My very first job was plowing, for which I made the grand sum of fifty cents an hour. I guess you always remember your first, because it feels like yesterday even though I was only about thirteen at the time. I don’t remember how I got the job; probably through my Dad because he knew Ernie Broklebank, our neighbor to the south. He taught me how to drive the tractor, which was fairly easy because I had been driving our Jeep quite a bit. All I remember was that after each track down the field I had to get off and remove all the big boulders I had picked up. It was very hard work, but I was saving up to buy a bike so I plugged away.
My next real job was part-time working for a guy who delivered newspaper bundles to all the carriers, mostly through Mississauga, which was Cooksville at the time. My one not so fond memory was hanging on the back of truck, ready to drop a bundle at the curb, when the driver suddenly swerved for something and I flew threw the air and onto the pavement. I was very lucky that it had been raining for hours and I basically slid for about forty feet until I came to a stop. If it had been dry I might have lost a lot of skin. The guy driving panicked as he saw me fly through the air in his side mirror. He figured he had killed me for sure.
My first real full-time job was working for the Toronto-Dominion Bank. My mother had worked at the branch in Streetsville for years and she convinced me that it was a good place to start any career. I started at a whopping $50 a week. I managed to buy one suit that I wore every day. My mother was right; it was a good place to start, but not a good place to stay. Back then the bank considered itself more of a “calling” and didn’t want to actually pay anyone a decent wage. They had a three year management program which I completed in nine months. They transferred me all over the place and I was at nine branches in those three years. The worst was King and Bathurst, right downtown. Living in Brampton it took about an hour and a half each way to get back and forth. Even though I was usually finished around 4:30 I would stay late because I would get home at the exact same time anyway.
After three years with the bank, managing a staff of sixteen at a branch at Jane and Steeles, but not getting anywhere financially I had a customer offer me double the money to go to work for him as his accountant. It was an “offer too good to refuse”. Unfortunately within a couple of weeks he started telling me to do all sorts of things that I knew weren’t right, like charging expenses for his home to the business. I could see joining him in jail so I left.
Things got really rough at one point. I was working at Dominion Glass in production and they went on strike. I was not in the union so I got nothing and because I was officially on strike I got no unemployment either. I remember that all we had was potatoes and onions two nights in a row because we had to pay for baby formula first. I had bought the house on Main Street from my Dad with $100 down and two mortgages so it was important I got to work again. My recollection of exactly when I worked where has faded and I can’t find any of my old resumes, so these may be out of order.
For several years I was the Production Scheduler at Emco Plastics. This involved scheduling thirty-six injection moulding machines, making mostly ABS plumbing parts. I started off with a very manual paper based system which was quite chaotic. It was very difficult to schedule the machines beyond current production runs or to fit in testing for new products. I introduced a system from Visual Planning which was basically large boards mounted on the walls with a grid showing the machines and the dates. I then designed a series of different coloured magnetic tags which represented production runs. There were colours for testing and mold changes and maintenance. It worked really well because anyone could look at the board and see what was happening weeks out. The only bad time I had with this was when one of Morris Cook’s kids came in on the weekend he decided to play with the magnets and he moved everything around in the boards. Good thing I still had a backup paper system!
Although I enjoyed the job at Emco and the people I worked with, like Earl Lince, the GM, Doug Bryant, the Engineer, Bruce Cook, the shipper and Morris Cook, the Production Manager, even by Morris’ own admission I had nowhere to go. He was not planning on retiring and his was about the only job more senior than mine. I left on good terms.
For about two years I was the Customer Service Manager at Hilti Canada, Central Region. It was a busy job looking after several customer service staff who looked after customers across Ontario and several sales reps who drove around in vans with product. I also opened a local store at the back of our warehouse and usually worked there Saturday mornings just to stay in face-to-face meetings with customers. I also oversaw the warehouse which stocked and shipped product for all of Ontario. The Head Office occupied the front of the building and I was summoned to meetings there representing the region. My sales manager, Bryan Snyder, and I got on very well, but I can’t say the same for Tony Leckie, the Admin Manager for the company. He was a maniac and treated people SO bad. He would run meetings like a tyrant, slamming his ruler down on the desk when anyone made him mad. Everyone was afraid of him and a lot of people left the company because of him. I still remember Jim Young, one of our region’s sales managers, telling me to get out and that I would realize I had been brainwashed when I got away from the company. He was right! It was scary to work for anyone that controlling.
