Al Side reluctantly bid farewell to this world on Oct. 25, 2023, in Rancho Mirage, California at the age of 90. His last hours were spent with his loving wife of almost 70 years, Barbara, his daughters Linda and Rhonda, and his sons, Doug and Richard.

Al Side (Hassen Alex Side) was born in Dilke, Saskatchewan, June 27, 1933 the third youngest of ten children born to Alex Side (Gebara) and Latifa Side (Farhat) , hard-working immigrants from the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon.

His formative years were spent in rural Saskatchewan where his folks homesteaded and according to Al, unsuccessfully farmed rocks. They worked very hard to provide for their large family later turning to running a nearby general store and meat market  during the depression. Alex and Latifa ran those markets with all 12 family members living in the back of the store. Al’s bed was in the cupboard above the cold storage.  His parents were admired in the region especially during the depression years when people depended on the goods and credit offered at the store.

It seems peddling goods was in the DNA. Al said that he was “raised on the counter” of that shop/home, where he acquired his life-long passion for commerce, family and community. It was also there that Al’s negotiating skills were honed while navigating other business at the local pool hall. 

His older brothers went off to serve with most of the young men in Dilke and when the rest of the family moved to settle in Edmonton in the 1940’s and join a growing Lebanese community, Al was but a wide-eyed teen.

Al’s real journey began when he followed his sisters up the Alaska Highway in the early 1950’s, seeking adventure and fortune. Performing wheel alignments and selling custom suits in Fort Nelson may seem like an odd combination today but it underscores Al’s resourcefulness and his ability to identify demand and rare opportunities.  It also explains his finding Barbara Harrison, his “rare gem.”  Captivated by this petite beauty, Al was elated to discover that Barb found him “just the right height for dancing.” They tied the knot in Edmonton in 1954 and the great dance began; an extraordinary partnership that would reap life’s richest rewards. Barb often would say that her heart skipped a beat when Al pulled into the driveway, and Al always gave Barb the credit for how far their journey had taken them.  In September they celebrated 69 years of happy marriage.  That tells you a little something about their passion and commitment.

Al returned to Edmonton in 1958, with a young family, and a burgeoning career with McCoy Brothers Brake and Steering.  It was not long before Bert McCoy recognized Al’s ability to put a deal together, promoting him from mechanic to business development man. In 1962, the McCoys transferred Al and his growing family to Dawson Creek, BC to manage their shop there and in Fort St. John. In 1969 Al moved the family to Grande Prairie, Alberta, on the eve of one of the most remarkable economic booms in Canadian history. Al opened Northern Metalic and began to build and develop businesses and partnerships across AB, BC, the Yukon, and NWT.  He claimed that it was the ideas that attracted the best talent available. His expectations were high. As it turned out, there was never a shortage of ideas and Al was always surrounded by exceptional people.  

The power of Al’s ideas, and business acumen was unstoppable.  Today, the Side Group of Companies includes Northern Metalic Sales, Baron Oilfield Supply, Paragon Oilfield Supply, Baron Industrial Projects, Visa Rentals & Leasing, Devco Developments, AAA Safety, Northern Metalic Lubricants, Side Group Rail, GP Reload  – as well as the many affiliate companies that were developed, kept or sold the over the last 55 years – among them Prairie Truck & Trailer, Tri Northern Steel, Northern Husqvarna, Alberta Chain, Visa Welding, Nighthawk Vacuum Service spans the western provinces and territories. The evolution has taken them from industrial and oilfield supply and services houses to supply chain management and logistics, property and land development, vehicle rentals and leasing, lubricants distribution, field safety services, rail transload and facilities, transportation and finance with over 600 valued people and numerous skilled business partners that will carry on his legacy.

A trait among successful entrepreneurs is the ability to reinvent themselves and adapt seamlessly to changing circumstances, whether favorable or challenging, uplifting or disheartening. Al demonstrated an extraordinary agility to adapt and to seize opportunities where others might run for cover. His tolerance for risk was tempered by an unwillingness to put it all at stake.  That said, he took risks over the course of his life that would make others pale.  And, if it were all to disappear tomorrow, he would tell you that he still had what really mattered – his family.

