“Canadian Experiences”

In one of my previous blogs I wrote about my arrival in Canada and settling in Toronto. After finding a job with a building renovating company I thought maybe it might be a good combination to purchase a hardware store and through the store provide also building renovation services in the neighborhood.

I found an old store for sale in the east end of the city on Kingston Rd. The store was owned by an older couple and they were retiring and they were willing to give a mortgage that was very favorable. Although the financial statement was not “rosy” so to speak, the Real State agent convinced me that, the income did not include a fair size of the cash transactions.

Since at the time I did not know any lawyer, a dear friend,  Antranig Artinian, referred me to his lawyer, Mr. Gorey?. When with the Real State agent we got to Mr. Gorey’s office and Mr. Gorey, knowing that I was a newcomer to Canada, he carefully read the offer and the financial statement, and did not advise me to buy the store especially he said with such a “poor balance sheet”.

Before I could say anything, the fast-talking Real State agent “jumped in” and said something like there were a lot of cash transactions that were not reflected in the balance sheet to avoid paying taxes and added, “we all do it, me, you”…. the real state agent had hardly finished saying the word you, Mr Gorey like a fighting bull seeing a red flag, interrupted him and said “get out of my office”, and when the salesman wanted to say something he yelled, “OUT not a word”.

I was stunned to say the least to see this milled-mannered, well-groomed lawyer, probably in his late fifties or early sixties, getting so furious, assertive, and maybe even impolite too. After the agent left, Mr. Gorey advised me never to deal with people who advocate illegal activities and said tax avoidance is a serious crime in Canada. He further advised me if I wanted to get in the hardware store business I better get some experience by working in a store and even inquire about buying a franchise hardware store.

A short time later “out of the blue” so to speak, I got a phone call from a Mr. Pollock wanting to see me for a hardware store. We agreed to meet in his Pollock Hardware Store at Queen St. West and Roncesvalles Ave. At the meeting, he introduced himself as the store owner and a board member of the franchise operation that his store was part of. He explained the franchise system and asked me to come and familiarize myself with his store operation whenever I wanted.

The store was much larger than the one I wanted to buy, but after a few visits, I could not figure myself spending all my working time in an indoor retail store business serving customers and concentrated on the renovation business and soon I started my own company under the name of Arcan Construction Limited.

Later on, I had another altogether different kind, even contrasting, “Canadian Experience” with another lawyer, Mr. Taylor. I got a phone call from Mr. Taylor who wanted to meet me for a renovation of a building on Queen St. East, and Woodbine Ave. in the trendy Beaches area. Another customer Mr. Goldie had recommended me to Mr. Taylor.

I met Mr. Taylor in his office in an older building at Coxwell Av.and Gerard St area, close to the Beaches. His office compare to Mr. Gorey’s very expensively furnished office, looked like a “warehouse”. He was younger than Mr. Gorey probably in his late thirties or early forties dressed in casual jeans.

Mr. Taylor explained to me the renovation project was to convert a large home on Queen St currently used as a rooming house to a fourplex without a building permit and do the work as quietly as possible without disturbing the neighbors. He said he will take full responsibility if any building permit issues arise. He said also, I was to do the job as a contractor but if anyone inquired, I and my employees, were to say we were working for Mr. Taylor as his employees, with hourly wages.

I did not feel comfortable with the arrangement and phoned Mr. Goldie who was one of my best repeat customers, and I trusted his judgment. Mr. Goldie said not to worry and do as Mr. Taylor was suggesting. During the renovation, Mr. Taylor made almost daily visits to the job site, and always came with coffee and donuts. He was like a construction manager, or foreman,  and knew the renovation business rather well.

Soon after I finished the renovation of the “illegal” fourplex on queen St. in Beaches, Mr. Goldie asked me to meet Mr. Taylor on Huron St. just north of Bloor St. to repair three almost identical Victorian-style buildings that were used as rooming houses mainly by students from the nearby University of Toronto.

The owners of the three buildings were gone bankrupt, and Mr. Goldie who held the mortgage had foreclosed and was the legal owner of the buildings. Since there was a changing of ownership, the city had a long list of repairs to be done to conform with the bylaws, and building codes of the city, before an occupancy permit was issued.

Most of the repairs were done according to the requirements and the ones that were hard, or very expensive to do, were “solved” with the “ingenuity” of Mr. Taylor by the wording of the space to be used in such a way that, it did “conform” to the bylaws and the building codes.

After the occupation permit was obtained, Mr. Goldie offered me to buy the houses at a favorable price. It was a kind and generous offer, but I was not in any mood to get involved in running rooming houses. (Mr. Goldie was my second customer, the first being his son-in-law David, and I did many renovation projects for them, especially for Mr. Goldie).

David was the Loblaws grocery store manager, at Laired and Eglintio Av. that I first met while working for a renovation company that was renovating the store, and he asked me to do some renovation work in his house during evenings and weekends.

Mr. Goldie was Davids’s father-in-law, a rich Real State investor in downtown Toronto. Mr. Goldie was a short, grandfatherly person probably in his late sixties, who trusted me to do most of the repairs and renovations for his many investment buildings.

Needless to say, I was grateful and highly appreciated the fact that they both trusted me, a new immigrant, without much experience in the renovation business, to do repairs to their expensive houses and thus indirectly encouraged me to start my own business.

Zohrab Bebo Sarkissian


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