I think after Emco, because that would make sense, I went to Able Plastics. They had a million dollar machine that extruded the foam for furniture, in several different grades. It was a husband and wife company and they fought constantly, plus anyone not in the family would never get anywhere. I don’t even remember why I left but I seem to remember an argument with his wife that I lost.
After Able Plastics I joined American Hoist in a new division they were setting up to import lift trucks from TCM in Japan. I can’t remember what my position was but I worked directly for Gerry Waterhouse, the GM. We started off in a very small office with almost no warehouse space until we got the dealer network setup and brought in some lift trucks. We soon moved to a new building owned by Rice Construction and I still remember negotiating a very attractive lease with Rod Rice. It was a very busy time because our dealer network grew in leaps and bounds and we sold everything we could bring in, as fast as we could. Our rapid growth overwhelmed our Head Office who were responsible for doing all the dealer floor plan contracts and getting paid for units sold and so on. Joe Barone, the President of American Hoist at the time, had no clue about the lift truck division and did little to stay on top of possible problems. After many months I discovered all the dealer contracts for stock we had shipped out were sitting on the accountant’s desk, going nowhere. Many of the dealers had sold these trucks and been paid, but they were still waiting for the original finance contract and had no way to pay them out when they had no idea what they owed. It was quickly becoming a house of cards. It frustrated me that we had done such a good job growing the business, from zero to over six million dollars in a year, and the dummies at Head Office were going to let it all fall apart on us. I got an idea.
My boss, Gerry Waterhouse, knew that everything was likely going to come crashing down on us. Because his contract prevented him from negotiating directly with TCM he started making inquiries with another lift truck company who wanted into Canada, NYK. They made a similar line of trucks and actually had a more extensive line of electric lift trucks. One thing lead to another and the next thing we knew we were on a plane to Chicago to negotiate the rights for Canada for NYK. I had already crossed the country and signed up all of our existing TCM dealers to take on NYK and we had orders for trucks before we even had the distributorship. Needless to say the meeting went well and we came away with a multi-year contract and had placed our initial order for a quarter million dollars with no credit, based on the orders we had. The funniest part of all of this was that as we were about to land in Chicago I asked Gerry what we were going to say the name of our “company” (the one we didn’t have yet) was going to be? He asked me what I thought and I suggested Canada Lift, which we became instantly in the meeting, just hoping that we could get Canada Lift Inc when we got back. (We did)
Two major things happened when we got back. First there was a shipload of TCM trucks that had shifted on the deck somewhere in the Pacific on their way to us. We were told they would still be delivered but that they had been too damaged by salt water to be sold for anything but scrap. When they arrived, to our considerable surprise, they looked hardly damaged at all, with the exception of a bit of pitting on the chrome lift cylinders. None the less I met with the insurance company and they agreed to pay out the full amount we had paid and they instructed me to dispose of them however I thought best. As it happened, the day after the meeting with the insurance company one of our dealers came down to look at our place. We wandered out into the yard and he asked what those trucks were doing there segregated off. When I explained that they had been damaged in shipping; we had been paid in full for them and we were going to scrap them, he suggested he would be interested in taking them for parts. I explained that we had no way to do that because we had been paid in full and given instructions to scrap them so we could not show any recovery or this would have to come off the insurance settlement, which we already had. After much discussion and his agreement that he could NEVER sell them as regular lift trucks, he agreed to pay thirty thousand dollars for them. After he left Gerry, Terry (the service manager who knew there was nothing wrong with the trucks) and myself agreed to take ten thousand each. Unfortunately and most stupidly I agreed that I was the only one who could arrange to get the money in cash from the dealer in Dartmouth. This was to be the mistake of my life.
I’ll admit that there was a little movie acting going on with this whole thing. Although I did not feel I looked like a criminal in any way because no one had been hurt and no one was out any money, I was a bit scared at making the trip and getting the money back safely. I remember them opening my briefcase at the airport on the way back; looking at the money and asking me what it was about and I just said calmly that some people like to deal in cash, which was accepted. Probably result in a strip search these days. I got back home and divided up the cash and thought no more of it. Life went on. The term “cold hard cash” was very applicable because we kept it in the freezer, drawing out money when we needed it. Dumb as it sounds now, we never did anything “special” with the money. It just went for household bills.
