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Sunday, 7 October 2012

Working in Montreal 1964-1970

It is my own personal belief that you can piss away your twenties travelling and trying a variety of jobs as long as you find something along the way that is going to provide you with a decent income for the rest of your life. I say this in hindsight. For the first part of my working career, particularly in Montreal, other than the last job I held there, I didn’t think I was learning an awful lot that would help me later.
Altough I left Montreal around 1970 with no plan of returning, I did come back for a few months in 1972 because of a family emergency. It was always easy to pick up a job as a waiter and that is exactly what I did. In fact I worked at 3 different places in that short time before catching a plane to Calgary and a 2nd tour of duty at the Banff Springs Hotel.
I was a waiter at Miss Montreal. I remember their flaming Pu-pu platters, their soggy coleslaw, and that some of the waitresses were groupies of the jockeys who raced horses at Blue Bonnets.
I got a job in room service at The Airport Hilton. I had to wear a kind of a costume that included a brightly coloured shirt and a string tie, a vest, and a sash around my waist. One day I was picking up empty trays from outside the rooms and was pushing a cart. I came around a corner (the building was circular) and noticed a guy in a shark skin suit on a pay phone. Our eyes met and we recognized one another. No words were spoken but I was deeply embarrassed.
The other place I worked at in those months was a restaurant near the Dorval airport (Mirabel didn’t exist then) called Le Vieux Amsterdam (The Old Amsterdam) that specialized in Indonesian food. They seemed to put fried eggs on a lot of things and peanut sauce was prevalent. One of the regulars was Dickie Moore, a former Montreal Canadiens hockey star. He always had an admiring posse with him. The tips were great at the restaurant but it became time to move along.
Before beginning my saga about the jobs I held as a young guy in Montreal I would like to add a few things.
Back in those days there were some people I knew that seemed to have kind of wriiten me off as a loser in life. Quite possibly because I was a high school drop out.
I did OK in life starting when I was about 28 when I really got into sales. I ended up starting my own business that was quite successful. I may have dropped out of high school but I wasn’t stupid.

The following is a list of most of the jobs I worked at in Montreal from the age of 17 to about 23. They aren’t all in order as far as time goes because…it is hard to remember everything.
The first job I ever got a paycheque from was working as a salesclerk in the men’s department downstairs at Morgan’s (later The Bay) on Queen Mary Road in an area called Snowden. I was hired along with a friend for the Christmas season. I remember the viyella shirts. Although the job only lasted a month or so, I continued to use the store manager as a reference for the next year or two which must have pleased him to no end.
In early 1964 I dropped out of high school and spent a couple of months, if that long, working at Nymark’s Lodge up in the Laurentians by St.Sauveur. The story about Nymark’s Lodge can be found elsewhere on my blog.

