Rapid technological developments, deregulation, ownership changes and shifting attitudes about dependence on foreign oil make the 1980's a remarkable decade for Union Gas.
Following the oil embargo of the late 1970's, the Canadian government focuses on reducing Canadian dependence on foreign oil and introduces subsidies to homeowners and gas utilities to encourage conversions from oil to natural gas. The federal Distribution System Expansion Program (DSEP) helps Union Gas build pipelines and distribution systems into previously uneconomic areas. Funding from this "off-oil" program enables Union Gas to add customers and communities to its growing distribution system for the next five years.
Union Gas invests $12.7 million to continue the expansion of its Dawn to Parkway transmission system and adds an incremental 13.5 km of 42" diameter pipeline between London and St. Marys.
A change in payroll practices brings an end to the traditional "pay cheque" for Union Gas employees, who will now have their pay directly deposited into their bank accounts rather than have to line up to deposit a paper cheque at the bank each pay day.
Another 28 km of 42" diameter pipeline is added from Bright to Owen Sound and from Kerwood to Strathroy further expanding Union Gas' natural gas transmission capabilities.
Union Gas recognizes the potential advantages of personal computers recently introduced by IBM and Commodore and introduces an incentive program to encourage Union Gas employees to purchase a PC for their use at home. Employees are also offered PC training in the evenings.
Union Gas officially launches its Natural Gas Vehicle (NGV) program to encourage companies and individuals to consider natural gas as an alternative fuel for their fleets and personal vehicles.
Union Gas retires its employee newsletter, "The Pilot" replacing it with, "On the Line", which is described as "a report on Union Gas happenings published for the dedicated people of Union Gas Limited."
By 1984 Union Gas has spent more than $80 million expanding its 42" diameter pipeline Trafalgar system after adding another 17.5 km of pipeline from St. Marys to Beachville. The first NGV public refueling station in the Union Gas service area opens in Chatham, and Union Gas employees are encouraged to convert their personal vehicles to natural gas. It's becoming more common to see cars on the road with a white message on the back window that reads, "I run on natural gas."
Most Union Gas letters and memos are still typewritten and "cc" means carbon copies, made with carbon paper not the 'courtesy copy' that "cc" means today. PC's are still new technology with limited business use but at Union Gas one PC per department is now the norm.
Hamilton's transit system, the Hamilton Street Railway (HSR) becomes the first in Canada to convert a bus to operate on natural gas.
By 1985, Union Gas is viewed as a "mature utility" with future growth expected to come from diversification. In January of 1985, Union Enterprises is established as the parent company of Union Gas Limited and within its new corporate family, Union Gas (the regulated utility) is now a separate entity from its non-regulated siblings. Union Enterprises is now well positioned to grow its non-regulated business. Within weeks Union Enterprises is surprised by a successful take-over by Unicorp Canada Corporation, which purchases more than 60 per cent of Union Enterprises common shares. For the first time in its history, Union Gas is now owned by a single entity.
In April of 1985, Union Gas announces it has signed its 500,000th customer and months later the federal government announces that effective the following year it will no longer set the price of natural gas.
The 1985 Halloween Agreement that deregulated the natural gas industry in Canada changed forever the way that customers purchase natural gas. Before November 1, 1986 gas producers sold directly to TransCanada PipeLines (TCPL), which in turn sold it to utilities, which then sold it to end-users. After November 1, 1986, Union Gas' large industrial customers could buy gas directly from producers and TCPL would simply transport the gas to the market area where distributors like Union Gas would take the gas and deliver it to customers. Union Gas responded by introducing significant new services to the market. Industrial customers could now buy their gas through Buy/Sell and T1 contractual agreements.
The business world is quickly adopting new technology. The fax machine is the latest new business tool and Union Gas installs one fax machine in its mailroom. Now a customer anywhere can write comments on a document and fax their document for review at Union Gas head office in Chatham within minutes.
Forget the status quo - everything changes in the 1980's. The decade sees everything from the introduction of personal computers, to the end of the Cold War and the emergence of Japan as the world's leading automaker.
The decade begins with the Miracle on Ice in Lake Placid New York when the US hockey team becomes the unlikely gold medal winner at the Winter Olympics. The world is shocked even more when former Beatle John Lennon is shot and killed outside his New York apartment building. By the end of the year, everyone wants to know who shot JR on the television show, Dallas. The November episode that reveals the "shooter" attracts the largest audience in television history up to that time.
Reacting to high gas prices caused by the oil embargo of the late 1970's, consumers are buying compact cars and Japan for the first time replaces the US as the world’s largest automaker.
As of January first, gasoline in Canada is sold by litre rather than gallon. IBM launches the first personal computer; the US launches its first Space Shuttle and with it, the Canadian Canadarm and the world watches the fairy tale wedding of Lady Diana Spencer to Prince Charles.
Queen Elizabeth comes to Ottawa to sign the newly patriated constitution and the Charter of Canadian Rights and Freedoms comes into effect. Canada and the US are into a deep recession, which will last more than a year. Days are numbered for vinyl records and 8-tracks when the first CD player is introduced.
Ethiopia calls on the world for aid when 4 million of its people die during a famine. Word processing takes a big leap forward when Microsoft Word is first released. Sally Ride becomes the first American woman in space on the Space Shuttle Challenger. The Cabbage Patch doll becomes the "must-have" toy and a record 125 million viewers tune in for the finale episode of M*A*S*H.
Pierre Trudeau takes a walk in the snow and decides to retire as Prime Minister of Canada and leader of the Liberal Party. Pope John Paul II brings his Popemobile for a 12-day tour of Canada. It’s the first papal visit to Canada and proves to be one of the biggest events in Canadian history. In another Canadian "first", Marc Garneau becomes the first Canadian in space.
"Do They Know It's Christmas" by Band Aid goes on sale to raise money to support famine relief in Ethiopia where 10 million people are threatened with starvation.
Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and US President Ronald Reagan meet in the so-called Shamrock Summit and agree to cooperate on free trade as well as missile defense. Live Aid concerts are held around the world to help the starving in Africa. AIDS is increasing and the FDA approves the first blood test for AIDS while governments begin screening blood donations for the AIDS virus.
Technology is evolving quickly and the first version of Windows is released and the first .com domain name is registered.
Millions watch live television in horror as the US Space Shuttle Challenger explodes seconds after take-off killing seven US astronauts. The world’s first nuclear disaster occurs as Chernobyl Nuclear Power station explodes and releases radioactive material. Negotiations begin on a free trade agreement between Canada and the US, Canada imposes sanctions on South Africa over its apartheid policies and in Canada, deregulation of the gas industry takes effect.
Canada introduces the "Loonie" to replace the dollar bill. The US stock market drops 22.6 per cent on October 19th with other world markets falling in the days that follow. By the end of October Canadian stocks were down by more than 22 per cent and the Hong Kong stock market was down by more than 48 per cent. Television viewers meet Homer, Marge, Bart and Lisa when the Simpsons cartoon debuts on the Tracey Ulman Show.
Canada hosts the Winter Olympics in Calgary but is unable to win any gold medals. The US unveils the stealth bomber and the first computer virus infects computers connected to the Internet.