across North America.

In that instant, he knew retail sales were about to be decimated, international shipping would grind to a halt. But then, he imagined a path forward.

"I know how to do stuff; I know how to import things," he said. "I know how to make things. And guess what, we need things."

So, Fraser started hustling. Within days, he was scrambling to get a whole new line of products made and ready for what he assumed would be a wave of demand. He says there's notthat muchdifference between hooded sweatshirts and surgical gowns. 

"We just picked up and started making materials," he said. "Gown contracts started to come in. Mask contracts started to come in and we just forged ahead."

Today, his company has sold more than 300,000 gowns for use in hospitals across Ontario. He's sold another 100,000 masks. He's expanded too — landing a contract to put a series of vending machines in Toronto transit hubs to supply masks, PPE and what the machine bills as other "stay safe essentials."

Fraser isn't alone. Dozens of companies across Canada retooled their production lines to fill needs. Distilleries made hand sanitizer. Plastics companies made medical-testing equipment. Car companies made ventilators.

"This is probably the most fulfilling thing I've ever been part of," said Flavio Volpe, head of the Automotive Parts Manufacturing Association.

"I call it the largest peace-time mobilization of Canada's industrial capacity."