Al had interests beyond work, but made it clear that when you enjoy what you do, you can’t really classify any of it as work.  His curiosity about the world and human potential led him to hobbies that mirrored his passion for business. He loved to travel.  He was delighted when he and some of his buddies purchased a fishing lodge at Margaret Lake. They all flew planes – some better than others – and loved to fish. The stories garnered from that chapter of his life are still being told.  The idea of being a trapper also intrigued him so when the opportunity arose, he partnered in a registered trap line. Over their many years together, Barb and Al travelled the world and always had plenty of stories to share of their escapades and the characters they met along the way. Since the early 1990’s, Palm Springs became a winter home base for golf and for visiting car shows, horse breeders, and the track at Santa Anita.

Barb and Al’s love of horses first emerged in the 1970’s when they became a major sponsor on the professional Chuckwagon circuit.  Later the couple’s enthusiasm for thoroughbred racing yielded much joy and numerous accolades, including winning the 2010 Canadian Derby with Barb’s horse, “No Hesitation.”  In his final days, Al was looking forward to training his most recent colts and strategizing with Barb for even more triumphs in upcoming racing seasons. Being from Saskatchewan, Al was always captivated by farming and in 1995 he acquired one just outside of Grande Prairie. With its horses, bison, birds, wildlife, and bountiful oat crop of 2023, Hilltop was his true paradise and playground. Home.

Al Side is predeceased by his infant daughter Deborah Elaine, daughters Wendy Elaine and Barbara Anne, his brothers Sam and Butch, sisters Anne, Mickey, Nettie, and Nedima.

Left to mourn this loss is Al’s large and loving family including his adoring wife and lifelong partner, Barbara, sister Tina Reimer, his brothers Dan Side (Trudy) and Jim Side, brother in law Dick Harrison sons Doug Side (Debbie), Richard Side (Martina), daughters Linda Side (Jim Munro), Rhonda Side (Jeremy Walker), grandchildren David Side (Jessica), Alexander Side (Vicky), Michael Side (Kelleigh), Brendan Side, Scarlett Side, Jessica Winnemuller (Michael), Megan Rycroft (Kenton), Allan Gudlaugson (Stephanie), Sarah Moug (Jeff), Asia Munro, Rebecca Moug, Tianna Munro, Delaina Moug, Robert Laffoon, Brian Spencer, Devon Side-Walker, Christopher Side-Walker,  great-grandchildren Vesa, Kayden, Willow, Alexus (Jarred), Matthew, Charis, Daniel, Oliver,  Benji, Nova and great-great grandson Noah.

Al’s lifestyle did not change with success, or with age. He continued to greet each day with enthusiasm and worked harder than most 40-year-olds. 

And he never lost the wide-eyed fascination that characterized his youth.  That meant he was also interested – genuinely interested in what other people were thinking, feeling, doing and saying. That curiosity informed his own unique perspective and creativity that so many benefit from today. Al, at 90, was one of the most curious and relevant people on the planet. It was his signature “Wow!” that made everyone he spent time with feel they had a special connection with him. And indeed, they did.

None of what Al accomplished was motivated by recognition or notoriety, though some of his antics may have garnered him that. After Al passed his family received a deluge of stories and messages. For that the family is genuinely humbled and moved. We encourage you to continue to share those memories on this website created as a place to share stories, pictures and videos of Al.  These stories will honor and help paint the colorful picture of his large and long life.

A celebration of Al will take place in the spring at the farm – the birds will be singing, the grass will be green – he would love that. 

Memorial donations can be made to an endowment fund established at the Northwestern Alberta Foundation in the name of Barb and Al Side or to The Grade Three Reading Academy.

Al shared the same view as Mr. Armstrong that despite the wreck the world was in if you could find the love, happiness and beauty…it was a wonderful thing.

Messages and Stories

Dear Linda,

I am writing to express my condolences to you for your sad loss.  Your father was an iconic figure in Grande Prairie and I feel privileged to have known him and to have worked with him.  Al made an impact on the business community as well as on the lives of many people.

I’ve had time to pause and reflect on the years I worked at Visa.  Al was a man who may not have been large in stature but he was a giant in so many ways. I’ve worked for some fine people over the years, but there was no one whom I respected and admired more.  I think its indisputable that he was a giant in cerebral matters too, and he must have gone to bed every night wondering where the next opportunity to start a business would present itself.

