Rarely are shipping containers viewed as a catalyst for economic growth. However, the implementation of a standard sized shipping container was one of that biggest factors in propelling global trade. The Economist recently stated that "the container has been more of a driver of globalisation than all trade agreements in the past 50 years together.” 

The evolution of how we ship cargo has had significant impact on shaping the way we live our lives. It affects individuals, cities, economies and nations in a myriad of ways. We have access to more products than ever before and as a result, our quality of life has improved immeasurably from the cars we drive to the medicine we have access to. 

Where did it all begin? 

Transporting goods by water has been key to the economic well-being of most nations throughout history and has played a vital role in the life of Canadians. In Canada’s early history, ships imported resource-based essentials and served as a way to market and export agricultural and forestry products. As the variety of imports, exports, and population grew, so did the need to transport goods by different modes. 

In 1955 Malcolm McLean, a trucking entrepreneur from North Carolina, recognized that it would be much simpler to have a container that could be transferred between truck, rail and ship without first having to unload its contents. This is called ‘Intermodalism’ and with it came the idea of a standard sized shipping container also known as ‘Containerization’. By employing these two methods, products could now be transferred seamlessly between ship, rail and truck with minimal intervention and at a much faster rate than ever before. This process led a revolution that grew to simplify and transform cargo transportation where it would quickly become the backbone of global trade.

Today, international trade plays a vital role in Canada’s economy and according to Statistics Canada serves “as a source of industrial production and income growth, and as a means through which Canadians gain access to foreign funds, investment goods, new technologies, and an ever-expanding array of products and services.” There is no undermining the value that containerization has played in the lives of Canadians and world citizens. 

Who could have predicted that standardizing the shipping container would power globalisation, fuel national economies, connect consumers to global markets, determine what products we use in our home, or affect what we eat for breakfast?  At their core they are innovative, yet provide simple solutions to complex problems. 

With 55 million containers now inhabiting the world, we are seeing pioneers come up with new uses for these abundant structures. In Kelowna, shipping containers have been used by Vice and Virtue Brewery to house their beer taps, by Earls to create E-taco, and by Summerhill Winery to build an outdoor bistro. From vertical farms to mobile storage and moveable homes, these structures have gone from shipping our world to shaping it.