1967 was a special year for Canada. Confederation of the provinces was now 100 years old. There was excitement in the air. Expo 67 was a major event of which many a Canadian and American attended. The Montreal site was actually created out of a small piece of soil right in the middle of the St Lawrence river. 1967 was also the year that Bill Howard founded a very small little company in Oakville, Ontario.
Originally Bill had thought to partner with a gentleman who was somewhat of a mechanical wizard, but at the last moment and having cold feet the fellow decided to stay where he was working in a hospital. So it was that Bill, on his own, without benefit of savings, pensions or income, walked out of the house and began life as a self employed man. There were a lot of reasons why these early years could have turned out badly. Without revenue there was very little chance of securing space and buying any machinery.
These early years were very tough. Without a major company behind him or a product to sell, Bill soon realized he needed a calling card. That calling card turned out to be two distinct products: Schmidt Printing Inks and Star Parts.
Schmidt was a very well known ink supplier in Germany and Western Europe, but had little presence in Canada. They had, however, purchased a building in Montreal and were manufacturing inks there. The initial lines were Palette 67 process and web inks. Bill was able to secure the sales rights for the Province of Ontario. Star Parts was an American company in Hackensack, New Jersey. They were suppliers of a wide range of products for Intertype and Linotype machinery. Everything from space bands to Quaders could be sold as at this time as typecasting was still the largest segment of what would soon be referred to as Pre-press.
The association with Star Parts soon ended, but Howard stayed with Schmidt for almost 14 years even adding to it with the Varn Products line. Roller recovery was just starting to get popular. Many letterpress printers were still using gelatin rollers and new rubber compounds were expensive. Bill found a small rubber recovery company and would offer platen and cylinder rollers for exchange. Knife sharpening (although we never owned a knife grinder) was also supplied as a service. If memory serves correct, a typical 50” knife picked-up, sharpened and returned was about $15.00.
But, what Bill really wanted to do was buy and sell machinery and composing equipment. The latter was made up of Ludlow and Linotype casters, Elrod ruling machines, Nolan re-melt furnaces and lots of type – type cases and composing stones. It was not unusual at all that Bill arrived home with a trunk full of steel galleys that the family chipped in to dip in rust remover and clean up.
599 Third Line in Oakville was the site of Bill’s first shop. It was initially in the back of his neighbor’s machine shop. However, the neighbor suddenly died and while the widow was sorting out the real estate Bill was allowed to rent the whole building. It could not have been any more than 800 square feet.
Up front went the inks on shelves, out back the first machine of memory - a Webendorfer Chief 20. This machine was a little 14” x 20” offset press and made well before Webendorfer sold the rights to ATF (American Type Founders). Over the next year and still without any bank line of credit, Bill forged ahead not given to know exactly where “ahead” was but just trying to keep one step ahead of the bank.
Banks were always a sore topic for Bill. It has been suggested during the recent events of 2008 that somehow Canada’s banks proved the US Banking system wrong. Conceptually maybe, but if you lived the life of a very small business owner as Bill did, you would not feel that way. Many a time as if seemingly out of malice, cheques would be returned NSF (non sufficient funds). The banker Bill dealt with did not encourage or provide any sort of incentive to help Bill as so many US banks would have done. Bill never forgot that and warned us all of the perils and dangers of relying on the Banks. These were tough times and never far off was the fear of failure and no safety net in site.
As 1969 approached so did the need to move again. The building was sold, and Bill found another small location in the back of a printer at 250 Speers Road in Oakville. Hampered by the lack of loading docks (it was all ground level) Bill went out and purchased a small trailer for his car. With this trailer, he could now pick up all sorts of small equipment himself. One story he loved to tell was the time he overloaded the trailer and it actually lifted the front tires of his car off the road. This meant he couldn’t steer. Back in those days, things like this would happen time and time again.
The Speers Rd location didn’t last long. Next up was 2333 Sovereign Street in Oakville. This was an old dilapidated building in a residential neighborhood. The place lacked heat as it had an old oil burning furnace that rarely worked. But, it was much larger and available at a good price.
The business was tinkering along during the day so the move precipitated Bill purchasing a used stake truck and he along with a friend, ended up moving in the middle of some hot summer nights. The endless hours and work involved is clearly remembered including one such sortie when all of a sudden Bill’s friend Frank (who was driving the truck) braked in a small intersection to jump out and retrieve a part that had fallen off on an earlier trip.
The winters in this old barn of a place are etched in our memory. The taps always froze so if we wanted to boil some water for tea we’d have to go outside to a neighbors tap or melt snow. Saturdays were busy when printers would come by looking for a font or two, some quoins, maybe a riglet cabinet and if they wanted a hand fed platen or hand lever paper cutter that was huge. But winters meant keeping our coats on all day.
On July 17, 1971, fire struck a shed next to the building. It quickly spread to Bill’s shop and, in between, was his parked truck. Someone said it was lucky the whole place didn’t burn down. Unfortunately, Bill had very little insurance and realized he’d have to move and fast. Cawthra Rd, Mississauga was the next location. This time with a dock!.
2399 Cawthra was a brand new strip mall of about 40 units. Each unit was about 2,500 square feet and what luxury to get a fresh place with an office (simulated wood grain paneling was awesome) and no more frozen pipes. A heaven of sorts but at a much higher cost than before. 2399 was a whole new start.