Thursday, April 25, 2019

How's trade?

In June of 1976 I arrived in Almonte from Ottawa to assume my duties as an associate lawyer with Messrs. Galligan & Sheffield, Barristers &c. Essentially my job was to plug the hole left by R. A. Jamieson, QC who at approximately 82 years of age was retiring after 50 years or more of practicing law in Almonte. His was a practice which preceded that of long-time lawyer and later Judge C. James Newton, QC and was more closely aligned with that of Mr. W. H. Stafford (who among other clients represented many of the Toronto mining interests in what is now called Lanark Highlands). Mr. Jamieson's practice had been purchased by Messrs. Galligan & Sheffield. Upon being introduced to Mr. Jamieson in his ancient law office on the second floor of 74 Mill Street in Almonte he shook hands with me and asked, "Are you not a non-resident of Canada and do you own any adjoining lands?" It was a calculated comic allusion to the cumbersome terminology then featured in any Deed of Land in the Province of Ontario designed to ensure that the Grantor (seller) was not a foreigner (and therefore subject to non-residency tax by the federal government) and not splitting up (severing) land in violation of the current provincial Planning Act.

Not long afterwards I moved into Mr. Jamieson's inner office and officially began meetings with his former clients (ably assisted by his former secretary, Mrs. Evelyn Barker, who - in addition to knowing how to reignite the flooded oil stove - knew everything about everyone).  It was not uncommon for Mr. Jamieson to preserve his erstwhile employment practice by dropping into the office for a cigarette and a chat.   Invariably his greeting was, "How's trade?" Since I was a product most immediately of a large office at 100 Sparks Street in Ottawa my accustomed salutation was, "How's business?" Naturally I was alive to the distinction between trade and business, admittedly an observation on my part based upon a pretentious oversight. My short-lived Spark Street association had involved the owners of national retail stores and large rental properties; plumbers and carpenters had not been among my accustomed clientele. That soon changed.

It will not come as a surprise to learn that in addition to the trades, the other category of people whom  the misguided and arrogant regularly regard at the long end of their nose held well in the air is farmers. In short order I was to discover that the majority of my better clients were tradesmen or farmers, many of whom constituted the local landowners and employers. Contrary to the custom of many urban entrepreneurs the vernacular for the well-heeled country gentleman was not a fast car and a lot of swaggering. In fairness it is equally true that the predominant note of elevation among the rural inhabitants was not a post-secondary or graduate degree from a Canadian university. In fact there pertained a generous respect for the so-called educated man or professional though not without an underwritten expectation of performance.

What I came to appreciate was the sophisticated wisdom and intelligence of those whose direction in life had been nourished by self-discipline and private industry - essentially making their own way in life and running their own business. If one were awake to the subtlety of management and commerce, nothing surpassed the skill of a country boy. Over time I admired the display - and to feel embarrassed for those who misconstrued the talent.

There is a corollary to this; and that is - to use another more famous quotation - "What's bred in the bone will out in the flesh". The native learning and acumen of the trades and farmers is revealed in whatever they undertake. The presentation may not be insinuated by the urban hallmarks of rule and regulation but it will most certainly be contaminated by a healthy measure of unadulterated comment and purely reflective adjudication. The authority is not some book or law but rather the taste and feel of the nourishment. Recognizing the tell-tale barnyard smell is no accident!

This is not to suggest that strict rationality and fact-based argument is beneath anyone in particular. Rather it is a reminder that the lack of a Bachelor of Arts or other putative indicator of knowledge is not determinative of the capacity of the speaker. It is besides an entire obfuscation to presume that one's lack of formal education or corporate experience somehow limits one's ability to think. The essence of training for many people is not their formal education but their commonality of thought and analysis in any undertaking. The difference is that between a novice and an expert. Nothing enlarges performance like running your own business - it's a critical and unemotional enterprise.

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