From Bay Street to Bay of Fundy

BY NICOLE LAIDLER, SPILLED INK WRITING & WORDSMITHING

Life has taken Stefan Bortolussi and Rena Pittao from Bay Street to Bay of Fundy on a family adventure that started at King’s University College. 

Stefan ’98 (BA Administrative and Commercial Studies) is the owner / operator of Canadian Tire #232 in the small town of St. Stephen, New Brunswick. His wife Rena ’96 (BA Administrative and Commercial Studies) helps out behind the scenes, is active in the community, and runs her own coaching business for investment advisors called Custom Design Coaching.

The couple met through mutual friends at a New Year’s Eve party in downtown Toronto, where Stefan says the revelers were “90 per cent” King’s alumni. At the time, he worked at the Canadian Tire Corporation head office and Rena was manager of professional development at CIBC Wood Gundy.

“I spent 8 years progressing through the ranks at the corporate office at Yonge and Eglinton,” says Stefan, who completed his HBA and MBA at the Ivey Business School. “During that time, I determined that my dream was to be a Canadian Tire dealer and to run a store.”

That dream came true in 2010 when Stefan became the owner/operator of Canadian Tire in Dauphin, Manitoba. “With Canadian Tire, you are given the first available store which is always the smallest store in the smallest community,” he explains.

Located four hours northwest of Winnipeg, the city of 8,000 is a long way from the hustle and bustle of Toronto. “It was an adjustment and quite a risk, but it worked out beautifully,” Stefan says. “We integrated ourselves in the community, made great friends, and were able to grow the business.”

The couple’s son Dante – now 6 - even celebrated a birthday with a ride in a combine.

After two-and-a-half years of Prairie life, the family – which also includes 11-year-old Elia - jumped at the opportunity to relocate to Canada’s east coast.

“You don’t really know where this journey with Canadian Tire is going to take you,” notes Stefan, “but we always said if something comes up in the Maritimes we’d love to make that part of the adventure.”

Today the family is settled in St. Stephan, New Brunswick - only 10 minutes away from St. Croix Island, where Samuel de Champlain first landed in 1604.

Stefan and Rena say they feel fortunate to represent an iconic Canadian retailer that affords them the opportunity to live in so many different parts of the country. This year marks Canadian Tire’s 95th anniversary, notes Stefan, and 90 per cent of all Canadians live within a 15-minute drive of a store.

“We have visited almost every province and it seems wherever you go, everyone you talk to has some sort of connection to Canadian Tire,” Rena says. With 500 stores from coast to coast, the retailer is more than just a shopping destination and employer. It’s an important part of each community.

In St. Stephan, that means raising funds for Canadian Tire’s Jumpstart charity and supporting community efforts to welcome four Syrian refugee families. 

“Our initial commitment was to stock all their laundry and bathroom needs,” Rena says, “but as we got more involved it ballooned.”

Dante and Elia helped decorate the bedrooms for the Syrian children, while Stefan is currently employing two new arrivals at his Canadian Tire store.

“They really want to work,” notes Rena. “The only thing stopping them often is the language barrier. We have been very flexible with their schedule so they can attend language classes during the day. These are families who have lost everything, so it’s really rewarding to be able to help.”

The couple also gives back to their alma mater by participating in career panel events for current King’s students.

“King’s is where the success that we have had started,” says Stefan. “We think it’s important to share whatever we can with students who are going through the same unknowns.”

Rena says she likes to remind students that university is about more than just academics. “It’s the people you get to know and the teams and clubs you join. That’s where you build your communication and teamwork skills that you can show a prospective employer.”


This article appeared in the Fall 2017 issue of the King's Herald