What happened next could fill an entire book with all the lies and intrigue. Someone got wind of what we had done and that got an RCMP investigation started. They spent months and when they discovered Canada Lift existed they went nuts trying to find some giant conspiracy where we stole millions from American Hoist. Management at Head Office was in such a mess with all the backed up paperwork on the stock at the dealers that they tried to pin that on us. They figured we were working with all the dealers across Canada in the scam of the century. We heard that the investigation cost over two million dollars, but they found nothing, because there was nothing to find. If it had not gone so tragic it might be funny. Before we knew it Gerry and I were escorted off the premises. We were then asked to come in and have our fingerprints taken and we were charged with a host of offenses, mostly conspiracy.
Of course at the trial I was the only one they had evidence on – phone calls I made, my hotel receipt, people who testified they saw me in Dartmouth and so on. I could write another book on the trial and what a farce it was because I had the most incompetent Legal Aid lawyer. In the end the Crown Attorney was my best character witness. He spoke in glowing terms about my personal references and told the jury that no real crime had been committed because there was no victim and no money lost. After the expense of the trial and particularly the massive RCMP investigation in which officers had flown back and forth across the country, the judge was forced to impose some penalty. There was no restitution ordered, because no one lost any money, but we were asked to visit the detention centre on weekends for three months. Still it was not a pretty place or experience. It was incredibly hard to hide where I was on the weekends from friends. They actually let me out one weekend to go to my son’s hockey tournament in Lake Placid. The worst part of this whole incident was that my lawyer told me that if I was a good boy, my record would be expunged in ten years. I only discovered in 2007 that he was dead wrong. Yet another story.
After we had been escorted off the premises we realized we still had a company, with a good product and dealers and sold orders and a possibly bright future. Obviously we did not think for a minute that what had happened at American Hoist would come back on us the way it did years later. So we rented an office/warehouse in Oakville from our Toronto dealer and we proceeded to build our business. We were only a few short months away from receiving our first order, all of which were sold to dealers and we were on our way. Life was good. That is, until we got a call to come down to the Bank of Nova Scotia Head Office. BNS was the one who had presented their floor plan financing to the meeting of our potential dealers in Caledon and every one of them had signed on.
When we got to the bank we were summoned to the top floor boardroom and introduced to just about every senior manager of the bank, including our rep for the floor plan financing program. We were simply told that the bank had a “change in direction” and would not be honoring the floor plan financing. At first, devastated as we were at the news we had lost our financing, we thought we had time to get our first order in, get some much-needed cash and negotiate a financing plan with someone else. That’s when they hit us that they weren’t going to honor the place that was already in place for the first order which was on a ship coming any day now! You could have blown us over with a feather. They had just totally destroyed our future. We consulted with a lawyer, who agreed it was terrible what they did and that we could sue them for millions in lost profits. All we had to do was give him a fifty thousand dollar retainer and wait about ten years! When asked about what happened to justice he said words I will never forget. “In Canada it’s not about justice; it’s about how much justice you can afford”. It was over. Our fledgling little company was murdered by the Bank of Nova Scotia. I have lost a lot of sleep wondering why they pulled this stunt and all I could come up with is that somehow they got wind of the pending court action and wanted nothing to do with that, so they pulled the plug, knowing we had no money to defend ourselves. Like many people, they assumed we were guilty of some massive national conspiracy and they wanted no part of that. What happened to innocent until proven guilty?
In 1981 I decided I’d had enough of working for other people and decided to follow my father’s footsteps into Real Estate. I took the licensing course at Sheridan during the summer, coming in third in the class and I already had a position with Kyle-Jamieson Real Estate in Brampton. Unfortunately I had no sooner graduated than interest rates went off the charts and the market crashed. It was a real struggle but I would have made it had an idiot who owned Goodison Insurance not stopped me from assembling the mall expansion I had worked on for six months. I would probably still be selling commercial real estate today had I not crossed paths with him.
It took me some time to pick myself back up after all this went down. I somehow managed to get a job as Customer Service Manager for Indal Products. I looked after six customer service staff and it was a good job with good people. I met my two soul mates, Heather and Marie, here and we had the time of our lives. We worked hard but we also played hard. They kept me sane when my marriage was a sham and I never wanted to go home.
