B A. Shawinigan Ltd. may have taken creative liberties with our nation’s iconic beaver, depicting it as a dual-toned animal with a penchant for hard hats, but it was still a Canadian company through and through.
Its roots lay with the British American Oil Company Ltd., created by 29-year-old Albert Leroy Ellsworth of Welland, Ont., in 1906. Within two years, Ellsworth had three kerosene-producing refineries nestled on the eastern waterfront of Toronto. (Gasoline, the byproduct, was dumped into a convenient nearby swamp.) British American, or B.A. as it was known, mushroomed, expanding into Quebec, the Prairie provinces and the southern United States, where it developed oil fields. B.A. capitalized upon Canada’s growing love affair with the automobile, creating chains of deluxe, full-service gas stations across the country. By the mid-1960s, it owned more than 9,000 service stations under five different brand names. When B.A was sold in 1966 to Chared Corporation of Dallas, Texas, the company was reportedly second only to Imperial Oil in size in Canada.
B.A. Shawinigan Ltd. was co-owned by British American Oil and Shawinigan in Quebec, which operated other subsidiaries like Shawinigan Resins and Canadian Resins & Chemicals. Shawinigan, too, had early Canadian roots, first as Shawinigan Water then as Shawinigan Chemicals, one of the country’s largest electrochemical companies, following the merger of its electrochemical affiliates in 1927.
The compound Bisphenol-A (BPA) being marketed in this 1960 Chemistry in Canada advertisement was first synthesized in 1891 by Russian chemist Alexandr Dianin. However, it wasn’t until 1957 that BPA began to be used commercially for making epoxy resins — used to line water pipes and the inside of metal cans or beverage containers — and hardening polycarbonate plastics, such as those used in water bottles. It is also found in the thermal paper used in sales receipts, eyeglasses, the coating on paper dental fillings, sports helmets and plastic eating utensils.
BPA, which can leach from plastics, is known to bind to nuclear estrogen receptors and is considered an endocrine disruptor. In animal studies, it has been shown to cause negative health effects and some researchers have linked BPA exposure to physical and neurological problems. Most exposure to BPA comes from the diet, although it can come from the air and via skin absorption. The US Food and Drug Administration and the European Food Safety Authority have concluded that low exposure to BPA is safe, except, possibly, for infants and young children. Infants who drank formula from polycarbonate bottles were found to have the highest exposure. Despite such concerns, it is estimated that about 3.5 million tonnes of BPA are used in manufacturing every year.