Toole Peet 1897 - 1997

An Enduring Partnership

Barney Toole and George Peet arrived in Canada from Ireland in the late 1800’s with virtually no possessions. They both, however, had an unanswerable sense of honesty and an unending belief in the value of work. They built their business in the frontier farming and ranching town of Calgary upon that reputation and it has endured. Four generations later, the city and its commerce have changed. But the Toole Peet style hasn’t. Enjoy reading about the first 100 years of Toole Peet and in turn a History of the beautiful City of Calgary.

Barney Stands By His Friends

The Landcaster building will be completed!

Of immediate concern to Toole Peet was the construction of the Lancaster Building which Canada Life was financing. Owned by the well-known and highly regarded Mackie family, the Lancaster Building was just underway when financial problems arose and it looked as if Canada Life was preparing to halt the project. Resolutely, Barney Toole told the life insurance company directors that they weren’t going to halt the former mayor’s project. In his most domineering manner, he told the directors that, basically, he was in charge, and the financing would continue. Furthermore, if they didn’t like that, and they were foolish enough to stop the project on their own, then it was likely they would never write another policy in the west. The project was completed to its full ten stories, the rents collected, and the financing repaid – just as Barney Toole had said it would be.

While his willingness to stand by his friends always kept Barney Toole in high regard in business circles, he was also a good friend to all who sought to do business with the firm. A widow, just as the war ended, brought in a Victory Bond to sell. She had been quoted a low price at a competitor’s and wanted to see what Toole Peet would offer. The bond manager, realizing the widow didn’t know that the market value of the bond was considerably higher than the price she had been quoted, saw a chance to make a little extra profit by offering her only slightly more than the competition. He approached Barney Toole for authorization and was bluntly told that Toole Peet would pay fairly: the full market price!

And so, while other businesses struggled, Toole Peet flourished. Although the twenties have been glamorized, probably simply because they were slightly better than the thirties, they were a hard era. Technology – such as radios, movies and automobiles – may have made life more bearable but the reality was that the only prosperous years were 1928 and 1929. Cattle and wheat prices were good. In Calgary, the Hudson’s Bay Company enlarged its premises and T.C.Eaton’s built its first store. The Glenmore Dam project was started and became an employer of the many workers who could not find other work during the depression of the thirties. As a painful signal of things to come, by 1931, Toole Peet’s profits had dropped by half as many other businesses started to fail.

It was, however, during the twenties that Archer Toole hit his stride in Calgary’s real estate market and became a tremendous asset to the firm. He was a founding member of the original Calgary Real Estate Board in the late twenties. Combining his own talents with the business connections of Barney, Archer acted at least once as agent for almost every building that changed hands in the city’s downtown core which ran from First Street West to Eighth Street West along Eighth Avenue.

Typical of the real estate properties the firm controlled, as agents for the owners and as property managers, were the four major properties of the Langman family. The Langman’s owned: 100 feet of warehouse on Eighth Avenue, where Penny Lane is today; The Somerset Building on the northwest corner of Eighth Avenue and Fourth Street; The Langman Building on the northeast corner of Eighth Avenue and Third Street, where TD Square is today; and the Georgeson Building. The latter building was a restaurant and three storey walk-up opposite the Hudson’s Bay and, according to those who remember it, was “a very poor structure on a good site.”

With the firm’s access to financing, few of their real estate clients ever felt the need to leave the Toole Peet fold. Toole Peet did it all, from collecting rents to selling insurance and stocks and bonds. Each department referred new clients to the other departments and the business survived while other concerns struggled.

Barney's Astute Real Estate Purchase

During the twenties the firm purchased the land adjacent to the Canada Life Building (now Bankers Hall) and was able to move around the corner into its own quarters which faced Second Street West between Eighth and Ninth Avenues. That year, 1926, Barney retired from his full time position with Canada Life and took on a lesser role as an adviser. Symbolically, the two firms never separated for many more years as an umbilical cord – a hot water pipe – ran between the two buildings

mahogany Counter at Toole Peet Insurance

The choice and the purchase of the new site and the construction of the offices were initiated by Barney, despite the foot dragging of the partners. “… I was, and am, strongly of the opinion that we should remain on the ground floor at all costs, and as close as possible to the corner which we occupied for so many years in the Canada Life Building,” he wrote afterwards.

Well, here we are in a splendid location and in an office building providing facilities which are unequalled in the City. I feel, in view of the opposition and apathy during early negotiations, that I am responsible for our owning this location, and that if I had shown the same apathy and indifference as other members of the firm, we would not have been here.

Barney Toole
Jim Garner, George Eaton, Sidney Robbins Bill Toole and Jack Massier outside Toole Peet Insurance

The building at 809 Second Street S.W. became a landmark where several generations of customers were greeted by a beautiful mahogany counter over which they transacted their business.

A vault in the basement stored the securities. Customers with confidential business to discuss were taken into the private offices of the senior management or, possibly, upstairs to the senior partners’ offices on the second floor. The receptionist controlled the plug style switchboard and placed and received the telephone calls. Toole Peet sold the site in 1976 to make way for Bankers Hall. Thanks, again, to Barney Toole’s foresight, everything turned out remarkably well.

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