Except for the year we were married (1969) Anne and I always spent our summer holidays on PEI. One day in July of 1974 I had lunch at the Charlottetown Yacht Club with Ralph Manning (no relation to Randy, even though they were both originally from Nova Scotia). Ralph headed up his own firm of chartered accountants in Charlottetown and had a working association with Coopers & Lybrand where, of course, I was now a well-established partner. It was a glorious sunny day, and as Ralph and I walked back to his office he said to me, “Why don’t you move back to PEI and become a partner with us?”
I remarked that I’d probably have to take an unacceptable cut in earnings, to which Ralph said something along the lines of “don’t be too sure.” When we arrived back at his office we talked about it some more and he showed me their financial statements, proving that Ralph and his partners did very well financially. Taking into consideration the difference in the cost of living between Toronto and Charlottetown, my net worth actually wouldn’t suffer too much. I also learned that Ralph had already cleared the offer with his partners, Jack Mulligan, Ernie Brennan, and Mike O’Brien, all of whom I knew well and respected, and that they were on side. I told him I’d discuss it with Anne and give it some thought.
When I arrived back at our cottage at Lakeside I told Anne about the offer. Our older son Matthew was a little over two years old and, although we didn’t know it at the time, Anne was pregnant with Alan. She was very enthusiastic, especially over the prospect of being near her parents and brothers.
In addition, we were so blinded by the good weather, our love of the beach at Lakeside, being around so many of our friends (we completely overlooked the fact that most of them were only there during their summer vacations), and the prospect of a more relaxed life, that we didn’t even consider the possible negative consequences, which, as it transpired, were substantial. We started looking for a house the next day.
I called Ralph and told him we had had a deal, subject to a couple of conditions: I wouldn’t tell my Toronto partners until I got back to the office after my vacation, and I wouldn’t leave Toronto until the end of November. He agreed, and the period of temporary insanity had officially begun.
The real estate market in PEI during the summer of 1974 was nothing like it is today, so house hunting wasn’t much fun. As there were absolutely no suitable houses for sale in Charlottetown we started looking in the countryside near the city. We found a century old French provincial on St. Peter’s Road in Dunstaffnage that we thought had potential. We put in an offer that was immediately accepted, even though it was below the asking price, which should have been our first clue that this house wouldn’t be Paradise, a clue that we completely missed, which I guess sometimes happens in the euphoria of temporary insanity.
I returned to Toronto and informed my partners that I would be leaving the firm at the end of November, a clear indication that I really was temporarily insane (no sane person would move to PEI at the beginning of winter). I don’t remember why I chose the end of November, perhaps there was a four-month notice requirement in Coopers’ partnership agreement or, more likely, I just felt it would take that long to wrap up everything on the Toronto end. In any event, it turned out to be a very bad choice.
One surprising aspect of my departure was that even though I was going to be a thousand miles away in PEI, many of my clients opted to remain with me rather than deal with someone else at Coopers in Toronto. I was pleased that my soon-to-be former partners in Toronto had no problem with this, but as it turned out, agreeing to service Toronto clients from Charlottetown was another indication that I was temporarily insane because I ended up making at least two trips a month to Toronto, for periods ranging from three to five days each.
We put our Toronto house on the market. In the fall of 1974 the Toronto real estate market was anything but hot and the house had still not sold when we loaded the car on Monday, December 2nd (including our nasty cat), told the moving truck driver we’d see him in PEI (which we never did), and headed east.
Just outside Montreal we hit a snowstorm, which by the time we reached Riviere du Loup was a full-fledged blizzard. We managed to get a room in a hotel near the highway, struggled to get our overnight bags (and the crate containing the nasty cat) into our room on the second floor. As it was nearly ten o’clock when we arrived, the restaurant was closed and dinner for Anne and me consisted of chocolate bars and cokes from the vending machines. Anne had packed appropriate food for Matthew, but we must have given him a chocolate bar and a drink or two of coke (I really don’t remember) because our normally well-behaved son spent the entire night bouncing off the walls.
By morning the storm had passed but we had snow-covered roads most of the way to Moncton where we ran into warmer weather and rain. When we arrived in Charlottetown we checked into the MacLaughlin Motel on Grafton Street. The thought was that we’d probably beat the moving van by a day or two and the MacLaughlin was centrally located, well-run, and had a nice restaurant. It turned out to be our home for a week.
The next day it was still raining hard, the importance of which will soon become apparent. After breakfast I dropped off Anne and Matthew at her old home to spend some time with her parents while I went to my new place of work. I was anxious to touch base with my new partners and see my new digs. It got off to a pretty rocky start when Ralph Manning took me around to the office that had been assigned to me. It was no bigger than a large broom closet and had no outside windows. I told him it was completely unacceptable and that I’d work in their meeting room until the problem could be solved. When he asked where they’d hold meetings I told him to hold them in one of the other partners’ offices, all of which were quite large. (The meeting room remained my office until the firm was able to rent space in the attached building next door and actually knock down a wall giving me an adequate working space and a couple of outside windows.)
The rest of the morning with my new partners went fine and I was able to give some tax advice to a couple of clients. My new partners were very pleased to hear that a number of my Toronto clients would now be their clients too, including the well-known ones like Anne Murray and a number of NHL hockey players.
My Toronto files were still on the moving truck and other than return a few telephone calls to people in Toronto there really wasn’t anything else for me to do at the office so I picked up Anne and Matthew and we headed out to Dunstaffnage to check out our new house. I was still annoyed about not having an office but that quickly disappeared when we turned off the highway onto our lane. Back in the summer we didn’t really take note of the fact that the driveway was not paved or graveled. It was now150 feet of absolute quagmire, passable neither by car nor on foot. And it was still raining hard.
I had already told Anne about the office problem and when we saw the driveway I said, “Well, it can’t get any worse than this.”
It could and it did.