The founder of Skyreach Equipment, a once prominent St. Albert business, died last Sunday of a sudden heart attack. Barry Weaver was 65.
Weaver founded Skyreach in 1977 and quickly grew the company across Alberta and British Columbia. Weaver cemented his position as a regional business leader in 1998 when he bought into the Edmonton Oilers and Skyreach became the first company to buy the naming rights to the former Northlands Coliseum, a deal worth more than $1.2 million a year for five years.
Weaver was a Type II diabetic with high blood pressure but his doctor had recently said he was in otherwise good health, Weaver’s family said. They said Weaver was just starting to bounce back after withdrawing from people for years following the demise of Skyreach in 2004.
“A huge part of the sadness that we have is that Barry was going to become more of himself,” said his ex-wife Laraine, who separated from Weaver 11 years ago.
“I would have liked to see where he would have ended up in 20 years,” said son Rob, 36.
Weaver grew up on a farm near Mannville, Alta. After earning a bachelor of science degree, he spent several years selling medical and laboratory equipment. He eventually quit and found work erecting and fixing farm buildings. At the age of 33, he was painting a barn near Legal, and having trouble reaching the high spots when he got the idea for Skyreach.
“That was the little light bulb,” said Laraine. “He didn’t just think about it, he took action.”
Weaver bought a lift from a U.S. supplier and started a rental and sales business. It grew to include other construction equipment and eventually had 22 locations.
“He saw opportunities and possibilities everywhere and it just unfolded,” Laraine said.
A competitive curler, Weaver threw third rocks for legendary St. Albert curler Hec Gervais in the early 1980s. He was also a musician who played violin and guitar in a family band during his youth.
But Skyreach was his creation and source of inspiration for many years, Laraine said.
“He loved creating. With his sense of vision, he would have an idea and put it in motion,” she said.
As the president of Skyreach, Weaver insisted that all equipment be clean enough to eat off of. He had no problem working long, hard hours, was inclined to power naps on his office floor and didn’t hesitate to throw on the coveralls to work in the yard or jump in a truck to make a delivery himself.
“He just had a drive that was indomitable,” Rob said.
Weaver’s nephew, Murray Bennett remembers going for a ride with his uncle after dropping by for a visit one weekend. They wound up checking the oil in all the equipment that Weaver had rented out in the region.
“I said, ‘Uncle, don’t you have people that can do this?’ He said, ‘Yup, but it’s good to stay in touch with this stuff,’” Bennett said.
In 2001, Weaver was trying to sell his business but the $100 million in debt he’d accumulated led to a rift within the company. An internal power struggle saw Weaver ousted from the company he founded. It was forced into receivership in September 2003 then sold to United Rentals in February 2004.
“I think a part of him was cut out of him. It was very devastating,” said daughter Marni, 34.
“At one point he didn’t even want to be out in public. He was totally embarrassed,” said sister Sharyn.
Weaver withdrew from his family and society, returning to Mannville to farm. In recent months, he’d started to re-connnect with people and seemed eager to move on to the next chapter of his life. He’d moved back to the area and was doing some landscaping work.
Family were starting to see a re-emergence of the exuberant and irreverent person they’d known.
“He was always doing off-the-wall stuff,” said Ron Hodgson, Weaver’s partner in the Oilers ownership group and on snowmobiling trips to B.C.
“I remember flying back from Toronto with him and he’s tossing grapes around on the airplane. You’d be sitting in one seat. He’d be three seats behind you … throwing grapes at you.”
Former mayor Paul Chalifoux knew Weaver well and described him as “a good, down-to-earth guy” who “loved to sit down and shoot the bull.”
“I admired Barry very much,” Chalifoux said. “He always had an interest in contributing and developing his business in St. Albert. He was important to the St. Albert community because of that.”
A memorial service is scheduled for Monday at 2:00 p.m. at the Centre for Spiritual Living at 7621 101 Ave. in Edmonton.