Lists & Rankings

The biggest layoffs in Canadian history

Target Canada’s 17,600 pink slips comprise one of the biggest mass layoffs in more than 20 years

Target store


On January 15, discount retailer Target announced it would close all 133 Canadian locations, eliminating 17,600 full and part-time jobs. Operations will be wound down over the next four or five months and employees will be guaranteed a minimum of 16 weeks compensation.

The store closures will end a two-plus year expansion into Canada that began with high expectations and ended with billion-dollar losses, creditor protection and one of the largest layoffs in the history of Canadian business.

Here is a selected ranking of Canada’s biggest job layoffs:

Newfoundland and Labrador cod fishing industry

Number of layoffs: 38,000
1992, Newfoundland and Labrador

Fishing boats in Portugal Bay, NF

(Graham Bezant/Toronto Star/Getty)

A collapse in cod stocks forces the federal government to announce an immediate moratorium on cod fishing. Fishermen, canneries, processing plant and associated businesses across the provinces are devastated. St. John’s-based Fishery Products International alone announces 1,340 job cuts.

A.V. Roe Canada

Number of layoffs: 14,525
1959, Malton, On

Avro Arrow

(Harold Robinson/Globe and Mail/CP)

The Diefenbaker government’s surprise decision to scrap the Avro Arrow jet leaves tens of thousands of Toronto-area workers in shock. And out of work. An estimated 25,000 area contract workers also become unemployed. The departure of many top engineers to work at NASA and on the Concorde, among other projects, represents a significant Canadian brain drain.

T. Eaton’s Co.

Number of layoffs: 13,000
1999, National

Eaton’s storefront

(Kevin Frayer/CP)

Eaton’s announces the closure of 64 stores across Canada, signaling the final chapter in the retailer’s fabled 130-year history. The week full and part-time Eaton’s employees receive pink slips, Business Depot runs full-page newspaper ads promising “Upon completion of your employment with Eaton’s, our doors will be open.”

Air Canada

Number of layoffs: 13,000
2000–2001, National

Air Canada workers protesting on Parliament Hill

(Tom Hanson/CP)

In August 2001, Air Canada blamed an economic downturn, increased fuel prices and a decline in business travelers when they lay off 4,000 workers. Then the September 11 terrorist attacks occurred in the United States and the carrier cut another 5,000 workers. Add the 4,000 departures announced in December 2000 and Air Canada’s nine-month total numbers 13,000.

General Motors

Number of layoffs: 3,880
2005, Oshawa and St. Catharines, ON

Employee at the GM Plant in Oshawa, ON

(Nathan Denette/CP)

While GM stresses it intends to remain a major employer in Southern Ontario, the closure of a plant and elimination of a shift at Oshawa facilities as well as the shuttering of a components factory in St. Catharines is a major blow to Canadian autoworkers. Declining sales and US$4 billion in losses in the first three quarters of 2005 prompt the move. “As difficult as this restructuring is for GM,” notes auto analyst Dennis DesRosiers. “It is also the correct move.”


Number of layoffs: 2,685
2001, Montreal and Toronto

Bombardier employee working on a train car

(Rui Vieira/PA Photos/CP)

Bombardier cuts 2,005 jobs in Montreal, 650 in Toronto and 30 in North Bay, Ontario after the September 11 terror attacks prompt a reduction in orders for company jets. Montreal execs at the aerospace giant hope improved conditions will enable them to re-hire workers, but later reports suggest only 1 in 100 is reemployed. In 2003, the firm is forced to restructure.

Aveos Fleet Performance Inc.

Number of layoffs: 2,600
2012, Montreal, Mississauga, ON, Winnipeg and Vancouver

Aveos Fleet Performance employees protesting layoffs

(Ross Marowits/CP)

Citing a decline in maintenance work form Air Canada—the source of 90% of their revenue—the Montreal-based firm that serviced aircraft engines and fuselages said they “had no viable option but to cease operations.” Aveos was a former division of Air Canada that was spun off into a separate company in 2007.

Bell Canada

Number of layoffs: 2,500
2008, National

Bell Canada logo

(Nathan Denette/CP)

New Bell CEO George Cope announces the firm will be cutting 15% of its management positions (and 6% of total employees) to reduce its bloated bureaucracy and lower operating costs. Part of Cope’s “100-day campaign to align the company,” the layoffs are estimated to save Bell about $300 million annually.


Number of layoffs: 950+
2012–2013, Waterloo

BlackBerry CEO John Chen

(Stephen C. Host/CP)

When BlackBerry announces a 40% reduction in their 4,500-strong global workforce in September 2013, the tech firm’s Waterloo, ON head office isn’t spared. 300 announced lay-offs bring the rolling total of staff cut in Waterloo to nearly 1,000 over the previous year. Unlike other industries, however, there’s work for former BlackBerry staff—according to those working with fired employees, nearly 75% were hired elsewhere in a relatively quick timeframe.