Walter J. Riva was born in coal country in Canmore, Alberta, in 1922. From those roots, he grew into an unmatched leader of Canada’s coal mining industry, contributing tirelessly to it and to the communities that depend on it.
After serving with the RCAF during the Second World War, Riva began his coal career as a laborer at Canmore Mines, while studying mining engineering at the University of Alberta. He graduated in 1949 and joined Canmore fulltime, eventually becoming Executive Vice President and CEO of the company. Next he moved to Denison Mines, and then to Kaiser Resources, first as Vice President of coal mining operations at Sparwood, B.C., and then as President of its Coal Division – the first Canadian to hold these positions. When Kaiser was acquired by British Columbia Resources Investment Corporation in 1980, Riva became president and CEO, and then chairman and CEO. In 1983 he retired from management to serve as vice chairman of Westar Mining, and then chairman of B.C. Resources, until his retirement in 1986.
In the course of his distinguished career, Riva has been the guiding light for the transformation of the Western Canada coal industry, from a provincial business struggling for survival to a dynamic, internationally competitive, energy industry.
He was a true pioneer, introducing new technology and mining procedures, and developing new markets, contributing to the governance of the industry and displaying sincere empathy for all of the people who worked with him.
Riva pioneered the sale of Canadian coal to Asian markets. Canmore Mines was the first Canadian company to tap new markets in Japan and Korea.
He was the Chief Operating Officer of the first company to satisfactorily reclaim and re-vegetate mined-out areas in Western Canada. The recreational facilities created in those early days are highly prized today.
He introduced mechanized mining at Canmore, using continuous miners and shuttle cars to improve productivity and safety.
He worked closely with CANMET, the federal government’s mining research centre, to develop a form-coking process that served a higher-value niche market in the electric furnace field.
He oversaw the successful introduction of hydrocyclones to clean fine coal from the Rocky Mountain coalfields.
In the early 1970s, Kaiser Resources developed the world’s largest and most efficient hydraulic coal mine.
Throughout his career, Riva brought his own special brand of management to the organizations he managed. A quiet spoken, sincere, man with ethical standards of the highest order, he had a knack for understanding people, commanding both affection and deep respect from his staff and colleagues at all levels.
Riva believed that managing a mining company requires an individual to play a major role in the community, and he put this belief into practice very effectively.
He has contributed widely to his profession. Riva was a founding member of the Canadian Carbonization Research Association, served as president of the Coal Association of Canada, in 1980-81, and president of the CIM in 1984-85. The CIM gave him the Selwyn G. Blaylock medal in 1973, and the Coal Award in 1991.
During a lifetime in the West Canadian coal industry, Walter Riva has demonstrated the ability to identify strategies both corporate and technical which have had a profound influence on an industry in which nothing comes easily. Whether searching for new markets to replace those which were vanishing, evaluating technical improvements or making a sincere effort to contribute to the wellbeing of resource towns, Walter has been a visionary leader.