I spent just over six years with TransCanadaPipeLines, but it was spread out over a decade: from January 14, 1958 until August 25, 1961 and from September 1, 1965 until January 31, 1968; and they were all happy years.
I showed up for work in the Plant Accounting Department about 8:45 on Tuesday morning, January 14, 1958, and was introduced to all of the twenty-five employees under Hugh Hamilton’s management, three of whom were to become life-long friends: Brian Williams, from Liverpool, England; Gerry Hutchko (my boss) from Winnipeg, Manitoba; and Jean King, from Tara, Ontario. Jean was Hugh Hamilton’s secretary and, for some reason which I never did learn, immediately took a maternal interest in my welfare. During my time at TCPL she often steered me through the pitfalls of office politics and gave me much valuable advice in dealing with the myriad personalities that abounded. Brian, Gerry and I just seemed to hit it off from day one, sharing a lively sense of humour, love of sports, a keen interest in politics, and cigars.
I wanted to get right into an accounting course and both Gerry and Brian urged me to enroll in the Registered Industrial Accountants program (now known as Certified Management Accountants). Brian was in his second or third year and Gerry already had his RIA designation. I followed their advice and enrolled. Just as with the CPA subjects I’d taken the year before, I thoroughly enjoyed the study and assignments. By the time I left TCPL in 1961 to enter the Chartered Accountants course, I’d completed almost three years of the RIA program and had done very well in all the exams I’d written, including a mark in the high 90s in Economics.
Under the tutelage of the more senior people in the department, but particularly Gerry and Brian, there wasn’t a day went by that I didn’t learn something about accounting and finance. I seemed to be doing well, which was evidenced a couple of months after I joined TCPL by being chosen as the back-up for six “construction clerks” who were sent to various parts of western Canada to act as financial managers of particular multi-million-dollar projects. At nineteen, I was the youngest by at least ten years, so I saw it as quite a compliment. The idea was that I would work with the most experienced clerk and be available should one of the six become ill or leave.
On April 12, 1958, I once again left my cozy nest at McBride’s, this time to travel to Burstall, Saskatchewan, with Ian MacDonald, the oldest and most experienced of the six full-fledged construction clerks. Ian was from Edinburg, Scotland, and had worked on major construction projects all over the world. We made the 1,800 mile trip in Ian’s 1955 Pontiac and travelled through Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, Manitoba and Saskatchewan (Burstall, where the pipeline began, is just inside the Alberta/Saskatchewan border), the first time I’d been in any of those states or provinces.
Because I didn’t have to spend every minute with Ian, the Superintendent on the job, an engineer from Australia by the name of Al Chapman, often gave me other tasks to perform. As a result, not only did I learn just about everything there was to learn about construction accounting, but I also learned a lot about pipelines generally and compressor stations in particular. (Compressor stations, sometimes called pumping stations, are placed every couple of hundred miles along the pipeline and actually push the gas along.) I got to know many other TCPL employees, some of whom eventually became senior executives with TCPL and other utility companies. Also, two summer students I worked with at Burstall went on to illustrious careers outside of pipelining: Doug Mitchell became the commissioner of the Canadian Football League and Tom Kayln became Red Skelton’s manager.
Bunkhouses had been built on the site, which was about ten miles from Burstall, but Ian and I rented the attic of one of the few modern houses in the village. We had breakfast and dinner at the White Café, one of the two restaurants in the village. Pearl, who ran the café, would also pack a lunch for us.
Even though building the pipeline was of utmost importance to the country, we didn’t work on Saturday or Sunday. As Burstall was nothing more than a village in an isolated area I took off somewhere on most weekends, at first either with Ian or in a car borrowed from another colleague, engineer Jim Robertson, and later in a ’51 Buick I bought for $900. I visited Regina, Saskatoon, Humboldt, Medicine Hat (many times, as it was the closest city), Lethbridge, Calgary (a couple of times), Edmonton, and Banff.
Then in early August, it happened: one of the construction clerks quit. He’d been at the compressor station site at Caron, Saskatchewan, a hamlet a few miles west of Moose Jaw. I packed my belongings in my old Buick, said good-bye to as many of my colleagues and acquaintances as I could, and by dinner time had checked into the Grant Hall hotel in Moose Jaw, where I stayed until the compressor station construction was completed in early December. It may seem like an extravagance to live in a very nice hotel, but I was making $540 a month and the hotel was happy to have a “permanent” guest for $30 a week. There was a Husky gas station about half way to Caron that had a great restaurant so I had breakfast and lunch there. I’d have dinner at a different place every night, making the rounds of the Grant Hall itself, the Harwood (the other decent hotel in town), the CPR railroad station, and one of two or three pretty good greasy spoons. On a few occasions I was invited to the homes of some of the young people I befriended in Moose Jaw.
Although it was clearly unusual for a nineteen-year-old to be the money man (absolutely nothing got paid – not even wages—without my approval) on a multi-million dollar project (it would probably be a billion dollars in today’s money) no one seemed to be bothered by it, neither Head Office in Toronto nor the Superintendent at Caron (a wonderful man from Toronto by the name of Bill Ruffo), so I didn’t see any point in worrying about it either. As it turned out everything went smoothly and I returned to Plant Accounting in Toronto with my reputation intact. I was very glad to get back to Toronto, even though my salary dropped from $540 a month to $275.
I’d saved a fair amount of money during my time in Saskatchewan, even after trading in the ’51 Buick on a ’57 Pontiac (I didn’t want to chance driving from Saskatchewan to Toronto in the Buick during the winter) so I wasn’t too worried about finances. Things got even better when I joined Ian, Pete Scheirich (who had been a construction clerk near his home town of Winnipeg, and who has remained a life-long friend), and another chap from general accounting at TCPL named Murray Balcolm (from Nova Scotia and whom I never saw again after I left TCPL the first time) in a spacious two-bedroom apartment (number 600) at 412 Eglinton Avenue East, a short walk from TCPL’s new office location at 150 Eglinton Avenue East. My share of the rent (which included parking and all utilities except telephone) was $60 a month. We shared food costs at the apartment, which was not a great expense.
By July, 1961, I was a Senior Clerk in Plant Accounting making $350 per month and still living with my three friends and colleagues in the apartment at 412 Eglinton East. I was also dating a girl from the Personnel Department (Human Resources in today’s parlance). One night she told me that she’d been looking through my personnel file and wondered why I was taking the RIA course when CAs made a lot more money. She said CAs held nearly all the senior executive accounting and financial positions with TCPL.
The next day I told Gerry Hutchko about this conversation. He confirmed what I’d been told but went on to explain that in order to take the CA course a minimum of high school graduation was required and you had to work for a firm of chartered accountants while taking the necessary correspondence courses from Queens University in Kingston. Having left school at the end of grade ten I would not qualify. I also spoke to another TCPL friend, Dave Mair, who had been in the CA program but left it to come to work at TCPL. Dave suggested I approach the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Ontario to see if they would consider allowing me into the program as a “mature student.”
I looked up the address of The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Ontario, got Gerry Hutchko’s permission to take some time off and headed down to the Institute’s office at 69 Bloor St. East. Little did I know as I walked through the front door that I would eventually spend thousands of hours in that building.
I told the receptionist that I was interested in enrolling in the CA course. She asked me to take a seat and then made a telephone call. A few minutes later a young lady came through an inner door and said she would take me in to see someone (whose name I’ve unfortunately forgotten) who could help me.
Maybe he could, but as it turned out he wouldn’t.
Next week: The CAs Don’t Want Me.