Speaking of the Laurentians…does anyone ever wonder who this St. Laurence guy was? He sure had a lot of things named after him for for a guy who never knew that Quebec even existed. The mountains, a river, a market, a street, a district in Montreal. Even a brand of sugar.
J. P. Porter and Sons was a dredging company located in downtown Montreal. I was hired to work in their accounting department. My specific job entailed using a manual adding machine hour after hour after hour. My responsibility was to check the payroll to see if any errors had been made. I worked with a gay guy and a woman who wore glasses and was about 35. The two of them would chat a bit with one another from time to time but never invited me in on the conversation. It was a lonely 8 hours. I was being paid $160.00 a month for this drudgery. I don’t think I ever discovered anything bigger than a 15 cent overpayment.
About once a week I would be sent down to the main bank in Place D’ Armes with some bank drafts to be deposited. An old guy who had some kind of nervous disorder would shakily hand me the bank drafts in a brown envelope along with a 6 cent bus ticket. I used the bus ticket the first time I went to the bank but quickly figured out that I could make better time walking than taking the bus. I would cut through the underground mall beneath the Place Ville Marie.
One day, upon returning to the office after my trip to the bank I was ushered into the old guy’s office, given a lecture on honesty, and fired on the spot.
A few years later I was reading the local paper (The Star or Gazette) when I came across an interesting article. J.P. Porter & Sons, along with some competitors had been charged with price fixing and collusion in their dredging operations. Go big or go home I guess.
The longest office job I ever had in Montreal lasted 9 months. It was at a company called Bailey Meter and they were located in Westmount near Greene Avenue. I can’t remember exactly what I did there. I know it involved some filing and sitting at a desk. I worked with a confusing goofy (to me at least) engineer named Grant. They had an interesting concept as far as training engineers. They hired some young guys from places like Western University who would alternate one semester at school with an equal term working at the Montreal office.
When I first started at Bailey Meter I was designated as the guy to go to if there was a problem with the new Xerox photocopier. Any training I had as far as trouble shooting with the copier mostly went in one ear and out the other. One day I was called to fix a paper jam. I forgot about pulling some lever and the copier drum was ruined and the company was given a hefty bill for a new one. I was no longer the go to guy. The irony of it all is that a number of years later I became a copier salesman and sold well over a million dollars of them in the Vancouver area.
Bailey Meter made control panels. I seem to remember vaguely something about pitot tubes. At any rate, in the early 1970s I did a couple of stretches in some pulp mills in British Columbia and I actually got to see the Bailey Meter control panels in action. They recorded the flow of something or other and produced the results on a circular chart. TMI?
I don’t think I lasted more than a few days at the Maison Danoise (The Danish House), a Scandanavian furniture store in the mall underneath the Place Ville Marie. The woman that ran the place was a bit of a tyrant. ( It think she was one of the owners.) It was kind of hard to look busy in an empty store and my eyes got sore looking at Atlas Copco frying pans in catalogues. I was given the quick heave-ho.
I worked in the stock transfer department of Canada Permanent Trust. One of my tasks was to check out the authenticity of share forms. I did this at what kind of looked like a bank wicket. A lot of these stock certificates had very detailed drawn pictures on them. I remember the Massey-Ferguson and the Massey-Harris ones. They made some mighty fine looking tractors.
The guy that ran the place seemed like an affable type but I still managed to get called into his office to be fired. It seems that he had got wind of the fact that I really didn’t have a place to stay and that I had been crashing on one of the office secretary’s couches. Apparently this was a no-no. Who knew?
I spent a few months working for the Canadian Pacific Railway. In a way it was like having two jobs. In the morning I would catch a bus to the Place Viger train station east of downtown Montreal. I worked in the “on hand” department tracing shipments. It was quite common to find mice turds on top of the boxes of thin paper slips. The building was so old that I swear I saw the silent movie cowboy actor Tom Mix’s name scratched onto the washroom door.
In the afternoon I would catch a bus to the garment district at the north end of St Lawrence Boulevard where I would hang around as a CPR guard by the freight elevators in a building that housed sweatshops. The owners were all Jewish and the seamstresses were mostly French. One of the companies in the building was Cortez Clothing. I think the address was 9600 St. Lawrence Boulevard.
I got to share those afternoons with a French guy who didn’t speak English and he was a guard for CN. For some reason he thought I was fair game to be teased. He would take little pieces of fake fur and make it look like a dead rat and toss it at me. One day I got tired of his teasing and throttled him. Needless to say my afternoons by the elevator shaft were over.
I did a short stint as a waiter at a bar/restaurant off of Decarie Boulevard. It  was called The White Elephant Pub. It didn’t take me long to figure out that the place was mobbed up. I got fired during a barbershop convention for pouring a waitress a free drink after she continually cajoled me into providing her with one. That was one creepy place.
I spent a couple of months working on construction in 1966 at the Western Canada Pavilion at Expo 67. This story is also on my blog.
I worked for a company called Canadian Refractories at their order desk for a number of months. They manufactured fire clay bricks used in industrial kilns in places like pulp and paper mills. They had a warehouse off of Decarie Boulevard. One day I was sent out there to get familiar with the product. At lunch time I asked some guy if it was OK if I took the forklift for a spin through the plant and he said OK. I sped down one the aisles and yanked the steering wheel to make a turn and the forklift went up on two wheels. It scared the living crap out of me. I handed the keys back.
I had lied on my job application saying that I was taking university night courses at Sir George Williams (now Concordia University) when I was actually taking night courses to get my high school matriculation. Little did I know when I was filling out the form that my boss was in his 3rd year at the same place trying to get his Bachelor of Arts at night.
I managed to keep the ruse going for a few months and then my boss called me into his office and fired me. He also offered me some advice. “Stay out of sales.” he said. It was an interesting comment. I’ve spent most of my adult life in sales and have done very well at it, thank you very much!
I think I lasted about 6 months as a sales clerk at Hughes Owens store on Mansfield Street. Oddly enough, the building where I worked was either the exact spot or the lot next to where my mother grew up in a walk up apartment building that had been torn down. Her parents lived there until the 1950s.
Hughes Owens sold artist supplies. Winsor Newton and Grumbacher  were two of the brand names of oil and acrylic paints they marketed. They also sold drafting supplies. There isn’t much more boring than standing around a quiet store all day. There were a few eccentric artists that frequented the store. One guy had a heavy accent and was from somewhere in Europe and bought scads and scads of supplies. He must have been pretty good because his wife would turn up with him wearing an expensive fur coat. I can’t recall why I was fired from this job. What I can remember is meeting my friend Jay Simpson for lunch each workday at a greasy spoon that had a waitress with amazingly large breasts. Waitresses weren’t getting boob jobs back then.
I did a hitch for a few months in the hardware department at Simpson’s in Fairview Shopping Centre out in Pointe Claire. I became really good friends with a guy at work named Gil Bushe who was East Indian. We went fishing once on Lake St. Louis with some other guys from work and I had to get lathered with Noxema when I got home because I had not bothered to use any suntan lotion. Gil had a Jewish girlfriend who ditched him for someone else. An itersting mix of religions.  We once drove down to Massachusetts in his Mustang with a cracked windshield. Gil would get that car up to over 130 MPH and I almost crapped my pants hoping that the windshield wouldn’t cave in. I remember we were driving through the mountains somewhere in New England and a car was tailing us quite closely using us as a guide. We went around a corner and Gil turned off the car headlights. It scared the bejesus out of the guy behind us when he turned the lights back on. Gil was a fun guy.
After being at Simpson’s for a few months I was called into the store manager’s office. Apparently the department stores in Montreal kept records of anyone who they ever caught shoplifting. When I was about 14 I got caught trying to swipe a red ascot from Eaton’s downtown store. A red ascot, what was I thinking?
The long and the short of it the store was going to let me go. There were no second chances. Fair enough I guess. What really cheesed me off is the manager showed me a life magazine he was reading that had an article with pictures of naked hippies. I remember him asking me about the state of young people at the time. I wanted to tell him “Look Jack, you just canned me for some lousy ascot I stole when I was 14 and now you want to have a philosophical discussion about the morals of hippies?” What a jerk!
All in all I think I spent about 10 months working on the trains as a waiter in 1967 and 1968. I plan on writing a short story about those days.
The last job I had in Montreal was working as a procurement clerk for an industrial machine manufacturing company out on Cote Vertu Road in St.Laurent. The pay was $70.00 a week. The Company was called Alceco Machine Manufacturing. They built industrial presses. The place was run by two brothers and they had a financial partner who was a German guy with a very shiny face. Someone told me that the siny look was the result of some injections he had in Europe to make him look younger. One day the German guy’s wife took me aside and told me that her daughter was mixed up with one of the Cotroni brothers (Mafia guys) and that her daughter couldn’t get away from them. Why she picked me to tell her story to I’ll never know.
The workers in the plant were all Greeks except for the shipping guy who was German. Sometimes at lunch the German guy would tell me stuff about WW2 not being the Germans fault. I wasn’t buying any of it. The workers all wore dark blue lab coats. I was living in a frat house at the time at the top of University Street in downtown Montreal and it turned out that the Greek guys all lived on the east side of Mount Royal not far away from where I lived. A deal was struck for a fee where I would get a lift from the Greeks to and from work. I can still remember the gold teeth shining in the dark when they picked me up in the early morning and the smell of garlic that floated around in that crowded car.
I had a desk in a room that looked out on the shop floor. Behind me were several occupied draftsmen desks. There was one draftsman I really liked. I think his last name was Eric Bishof. He was from somewhere in Europe and had a great sense of humour. He once told me a story about picking up a hitchhiker. After a few miles the hitchhiker started to complain about it being cold in the car. The complaining went on for a while. Eric stopped the car and asked the hitchhiker to get out and see if there was a flat tire. While the guy was checking the tires Eric slowly drove off. The hitchhiker started to run after the car. Each time he got close Eric accelerated a bit. By now the hitchhiker was panting. Finally Eric stopped the car and told the guy to get in the car. “What the hell did you do that for?” the hitchhiker demanded. “Are you warm enough now?” Eric responded.
Although the money wasn’t great I thought I was learning something and I took a lot of pride in the job I was doing. I was making some work decisions on my own. I saved the company some money a few times by buying materials wisely through negotiating. By all accounts I was performing well.
I used my week of vacation time to travel down to the US with a friend. On the way we stopped in Magog, Quebec to get a tour of a foundry where molds were made of different parts of the presses the company I was working for manufactured. A foundry is kind of a primitive place and the basic process is over a thousand years old.
I blew every last cent I had on my vacation. When I returned to work the following week I was told that I was going to be laid off. It would be fair to say I was deeply disappointed.


