What is a Holding Company in Canada

Man with a poster depicting a chart of a holding company in Canada

What is a Holding Company in Canada

Sebastien Prost, CPA

In the world of business and finance, the term “holding company”, “holding corporation” or “holdco” is a topic of conversation that often arises. But what’s a holding company exactly, and what are the advantages of owning one? If you’re a business owner in Canada, understanding the concept and potential benefits of a Canadian holding company can be crucial for maximizing your business growth, protecting your assets, and planning for the future. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the basics of holding companies, explore the different types of holding companies, discuss how they work, and highlight the advantages of having a holding company. We will also provide real-life examples of holding companies in Canada to illustrate their practical applications. Let’s not delay any longer and begin our exploration of what is a holding company.

The Basics of Holding Companies

A holding company, also known as a holdco or investment holding company, is a type of company that does not engage in active operations such as manufacturing or selling products or services. Instead, its primary purpose is to hold controlling shares or membership interests in other companies, forming a corporate group. A holdco can hold various types of assets, including shares in other corporations, real estate properties, market securities, and more. By holding these assets, a holdco acts as a central entity that manages and oversees the operations and finances of its subsidiaries.

Holding Company Structure

To structure a holding company, several key steps need to be followed. Firstly, it is important to select the appropriate jurisdiction and structure for the holding company. This decision should be based on factors such as tax advantages, legal regulations, and business environment. When incorporating the holding company, it is necessary to complete the necessary paperwork, such as the articles of incorporation, which outline the company’s purpose, structure, and governance. Finally, a suitable name for the holding company should be chosen, considering factors such as branding and legal requirements. Seeking professional advice during these steps is crucial to ensure compliance and maximize the benefits of the holding company structure.

Types of Holding Companies

There are different types of holding corporations that serve different purposes:

Holding Non-Operating Company

The most common type of holdco is a non-operating company, which solely holds the shares of other corporations, known as subsidiaries. These subsidiaries can operate in various industries, while the holdco itself does not engage in any active business activities. The primary function of the holdco is to own and control the shares of its subsidiaries. This type of holdco can also be described as a holding company for investments and is ideal for individuals or businesses looking to consolidate their ownership and control over multiple companies.

Holding Operating Company

A holding operating company is a type of holding company that not only holds shares in other corporations but also engages in its own operations and generates revenue streams. In addition to owning shares in subsidiaries, the holding operating company has its own active business operations, which can include manufacturing, selling products, providing services, and more. This type of holdco allows for diversification of business activities and the ability to generate multiple revenue streams.

Subsidiary Holding Company

A subsidiary holding company is a unique type of holdco that is itself owned by another company. This means that the holding company owns the shares of another corporation, but it is also owned by a separate entity. This structure allows for layers of ownership and control within a corporate group, providing flexibility and strategic advantages in managing multiple subsidiaries.

How Does a Holding Company Work?

Holding companies function by owning shares in other companies or holding various assets. The most common method is through the ownership of shares in subsidiaries. The holding company can own a majority or all of the shares in another business, giving it control over the subsidiary’s operations and decision-making processes. By owning these shares, the holding company becomes the parent company of the subsidiary, and the subsidiary becomes a part of the corporate group.

Another way holding companies can work is by owning and managing assets directly. This can include owning real estate properties, investment portfolios, or other income-generating assets. The holding company acts as the custodian of these assets, managing and overseeing their operations and financial performance.

Holding companies can also employ a multi-layer structure, where a subsidiary of the holding company itself acts as a holding company for other subsidiaries. This hierarchical structure allows for greater control and management of multiple subsidiaries within the corporate group.

Benefits of a Holding Company in Canada

Now that we have a clear understanding of what holding companies are and how they work, let’s explore the advantages that can result from setting up a holding company in Canada. Holding company benefits are plentiful; from tax planning to asset protection, holding companies provide several benefits that can help businesses maximize their profits, reduce tax liabilities, and plan for long-term growth and succession.

Tax Planning and Optimization

One of the significant advantages of holding companies is the ability to engage in tax planning and optimization strategies. Holding company tax benefits include the ability to help business owners reduce their tax liabilities on both personal and corporate levels. By strategically moving funds from an operating company to a holding company in the form of tax-free dividends, business owners can minimize their personal tax obligations. Corporate tax rates are generally lower than personal tax rates in Canada, making it advantageous to retain earnings within the holdco rather than distributing them as personal income.

Additionally, holding companies offer opportunities for tax deferral. Income earned within a holding company can be reinvested and taxed at the corporate tax rate until it is withdrawn by the shareholders for personal use. This allows for greater flexibility in managing and timing the taxation of income, potentially resulting in significant tax savings over the long term.

Asset Protection and Limited Liability

Another key advantage of holding companies is the protection of assets and limited liability for shareholders. By holding assets within a separate legal entity, such as a holding company, business owners can shield their personal assets from potential creditors or claims against the operating company. In the event of bankruptcy or legal disputes, the assets held by the holdco are generally protected and not accessible to creditors. This provides an added layer of security and safeguards personal wealth.

Facilitate Succession Planning and Estate Protection

Holding companies can play a crucial role in succession planning and estate protection. By transferring assets and ownership shares to a holding company, business owners can effectively plan for the transfer of their business and wealth to the next generation. Holding companies allow for the implementation of estate freezes, where the value of existing shares is frozen for the original shareholders, and future growth is passed on to the next generation. This helps in preserving wealth, minimizing tax obligations, and ensuring a smooth transition of assets to successors.

