While a comfortable desk and a salary always were available to Bill Toole at the offices of Toole Peet on Second Street West, it wasn’t until he had proven himself on his own in the business world that Bill would agree to join the firm. Bill grew up and lived with his parents, Archer and Phoebe, in Calgary’s Elbow Park district when it was on the city’s southern perimeter. He completed his high school education at Trinity College School in Ontario. Unlike his father and his uncle, whose educations were ended abruptly by the family’s financial problems in Ireland, Bill was able to enjoy the benefits of the firm’s considerable success in Calgary and was able to continue on and receive his Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Alberta in 1949 and his Chartered Accountant designation in 1953.
In 1954, when Archer’s health was obviously failing, Bill left his promising career at Peat Marwick Mitchell and joined Toole Peet. “I knew my father needed my help,” he says today as he looks back over the years he has spent with the firm. The transition from accounting to managing a real estate, insurance, mortgage and property management business was both an opportunity and a challenge that Bill Toole considered carefully, knowing he had a very different leadership style than Archer.
While there were many resemblances between Archer and Bill, they had contrasting approaches to life. For example, they shared an enjoyment of athletics. However, while Archer was a determined competitor in many sports, Bill thoroughly enjoyed playing at a recreational level, particularly golf, in which he had a 5 handicap. Tall and muscular, although putting on a little extra girth in his seventies, Bill Toole still shows an evenness of movement despite his arthritis.
Perhaps because he hadn’t had responsibilities pushed upon him too early in life, as did his father and uncle, Bill matured at ease with himself and with the world. He developed a fine sense of humor and the ability to enjoy his family and friends, traits that were displayed in the office by his ability to reach goals and motivate others without sounding demanding. It is this self-confident, relaxed and informal manner that set the tone for the relationships he established within the Toole Peet office.
Now retired, he looks back on his first days at Toole Peet and notes that he didn’t consider his own lack of experience in the day-to-day operations to be a drawback as the firm already had a highly regarded insurance and real estate management team. The insurance side was managed by Sidney Robbins, who ran the General Agency, and George Eaton, who ran the Direct Agency. Furthermore, Jack Massier, a knowledgeable and exuberant young man with ten years of experience as an underwriter and field inspector, had just joined the firm and showed tremendous promise. On the real estate side, an industrious sales-minded Irishman, Ben Barrington, ran the operations. At this time, real estate sales had a high profile in the firm but insurance was beginning to gain ground as the city’s economy revitalized and new businesses required coverage.
“The economy of Calgary started to improve after the war. It didn’t boom ahead until Leduc – that started things going – and I don’t think it has ever really stopped since then. The oil industry has been the engine that has driven the City of Calgary and the Province of Alberta,” Bill Toole notes, adding: “While we have never been in the oil business, we have certainly benefited from the effect the oil business has had on the city and the province.”
Entrepreneurs began arriving daily after the Leduc discovery of 1947. Service companies supplying everything from drilling rigs to survey crews were kept busy as exploration companies maneuvred to bring in the biggest of the new fields.
“It was the time in the city’s history when you couldn’t ask for anything better.” Indeed, it was. The fifties and sixties were perhaps the era of the greatest changes in Calgary’s economic and cultural history. There was new money and new faces everywhere. Americans, for instance, quickly moved in with their oilfield expertise and, along with their habits, were absorbed into the community. As the city adjusted to the move away from a farming and ranching dominated economy, Toole Peet similarly adjusted its focus to maintain its position and serve its customers.
By nature a very steady person, Bill Toole withstood the early pressures on his leadership and made the required changes smoothly and profitably by placing his faith in the staff’s ability to help him make the right decisions. This faith proved justified.
“If you’ve got good people, you’ll have a good business,” Bill Toole says today as he recalls how he began to assign responsibilities within the firm.
While the bustle of the ever-expanding oil industry generated many new business opportunities for the firm, the prosperity it created also attracted competitors. For example, the firm’s decision to close its financial services operations and sell its seat on the Calgary Stock Exchange in 1963 was a direct result of competition from the national brokerage houses that were then opening up offices in Calgary.
1963 was a sad year for everybody involved with the firm as it was the year that Archer Toole died.
Like its insurance and real estate operations, Toole Peet’s financial services had continually evolved to meet the demands of the times. From providing mortgages on the CPR properties in the early 1900’s, the firm had expanded into securities trading as interest in the stock markets and other types of investments developed in the city. By the 1930’s it was underwriting everything from the speculative ventures of the Turner Valley oil companies to the public works programs of the province’s municipalities.
In 1938, Toole, Peet Investments Ltd. was formed as a separate entity to handle the securities transactions. Previously, these transactions were handled within the main company structure, but a few incidents involving the mishandling of funds by employees demonstrated the prudence of forming a separate company. While small incidents of employee dishonesty did not seriously jeopardize the firm, in 1938 a more significant amount of money went astray at a very inopportune time. Toole Peet had just closed an underwriting for an oil company when the firm learned its long-time bank wouldn’t cash the closing cheque. Instead of setting aside the proceeds of the underwriting to pay the oil company, the bank had arbitrarily applied the funds to settling a Toole Peet line of credit. Outraged, Barney Toole contacted the bank, which responded that it would honour the cheque – providing Barney would give the bank a look at his own personal financial statements. Even more outraged by this further assault on his credibility and reputation, Barney phoned the local Royal Bank manager who, based solely on the Toole Peet name, promptly agreed to cover the cheque. Toole Peet has been with the Royal Bank ever since. Ironically, more than 40 years later the first bank wanted to buy the Toole Peet building on Second Street to build the present day Bankers Hall complex. It turned out to be an expensive negotiation.