BUILT ON TRUST
Canada’s secondary wood industry prior to the 1960s was strongly regionalized, with local distributors filling orders for regional manufacturers of newly industrial woodworking machinery. Akhurst Machinery was founded on the West Coast in 1938, but most of the currently recognized names in the industry were yet to be founded.
A young Scot named Alan Smart, along with his bride, Patricia, arrived in Canada in 1952, along with the tide of post-war immigrants from Great Britain and elsewhere in Europe. A 22-year-old tool-and-die maker, Smart found employment working at $1.75 per hour for Scottish tractor maker Massey-Ferguson, but Massey was not the right fit.
From 1953 to 1962, at the time Normand was getting established in Quebec, Smart worked for Ferro Machinery, where he was the main salesman. However, the appointment of a family member to an executive position pointed a new direction for Smart, and he, Sparling Little, Frank Collins and Steve Knaffe started Canadian Woodworking Machinery on Bay Street in Toronto.
Smart credits the attitude at the time with his entry into ownership. He and Little went to Great Britain, where they purchased a used Wadkin moulder and had it shipped back to Canada. “We were lucky,” Smart says. “That sale paid for our trip.” In addition, the pair traveled to Scotland and secured the Thomas-White line, where they were provided machines on consignment.
In 1966, the company moved west of Toronto to Galt (now Cambridge) to merge with Galt Wood Tool, and became Galt Canadian Woodworking Machinery. In 1977, a new company, Smart & Godin, was formed in Galt, and moved to Mississauga, Ont., in 1983. In 1988, after a long run of growth, the company was sold to Homag Germany, and became Homag Canada.
Following the successful Scotland trip in ’62, Smart and Little visited the Hanover Fair (now Ligna) in 1963. Then, as now, the largest, most-advanced fair for the wood industry worldwide, the fair provided Smart and Little a few more lines.
It was in ’63 that Smart and Little sold their first Homag machine in Canada, and it was, according to Smart, the country’s first edgebander. This occurred concurrently with Akhurst opening its first location in Ontario, as well as the growth of Cooper & Horton, which had been a competitor of Smart’s since his days at Ferro. Therefore, as Smart and Little were bringing in Homag, Cooper and Horton acquired IMA.
In addition, says Smart, “We were selling a lot of American machines. However, we were all good friends with each other.”
For Smart, the distinguishing feature of the national growth of the industry during the ‘60s and ‘70s was trust. He recalls a meeting with Palliser in which he was simply told Palliser wanted to buy $280,000 worth of machinery and was told to deliver it. He delivered, because everybody knew the deal was good.
Was the world perfect? No. Smart also recalls an American doing business in B.C. who ordered $130,000 in machinery, marked the invoices PAID, but never sent a cheque. That one ended up in court, and ultimately was paid. In fact, the defendant never even showed up.
In addition, salesmen began to oversell and overpromise, causing tension among the owners such as Smart. He even recounts one session he witnessed when his own salesman made him so embarrassed he wanted to get up and leave.
Unlike most interviews, when this one ended both Alan and Patricia Smart wanted to reinforce one point. The wood industry growth in Canada was based on honesty and trust, and both feel the sector has wandered far from that foundation.