- The founders of Pan American Nursery Products Inc., John and Ted van Zanten, immigrated to Canada back in 1950. In Holland, their family had been in the flower bulb growing and exporting business for many years. The odyssey back to their heritage began in 1958 as a flower bulb wholesaler to the local British Columbian market. With the help and support of their wives, Marie and Bep, the quest to establish themselves as an industry leader began.
In 1960, the two brothers purchased a small company know as Pan American Bulb. At that time, it was primarily a spring and fall bulb wholesaler. Ted and John set up business in a small 7,500 sq. ft. warehouse and office located on an acre and a half in what is now downtown Whalley, BC.
Pan American grew rapidly during the next several years, as did the van Zanten family. John and Marie had five sons and one daughter, while Ted and Bep had two sons and two daughters. All of the family members grew up involved in the business, either after school, on weekends or on holiday breaks. In 1972, Cary joined John and Ted full time, followed by John Jr. (1975), Ed (1975), Margie (1978), Rob (1979), Linda (1988) and Don Williamson (Linda's husband) in 1997. The company's success was not built through the efforts of family members alone. The dedication of new and long time employees has helped to mould Pan American into one of Canada's leading wholesale nurseries.
As Pan American's sales grew across the country, it became necessary to establish a satellite office and distribution warehouse in Ontario. In 1977, Pan Am opened a facility in Mississauga, Ontario. The next major step was the construction of a modern 100,000 sq. ft. warehousing, production and office facility on forty-five acres of land at 5151-152 St. in Surrey, BC, in 1982. This site facilitated the natural progression of the company, integrating a first class growing operation into the business as we continued to expand our market share. A link office established in Woodland, Washington, starting our advance into the US market.
In 1995, rapid growth in our container market necessitated the purchase of fourteen acres of land with a warehouse, office and state-of-the-art greenhouses in Millgrove, Ontario. This acquisition solidified Pan Am as a national source for not only bare root and packaged products, but also container-grown stock. An additional eighty-six acres were purchased adjacent to the Millgrove property in late 1997. Rapid greenhouse construction and increased container production have made this acreage fully operational.
The next generation of family members also grew up involved in the business, after school, on weekends or on holiday breaks, and in October 2004, the first member of the third generation of our family joined the company. John's son, Ian, completed his business degree at Royal Roads University and joined Pan American full time. Ian has taken on sales territories in BC, Canada and Washington, USA. He has become indispensable in our packaged bulb/perennial planning and production each spring.
Cary's son, Craig, joined the team full time in January 2007. Craig brings a business diploma and computer animation certificate to the company matrix. Updating our web page is one of Craig's projects, along with shipping and receiving. Craig's sales territories include Saskatchewan and Northern Alberta.
John's daughter, Amber, started full time in October 2007, after completing her business degree at Royal Roads University. Amber is shipping coordinator and has recently taken on a sales territory in Lower Mainland B.C.
Pan American currently wholesales several types of nursery products including clematis vines, flowering shrubs, small fruits, perennials, seed potatoes, onion sets, and spring bulbs. Our primary focuses, however, are bare root, packaged and container-grown rose bushes. Our products are marketed under the brand names: Roses by Pan Am, Clematis by Pan Am, Perennials by Pan Am, Windmill, Nursery Pride, Only the Best, and Flower Carpet.
Our constantly evolving product line and strong growth suggest that the future forecast will include extensive capital expansion in automated packaging equipment and an increased focus on US and international markets. Beyond that, who knows? There are twenty-five grandchildren.