Lifetime Achievement Alumni 1996 The Late John Holer

Join us as we a look back at our Lifetime Achievement Award alumni of the past 25 years. These outstanding individuals have truly left an indelible mark on Niagara and have inspired countless other entrepreneurs to start and grow their businesses in Niagara.

Over the last 24 years, NEYA has inducted 33 entrepreneurs into our Hall of Fame by bestowing them with this prestigious recognition. Click here to see a complete list of our Lifetime Achievement Alumni and join us on March 1, 2019 as we bestow a new group of deserving entrepreneurs with this honour at our 25th Anniversary Awards Gala at the Fallsview Casino Resort.

Tickets for the 25th annual Niagara Entrepreneur of the Year Awards Gala to be held March 1, 2019 at the Fallsview Casino Resort are now on sale. Tickets are limited, so order early!


Arriving in Niagara in 1956, a refugee from post-war military-socialist regime of Slovenia, formally part of Yugoslavia, young John Holer sought work in his profession: wine chemistry. Initially barred by his lack of English, he turned to farm labour, construction, and hospital service. He learned English, welding, and much more about his adopted country.

By 1961, he had saved enough to open his own business. Buying many of his materials on credit against his expected revenues, he and a friend welded a 50-foot steel tank for the first sea lion performances. He ordered three sea lions from California, trained them, hired a ticket seller, trained another swimmer to perform with the sea lions, and tried to give his customers good entertainment value for the $.25 admission ticket. In addition to the performances, visitors could observe and feed the sea lions. He installed various obstacles and toys to make it even more interesting. Initially leasing a 3-acre piece of land from Harry Oakes, his new business was profitable the first year. Within two years it was doing very well and the initial debts were all paid back, establishing a policy of quick debt retirement that has continued throughout his business practices.

Since then, his world-renowned, Marineland, has expanded many times. The first additions were some fallow deer. Then he added more land, picnic areas, food services, and rides. Marineland now owns the land; more than 1000 acres. The park undergoes continuous development, with additional attractions being added as his reinvestment program permits. The current grandstand holds 4000 people for each of the six daily shows by the sea lions and killer whales.

At the time of this award, a massive new habitat was under construction for the killer whales and a safari area was being developed for native Canadian animals. Marineland has become a major destination for the regional tourism industry. It has become a very important adjunct to the great natural asset of the Falls. Marineland’s spin-offs contribute greatly to sales in the hospitality industry throughout Niagara. Unlike the natural attraction, however, Marineland is the product of human vision and drive. It is John Holer’s enterprise.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Niagara Entrepreneur of the Year Awards. The Lifetime Achievement Award is presented to enterprising entrepreneurs in our community who have significantly impacted the development of economic ventures in Niagara. Lifetime Achievement Award Recipients are individuals who have spent several decades of their lives shaping Niagara, building a legacy, and contributing positively to our community. Save the date and join us on March 1, 2019 for NEYA’s 25th Anniversary Awards Gala.