I still see the laughter in his eyes when he handed me a slightly risque Dear Ann Landers joke and waited for me to react.  He had such a wicked sense of humor and he was just fun to be around.

No one enjoyed a golf game more, especially when he played well, or just a brief visit from someone stopping in at the office.  I think he was not just a keen businessman but also a man who enjoyed people, particularly smart people.

I wonder how many people benefited from being mentored by Al Side and how many he quietly supported or offered a helping hand. I say again, what a guy and what a legacy he leaves.

Not only was he involved in countless business ventures, he was also a hero to his outstanding family. I know how proud he was of you and thought you were capable of anything and everything and it seems you have lived up to those expectations.

Such is the human condition, we live our lives the best we can, and then we go on to the next life.  Al lived his life, he was an exceptional man, happy in his success but always humble and self-deprecating. I’m so grateful that I knew him and his family, that I had the opportunity to work for him and that I considered him a friend.

Please give Barb and Rhonda a hug for me and tell them what they already know. That Al was an exceptional man and his passing will leave a huge hole in your lives, as well as in the lives of many.

With sincere sympathy to all of you,

Pearl

 

Shared by From Pearl Fee

Memories! Oh Yes! We have them!

If we could have bottled up Al’s enthusiasm for life – we could give it to people who need – a “boost” in life.

He was a true adventurer – seeking out life – like an explorer – choosing his twists and turns on the “river of life” and when people say Al was “one of a kind”, they weren’t kidding. There was only one Al and there will only ever be one.

Al made the world a better place for a lot of people – and sometimes treaded on places – where others feared to go.

Al had the ability to see things in a different way – and to change them for the better.

He lifted up people in his presence and became a part of their lives – some through business, friendships, or humanity.  Always with a unique sense of humor.

He will be greatly missed by all!

Elmer & Merne Arndt

Shared by From Elmer & Merne Arndt

Always enjoyed taking Al on the boat. He was always a good time. Will miss his stories.

Shared by Randy Gulick

Always felt very welcomed in this man’s presence. I say that about the entire family as well. Have always enjoyed my time at the Side’s place. Rest in peace Al and heart felt condolences to all the family.

Shared by Ninette Laliberte

I have known Al for 48 years and enjoyed his company at work and at his home with Barb. I had the privilege of a visit with him on October 10th for 3 hours at the farm and at the horse track Casino for lunch. Our conversation come around to the time he took me out to see the farm when he first bought it. The only building on the property was the original house, a prefabbed catalogue order from a company in Toronto which the owner had built back in the 1930’s. He was 96 years old and living in a retirement home when he sold it to Al. Al and I went though the place which had many old magazines, National Geographic & Readers Digest, from the 30’s & 40’s, lying around. Al wanted to get on with building his new home on the property and burnt this old house down much to the concern of the RCMP and local fire department. His comment to me at our last lunch together was ” I shouldn’t have burned that place down. All that real old lumber I probably could have sold for a good buck”. We had a good laugh.
So many great memories.
My condolences to you Barb and to all your family. And thank you for the many times you had to put up with me for dinner. I live in Edmonton but still visit Grande Prairie and Al would have me over for dinner giving Barb little notice.

Shared by John Glass

“If you can fill the unforgiving moment, with sixty seconds worth of distance run…”  Kipling

This is so Al.

Every moment lived and none wasted on things that did not matter.

Shared by P. Flette

I first met Al shortly after I started to work at Northern Metalic. It was lunchtime, and the office was deserted; I was sitting by the window watching the traffic. Suddenly, I saw this “old farmer” come walking down the hall from Linda’s office. He saw me, smiled, sauntered over, and sat opposite me. We began talking about the weather and soon were chatting away, watching the world go by. He was there maybe 1/2 hour and got up and said he needed to go home to see “his bride” and hoped that I liked working here and we would chat another day. I only learned later that day who he was.

A few years later, he came into the office all spiffed up. I commented that he looked good; he put his thumbs under his suspenders and said, “I clean up pretty good,” smiling away. He was always so friendly no matter where or who you were.

My husband started working for Al on the farm about six years ago; he greatly respected him. Some days, he would come home and tell me about the drive he and “Ol AlleyCat” had and some of the stories (I wished I was a fly in the vehicle with them). I’m sure there may have been some scheming, but I am not sure who was the bad influence with them.

