Examining Victoria Grizzlies’ new majority owner Jim Hartshorne

The Victoria Grizzlies have a new majority owner as Jim Hartshorne has bought a majority interest from the previous majority owner, Ron Walchuk. Walchuk remains a minority owner and will also serve as the team’s governor on the British Columbia Hockey League’s board. The sale is expected to close on June 1.

Hartshorne is familiar with sports ownership, as he owns the Western Lacrosse Association’s Victoria Shamrocks and serves as their alternate governor.

In the past, Hartshorne was a co-owner of the Victoria Cougars of the Western Hockey League. He owned the team during the early 1980s and in 1981, the Cougars won the Ed Chynoweth Cup, defeating the Calgary Wranglers in seven games.

I will profile Hartshorne in this article, but before that, a look at several previous owners. This examination dates back to the early years of the Victoria Salsa.

Restaurant owners and land developers

The first team owners — the Kowalko family — were also restaurant owners. The BCHL granted the Victoria expansion franchise to the family that owned all Taco Time restaurants on Vancouver Island.

In 1994, the Kowlako family sold the Salsa to Mark Wagstaff, and he owned the team from 1994 to 2015. During that time, Wagstaff took on a new partner and added ownership of the WHL’s Tri-City Americans to his portfolio.

In 2005, former National Hockey League player and land developer Len Barrie bought a majority share in the Grizzlies. Barrie was the one who rebranded the Salsa as the Grizzlies and named the team’s home Bear Mountain Arena.

While Barrie was developing Bear Mountain Resort, he was also part owner of the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning. However, several legal disputes forced him out of ownership. In 2012, Barrie sold the Grizzlies to Ron Walchuk.

Walchuk’s background is in finance and he’s been Vice President – Western Canada at Echelon Wealth Partners since 2018. Before the Grizzlies’ recent sale, Walchuk co-owned the team with several other partners.

Owning the Cougars and Shamrocks

According to Elite Prospects, Hartshorne owned the Victoria Cougars from 1980 to 1989. As noted above, the Cougars won the Ed Chynoweth Cup in 1981.

After their championship win, the Cougars wouldn’t return to the finals. The furthest they got was the WHL’s West Division Final. In that final, the Portland Winterhawks won in five games.

In 1989, Hartshorne sold the Cougars to Bob Vranckaert and immediately after the sale, the Cougars finished with the worst record in WHL history. For some time now, Hartshorne has been the Shamrocks owner and governor. Aside from sports, Hartshorne is also a Langford, B.C. property developer.

Hartshorne leads Keycorp Consulting, which is a company that does everything from designing, building, and marketing residences in Greater Victoria. One subsidiary — Keycorp Sports & Entertainment — is the majority owner of the Alberni Valley Bulldogs. They’ve owned the Bulldogs since 2019.

The new situation

The Grizzlies and Shamrocks now share the same majority owner. I think that adding Hartshorne’s experience will help Victoria’s BCHL club in the long run.

He owned the Cougars during their best decade and has also seen the Shamrocks win national championships. They won the Mann Cup in 2015.

From reading the Grizzlies’ press release announcing the sale, Hartshorne has big ambitions for the team. He wants to fill The Q Centre with excited and enthusiastic fans. On the ice, Grizzlies general manager and head coach Rylan Ferster and his staff have a lot of work ahead of them as they have at least 15 players departing for post-secondary schools this off-season.