While I was at Indal I was approached by one of our customers, Ciro Gucciardi, to take over his patio door manufacturing division as General Manager. We negotiated a very aggressive and rewarding contract and I left Indal with their blessings. I should mention that Jon LeHoop, the President, was most supportive of me during my court troubles and he wrote a glowing reference for me, which helped a great deal. I thoroughly enjoyed the job at Clearview Industries because I got to have a pretty free hand at turning the business around because they had lost a hundred grand the year before. Unfortunately I did too good a job because, just as my contract was ending I got a call from the guy who had bought the company from Ciro. He said he was sorry, but he wanted to run the company and he had no position for me. I earned every one of my bonuses, something Ciro said I would never do, so I had some time to take a breather after working so hard.
During my time at Clearview I had installed their entire computer network, something I knew nothing about, but, after learning a company was going to charge TWO HUNDRED dollars an hour to do, I took on the job myself. After six long weeks I had a fully functional network up and running.
As I put my feet up at home thinking of what I would do next I started getting calls from people who knew I had installed the network, asking me to come and install theirs. With no real plan a new business was born and for the next sixteen years I did everything from network installations to teaching to cable installs to furniture. I worked incredibly hard but my one flaw was that I could not say “no” to any referral. I billed ninety-six hours in ONE week and wondered what I was doing. My doctor told me I was a poster child for a heart attack and I had better make some changes. At the time I had split with my wife and I was being forced to make appointments to see my kids. My mother, who lived out West, had also had a cancer scare in 1991 and she was not expected to live more than five more years. I felt that it was the right time to spend some time with her before it was too late, so I packed everything up and moved West.
My first job out west was consulting for Central Valley Trucks, at $18 an hour and not the $65 an hour I had been making in Toronto. The consulting did not transfer well because there were so many companies doing the consulting work for free, in hopes of getting the job. They generally sold product at ridiculously low margins as well so there was no money in the business thanks to them. There were too many dry spells when I made nothing. It got so bad that I ended up working in production at Western Star trucks for a time, until I got hurt and was off on compensation for a bit. I joined Northern Computer, where I brought in the largest contract in their seventeen year history and against thirty-five other competitors, many from Vancouver and even Dell direct. Word spread fast and I was approached by Shaw Fiberlink to take over the Okanagan Valley. It was the very best job I’d had in my life. It was hectic and I was dealing with every mover and shaker in the valley. Unfortunately, GT Group Telecom suddenly bought the business and decided to shut down the Okanagan. In a very short time they had let all 139 staff in the whole division go. They lost millions and it was a very dumb decision.
From there I worked for Pacific Cellular and Sunwest Cellular, both Rogers AT&T dealers. Not a bad job, but no money in it unless you are the dealer. I replied to a job posting for FBC (Farm Business Consultants) to be a road warrior. I would still be there because I loved that job too, mostly the travel, but I did too good a job. When the operations people could not handle the volume of business I was brining in my manager actually said the problem was that I was “selling too much”. A commissioned salesman and that was the problem? I knew they were about to fall apart and would want all my commissions back so I left.
That was way back in 2004 and was the last time I worked for a pay cheque for quite a while. My father died suddenly in May of 2005 and I had to care for my mother who had Alzheimer’s and could not be left alone. I cared for her, the hardest job I had ever done in my life, until she got into a care facility. I then took on a massive renovation of a dilapidated mobile home in Westbank, working fourteen hour days, seven days a week for a year and a half, completely gutting it and rebuilding everything from the ground up. Life is timing. The Sunday before I was to list it for sale, at about a hundred thousand dollar profit, one of the local native chiefs came out in the press saying that anyone who bought on native land was “stupid” because there was no tenancy and the prices were crazy. My own parents had lived on native land for thirty-five years without incident and sold their place for a tidy sum. I lost pretty well everything and had to flee the country to get out from under the stress. I couldn’t get financing and couldn’t pay my bills. It was torture and I knew I had to get away.
Panama was not much kinder to me. I worked for months on a renovation for a guy back in Kelowna, for which I never got paid, plus a Panamanian family who I had given sanctuary to ended up ripping me off for everything I owned and leaving me penniless. I had no choice but to return to Canada where my cousin was kind enough to offer me a roof over my head.
I ended up in London (another story) and landed a job working for a call centre marketing a trade show in Toronto. The company changed hands and I didn’t get paid for my last work and I left. In August, despite staying in shelters I managed to get a part-time job at Home Depot; however, after four months my contract wasn’t renewed when there was a large layoff for the slow season.
Today I have applied for ODSP and my disability pension through CPP. I am trying to get retrained under Ontario’s “Second Career” to become a facilitator and teach. I hope that this will be short-term and allow me to return to the Okanagan Valley that I love.