We would almost always run into him on the weekend when we went to feed the horses. He loved the colts and was so proud of them; he couldn’t wait to see if they would be a good runner. We had a lot of good talks across the fence from the ponies, and he truly had a way with them. The one time he and Charlie were trying to move a couple, and this one was a real pain; he didn’t get upset or anything, just “had a little talk” with her.

He always said when it was time to leave, he had to go see “his bride.” After 69 years, their love for each other was as strong and sweet as ever.

Our condolences go to Grandma and Al’s family and friends; there will be a great void wherever his footsteps travelled.

Shared by Tracey Keddy

I loved this man! Got to meet him, through my role as sports reporter for the Daily Herald-Tribune, when he was supporting chuckwagon racing in the early-1970s and last got to say hi in the summer at the races at Evergreen Park. I enjoyed the fact, right up until the last time I saw him, he always called me Moonbeams – the name of the sports column I wrote that ended in the 1980s. A little something he knew would bring a smile to both our faces. Huge loss for horse racing and the community!

Shared by Don Moon

I did not get to know Al that well, but running into him at head office, NMS, or just out and about was always a pleasure. He always seemed to have a smile on his face and was happy to share some wisdom in the form of a story, an idea, or a tidbit of knowledge. The first time I met Al was a short 8.5-9 years ago, working at GP Reload when he came into the facility to meet with Gord. Al had shown up early while Gord was at a meeting or lunch and was wandering the building, saying “Hello!” to everyone and introducing himself to new faces. It always stuck with me that when I (with only a few months at the company) walked over to see who this man was that was wandering through the warehouse, he introduced himself by name only, with no fancy titles, and only after a few minutes of polite, casual conversation he said: “I’m here to meet with Gord, I’m his business partner.”

That was who Al was; he was friendly and cheerful, and despite how important he was to so many people, businesses, and employees, he was still just Al when he talked to you. I will always remember that.

Shared by Colin Potter

Deepest condolences to Al’s wife, Barb; and to their children and grandchildren, extended family and friends. Hope you enjoy these photos of Al and Barb with their mares and foals. Back in the day, Al and Barb would occasionally pop in on their “fancy” neighbors for a visit. On one such occasion we had wine to offer them, but apparently it was the kind that should be chilled. I dropped a “Mr. Freezie” in each of their glasses and poured them a drink. Barb laughed and used her Freezie like a fancy swizzle stick. We know those two were “peas and carrots” and this is a huge loss for Barb and family. Thinking of you all during this difficult time, Carolyn and Hugh Sinclair

Shared by Carolyn and Hugh Sinclair

Uncle Al was one of a kind in so many ways and generous beyond words. On two occasions, he and Aunt Barb hosted Side Family reunions at the farm in Grande Prairie that were memorable for the large extended family. In 2005, for the first time, the offspring of Alex and Latifa Side came together from as far away as South Africa and Australia to spend three days together. The next reunion was organized by Al’s family for his 80th birthday celebration. Once again family gathered from far and wide and the hospitality extended was remarkable. I always regret living so far away because I would have loved to have spent time getting better acquainted with Uncle Al. He was the patriarch and it’s very hard to say goodbye. He will be missed beyond words.

Shared by Dianne Longson

I was on one of those little planes that went into the fishing lodge at Margaret Lake. On one occasion I had my son Derek with me, he was about 12.  We landed and one of the first people my son met was Al, he grabbed Derek and they spent the day at the mouth of the Pon Ton fishing for grayling. My son was so proud of their catch and his new fishing pal. Rest in peace my friend.

Shared by Dale Gaume

Here’s Al with his great grandson Oliver. What a great guy. We’ll all miss him.

Shared by Allan Gudlaugson

My sympathies to the Side family especially Doug & Debbie, Al was a great man and you always felt special in his presence.

Shared by Gladys Wilson

I can’t begin to say how much I will miss Al. He was a great friend to both my husband and I and ensured I could continue in the thoroughbred business after my husband’s passing. He was a mentor to me, and together, we were breeding the next great generation. It meant so much to me that he and Barb could attend this year’s Thoroughbred sale in Red Deer, and the delight on his face when those yearlings “Crazy” yearlings showed their love to Barb, is impossible to forget. He was so looking forward to racing them, and I spoke to him the Thursday before he flew out. The excitement in his voice for 2024 was contagious on the telephone! I know these babies will do him proud, and they will have an angel looking over them. Fly High, Al you will be missed.

