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.