I went on to a variety of jobs over the next number of years and worked all over Canada. Some of those jobs were better than others. In 1976 I went for an interview at an office equipment company in Vancouver called Benndorf-Verster Ltd. It was there that I discovered my niche was is sales.
In the past few years I have been somewhat amused about the concept of hard work and people succeeding because of it. In the US they sometimes call it The American Dream.
Hard work to me is the guy who digs a ditch with a shovel, the 70 year old greeter at Wal-Mart standing on a concrete floor all day, immigrants who work in sweatshops doing piece work, the fruit and vegetable pickers out in the hot sun all day, the welders working a few hundred feet up on a bridge. (Is this starting to sound like The Grapes of Wrath?)
The reality is that very few toil 12 hours a day and work on weekends trying to build a business. Most of those that do are folks who come from very poor countries and are willing to do whatever it takes but they aren’t the average person trying to be successful.
I’ve known all kinds of people in life who have started small businesses. Yes they put in some extra hours for the first year or two but it wasn’t exactly hard labour. In no time they were back out on the golf course and eating in fine restaurants and driving new cars. Or they failed because they didn’t know what they were doing and didn’t understand their marketplace.
To me, working three jobs just to have a roof over your head and making sure the kids are fed is hard work. Not so much wearing soft Italian shoes and wining and dining a big customer.
Having had so many crummy jobs earlier in life, later on when I owned my own business, I always paid my employees a decent wage. It just seemed like the right thing to do,




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