Shared by Maxine Anderson

My condolences to Barb and family. I have many memories of Barb and Al we’ve lost touch over the years I’m sad for that. Please know Barb I’m thinking of you I’m so sad for you’re loss.

With love Laura Remus

Shared by Laura Remus (née Berg)

Have known the family pretty much my whole life, used to do inventory counts as a kid at Northern Metalic on 100th Street, and get donuts from Al, a great guy. Our heartfelt condolences to all the family.

Shared by Lyle Green

Heard some wonderful stories from Alexus and Jarred.
We are truly sorry for your loss. Condolences to your beautiful family, extended family, and friends.

Shared by Rick and Irene Jones

Al is one of the most kindhearted people I’ve met; as everyone called him Grandpa, I did the same eventually. I’m Gracie, and I was their PSW for 6 years. I’m fortunate enough to have some memories and bonding moments. Grandpa is a very hardworking man, so active, a person who doesn’t know how to take any rest at all. That’s how he is. Palm Springs has been a special place for so many years of going down south every winter. During my first year in Palm Springs, Al always had road trips or things to do for us. We always go to the casino, which is Grandma’s favourite place, to have some entertainment and watch shows. I will not forget when we watched the Festival of Light’s Parade downtown; we totally enjoyed it, and it was memorable. I am beyond grateful for everything. I also remember that he treated us to celebrate my birthday at their favourite restaurant, Billy Reeds, which was special. He always had his praise for all of his grandkids, and that’s something remarkable for him. For the years I’ve spent with them, I witnessed how deep their love for each other is. Al and Barb’s partnership is immeasurable and one of a kind. His passing saddened everyone’s hearts and was so unexpected. Fly high, Grandpa. Thank you for all the unwavering support, love and kindness; I am truly honoured our paths crossed and was able to take care of you for years..

Shared by Gracie Pasia

It was great that Al and Barb, Linda could attend Ann’s Interment a few weeks ago in Creston!

Shared by Schell

I first met the Side family at an event I was speaking at in Grand Prairie. I was working for CN Rail and naturally I wasn’t the most appreciated person speaking during the event and I was new to both the area and my job. After the event I had a brief meeting with the Side family and I did not know what we were going to talk about but within 5 minutes I felt that I met someone that I wanted to be around and listen to and talk with for ever. Al made you feel secure because he cared about what you had to say and he made you feel welcome. He had no need to be that way, he could have discounted someone like me and many others, considering what he had done with his life, but no matter what, he always had time to listen and care and make you feel important. He was a man among men. His curiosity, his thirst for learning and making something better, his belief that no matter what, if you don’t try, it won’t happen, made him feel like a soul mate to me. Over the years my wife Kelly and I have had the great fortune to be around Al, lovely Barb – the female version of Al – and their wonderful family, especially the girls, their husbands and the wonderful grandkids. Moving away from the west because of job commitments reduced the opportunity to be around Al, Barb and the family but we kept in touch through an Al “email” and always when we went to our place in Palm Springs we would find out if they were there and at least have a lunch or dinner, or watch Barb at the casino taking in the Pennie’s.

I can’t tell you how much we are going to miss him, but he’ll always be our hearts and I’ll always think about the times we were privileged to be in his presence.

Going to miss him badly, but we’re so happy we got to spend time on this earth with him.

Goodbye my friend I’m going to miss you.

Shared by Mike Corey

Al combining his Oat Crop 2023.

Shared by Mike Head

Wow, where do I begin. Grampa has been a constant pillar in my life for the past 25 years. He’s worn many hats in my eyes; Grampa, leader, neighbour, and dad. Most recently he has become my friend. The last few years I’ve spent my most cherished days with him and gramma on our farm – we became good, good friends. Growing up next door, I never took into account the absolute luxury and honour of getting to spend our days with together. I will always, always miss it. It’s tough to navigate without him, but I know he’s guiding us through every moment of this new world. So long as we know he’s with us, it will always be a wonderful world.

“When the people we love leave us, they take a piece of us with them, and we a piece of them.” – Gramma

Shared by Delaina Moug

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