This Black-owned business is helping to create Toronto’s iconic glass skyline
8 minutes read
Stephen Callender, President and Natasha Callender-Wilson, Vice President, Bass Installation
Bass Installation is breaking stereotypes in the construction industry. This innovative glass installation company is owned and founded by Stephen Callender, who is also the president of the Afro Canadian Contractors Association (ACCA). His daughter, Natasha Callender-Wilson, is vice president of the company.
While a female executive in the construction industry may be somewhat unusual—a father/daughter executive team in the glass installation sector is even more uncommon.
“To be with him along the way has been really rewarding. We’ve been through highs and lows together—the rough patches, the good times, and the bad, you name it—we’ve been there for each other,” says Callender-Wilson.
We’ve been through highs and lows together—the rough patches, the good times, and the bad, you name it—we’ve been there for each other.
Bass Installation’s business is installing glass and glass curtain walls, which are the outer facades of buildings and entrances. Some of Toronto’s most iconic skyscrapers built over the last 20 years show Bass Installation’s handiwork.
“Our motto is that if you can design it, we can install it,” says Callender.
Our motto is that if you can design it, we can install it.
From Barbados to Toronto
A career in glass installation was not on the radar when Callender stepped off a plane from his home in Barbados and into the frosty Toronto air in February 1976.
Callender found his first job in a glass factory in Scarborough. The factory was located on the appropriately named Barbados Boulevard, which Callender took as kismet.
From there he moved to other window factories, learning glass installation along the way. By 1983, he was working for a curtain wall company, an occupation he would stick with from then on.
In a recession in the early 1990s, a colleague of Callender’s suggested they start their own glass and curtain wall installation company. It took some convincing, but at last Callender agreed.
Started in 1992, the company was the precursor to Bass Installation. Callender and his partner worked as trade subcontractors for other glass companies on large projects, installing glass and curtain walls.
Later, a third partner with revolving door installation skills joined them and the company branched out into those services as well.
The birth of Bass Installation
In 2004, with the departure of the third partner, Callender and his original partner re-branded and opened Bass Installation.
The company was unionized, enabling Callender and his partner to scale employee numbers up or down depending on the needs of the jobs.
“We could always expand and contract our workforce as we needed. It’s one of the great benefits of being unionized,” explains Callender.
Callender himself had joined the Ironworkers union in the eighties, which represents curtain wall installers among others.
Bass Installation initially focused on smaller jobs and usually hired two to three people to help with the work. When Callender’s original partner also left the company a few years later, Callender decided to expand and go after bigger jobs. He was fortunate that one of his customers was also looking to grow. They found Bass Installation eager to jump aboard.
“When that company started to grow, we sort of grew with them, doing major buildings in downtown Toronto,” says Callender.
Building Toronto’s iconic skyscrapers
Since then, Bass Installation’s work has expanded. Today the company employs a staff of more than 100 and manages numerous projects.
Callender’s daughter, Natasha, joined the organization in 2005 while still in school. She managed payroll for the company while also pursuing a Bachelor of Administration degree. Continuing from her administration work with the company, she also began building the management team. Over the past 20 years, Bass has installed glass and curtain walls on some of the most notable skyscrapers in Toronto’s downtown. They include
- BMO building (76 floors)
- CIBC Square (A world-class towers on Bay Street south of Front Street)
- Trump Tower (now the St. Regis Hotel; 66 floors)
- TEC Bridge (connects the Hudson Bay Store and the Toronto Eaton Centre)
- Bay and Adelaide Centre (An office tower complex)
- Shangri-La Hotel Toronto (66 floors)
“One of the most rewarding things is to drive downtown and see the way the skyline has changed over the years, knowing that we have contributed to that,” says Callender-Wilson.
Meeting growing demands
As the workload increased, the company reorganized to manage its growth.
“We started bringing in people who had more expertise than we had in certain fields, it really helped us to broaden the scope of what we wanted to achieve,” says Callender-Wilson.
She credits much of the company’s success to its employees.
“If it weren’t for the team that we have, we definitely wouldn’t be where we are today. We have an incredibly dedicated core team of employees—from management to field—it’s because of them that we are able to keep pushing and keep moving,” she says.
Callender-Wilson oversaw the creation of Bass Curtainwalls Inc. in 2010. The new company is a subsidiary of Bass Installation.
“Bass Curtainwalls is the construction management team. It is comprised of all the back-end administration and project management, while Bass Installation does the actual physical work,” explains Callender-Wilson.
BDC’s support of Bass Installation’s success
The growth of Bass Installation had its challenges.
“We needed some capital because again we were growing. It was like pulling teeth to get a line of credit from the banks. Our accountant introduced us to the Business Development Bank of Canada,” says Callender.
According to Callender, not only did BDC help to enable the growth of Bass Installation, BDC’s support was critical to Bass’ continued operation during the pandemic. They secured an operating loan as well as a line of credit for equipment.
“We used to rent equipment for $600 per month a few years ago, now the different equipment that we use costs $6,000 a month. It makes more sense to buy the equipment, but we needed a line of credit to do it. We couldn’t have purchased the equipment without BDC. It was the federal government’s CERB program and the BDC line of credit that kept us going until things got better,” he says.
“We’ve been partners with BDC for at least 10 years. They really work with businesses to better their brand and better the company, so their help just betters us overall,” adds Callender-Wilson.
How Callender supports other Canadian Black contractors
Between 2019 and 2020, Callender became involved with a non-profit organization that focuses on getting community benefit agreements into construction contracts, as well as getting Black. racialized, and disadvantaged persons into the construction industry.
The Afro Canadian Contractors Association got started when a few of its members were at a meeting with the federal government when a general contractor said they wanted to hire black contractors but could not find any.
“There was no association for Black contractors and no lists of these contractors available,” says Callender.
Callender and six others decided to organize. It was a fast process—by September of 2020, they had registered a non-profit organization. ACCA began operation five months later, in the February 2021.
Callender says he took on the role of president because he thought his experiences might help other Black persons who want to start a business. Although he says he was fortunate not to have experienced extreme racism throughout his career, he avoided posting his photo on the company website.
“I felt at that time I would probably not get work if people knew that it was a Black company,” says Callender.
ACCA helps trades persons move from employee to contractors and beyond, while developing their business skills.
“Some small contractors are great working on the sites, but don’t have the time and/or the experience to do the back-end office task, ACCA has associates and partners that train and help with this to make our members successful,” says Callender.
ACCA wants its presence in every province across the country. In the year since its founding, it already has a list of 160 contractors, a growing membership list, and an interest in expanding to three other provinces.
In supporting the development of the ACCA, Callender hopes to assist other Black members of the construction sector to take the leap into entrepreneurship.
“Most Black youths, if they see a Black person with a business, may think ‘Wow—it’s possible.’ You can start a business if you are a person of colour—you’ve just got to believe in yourself and not hold back,” he says.
As they look to the future Callender and Callender-Wilson anticipate continued growth for Bass Installation. Despite the challenges associated with the pandemic, the company is expanding its employee base.
“We are broadening our horizons and not limiting ourselves. We want a little bit more of the market share because we feel that there’s more we can contribute,” says Callender-Wilson. In the long term, the father/daughter team has an impressive goal—one they are well on their way to achieving.