Simplify Business Operations and Expansion

Operating multiple businesses or subsidiaries can be complex and challenging to manage. Holding companies provide a centralized structure for business operations, making it easier to oversee and coordinate activities within the corporate group. By consolidating ownership and control under a holding company, businesses can streamline administrative tasks, reduce duplication of efforts, and achieve greater operational efficiency. Holding companies also facilitate future expansion by providing a framework for acquiring new businesses or assets, allowing businesses to grow and diversify their operations.

Access to Lifetime Capital Gains Exemption

The lifetime capital gains exemption (LCGE) is a significant tax benefit for Canadian business owners. Holding companies can help business owners take advantage of the LCGE when selling their operating company. The LCGE allows eligible business owners to exclude a portion or all of the capital gains realized from the sale of qualified small business corporation (QSBC) shares from their taxable income. By strategically structuring the ownership of shares within a holdco, business owners can maximize the LCGE and minimize the tax implications of selling their business.

To determine if you qualify for the LCGE, feel free to Book a Free Consultation with the LedgerLogic specialized team or to visit the Government of Canada Website.

Holding Company Examples in Canada

To better illustrate the practical applications of holding companies in Canada, let’s explore some real-life examples:

Example 1: Asset Protection

John owns multiple rental properties through his operating company, ABC Rentals Inc. To protect his personal assets from potential liabilities arising from the rental properties, John decides to establish a holding company, XYZ Holdings Ltd. John transfers the ownership of the rental properties from ABC Rentals Inc. to XYZ Holdings Ltd. As a result, the rental properties are now held by the holding company, limiting John’s personal liability in case of any legal claims or disputes related to the rental properties.

Example 2: Tax Planning and Optimization

Sarah is the owner of a successful consulting business, Sarah Consulting Inc. She decides to set up a holding company, Sarah Holdings Ltd., to take advantage of tax planning opportunities. Sarah transfers a portion of the retained earnings from Sarah Consulting Inc. to Sarah Holdings Ltd. in the form of tax-free dividends. By retaining the earnings within the holdings company, Sarah can defer personal tax obligations and reinvest the funds to generate additional income at the corporate tax rate.

Example 3: Succession Planning and Estate Protection

Mike runs a family-owned manufacturing company, Smith Manufacturing Ltd. As he plans for retirement and the transition of the business to his children, Mike establishes a holdco, Smith Holdings Inc. Through an estate freeze, Mike freezes the value of his shares in Smith Manufacturing Ltd. at the current value and issues new shares to his children at a minimal cost. This allows for the future growth and profits of the business to be passed on to the next generation, ensuring a seamless succession plan and minimizing tax obligations.

Example 4: Access to Lifetime Capital Gains Exemption

Lisa is the owner of a software development company, LisaTech Inc. She plans to sell her business in the future and take advantage of the lifetime capital gains exemption. Lisa sets up a holding company, Lisa Holdings Ltd., to hold the shares of LisaTech Inc. By structuring the ownership of the shares within the holding company, Lisa can qualify for the lifetime capital gains exemption and potentially exclude a significant portion of the capital gains from taxation when she sells her business.

These examples highlight the practical applications and benefits of holding companies in various business scenarios. However, it’s important to note that the specific advantages and strategies may vary depending on individual circumstances and the business’s unique needs. Consulting with a professional advisor, such as an accountant or tax specialist, is crucial to determine the most suitable approach and ensure compliance with relevant tax laws and regulations.

Other Considerations

Before deciding if a holding company is suitable for your business, there are several other factors to consider when setting up a holding company in Canada. Although the benefits can be significant, it’s vital to weigh them against the costs and complexities associated with creating and running a holding company in Canada. Following are some potential disadvantages of holding companies.


Incorporating a holdco can be done online or with the assistance of a lawyer. During the incorporation process, you will need to name your corporation, choose its structure, and establish a registered office address and board of directors.

Ongoing Costs

Running a holding company can involve ongoing costs, including legal and annual compliance accounting fees associated with filing corporate tax returns. It’s important to factor in these costs when assessing the overall financial implications of establishing and maintaining a holdco.


Adding a holding company to your business structure introduces a new level of complexity. If not managed correctly, it could result in unintended consequences, including higher taxes. To ensure you navigate the complexities of a holding company effectively, it’s crucial to seek professional advice and weigh the benefits against the potential complexities.


In summary, holding companies can offer numerous benefits for businesses in Canada, including tax planning, asset protection, estate planning, and access to the lifetime capital gains exemption. By establishing a holding company, business owners can optimize their tax strategies, safeguard their assets, simplify business operations, and plan for the future. The examples provided demonstrate how holding companies can be effectively utilized in various scenarios. However, it’s essential to seek professional advice to determine the best approach for your specific business needs and goals.

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Sebastien Prost, CPA

Written by Sebastien Prost, CPA

Seb Prost, a CPA with over 10 years of experience in taxation and accounting, offers a unique blend of insights from his time at the CRA and his experience in public practice. Originally from QC and now based in Nelson, BC, he specializes in guiding Canadian startups, SaaS companies and other online businesses for all of their accounting and taxation needs.

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