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Chapter 8

No More False Starts - the 1950's

T he 1950's seemed like a time for doing things. Farmers were buying new and modern equipment and crop production efficiency was the talk. However, farming mechanization had its drawbacks: it meant fewer hands were needed to plant, cultivate and harvest the crops.

In 1950, the great Winnipeg flood occurred. In 1951, as another reflection of the improved state of agriculture, the Versatile Co. moved to Winnipeg from Eastern Canada to be closer to its major marketing areas in the U.S. By 1951 there were 8,500 people living in Portage, five years later 9,200 called the city home. Manitoba's population exceeded 776,000.

Rural electrification was proceeding rapidly. Overseas, the Korean War was being fought until 1953.

Board of Directors - 1954
Back row: J.T. Trimble, E.L. Kitchen, E.D. Alder, Gillis Tidsbury, Neil Muir, E.M. Brown
Seated: Col. Sullivan, J.C. Miller, Pres., A.H. Thorpe, General Manager, D.L. Campbell (Inset)

At The Portage Mutual, Joe Miller was made President in 1950; Gillis Tidsbury replaced his father, Mathew, on the board of Directors; and Bill Sherritt who remained until 1982, was hired. In 1953, Brown was made Treasurer, replacing A.G. Hall, and was also acting Manager while Thrope was ill.

In 1954, E.H. Muir retired and son, Neil, took seat on the Board of Directors. That same year, Sullivan was made Vice President. The Portage Mutual's present General Manager, Hugh Owens, was hired in 1954.

Hugh Owens
Hugh Owens

Hugh Owens

Born near Portage in 1935, Hugh Owens started with the Company in 1954 in the underwriting department. In 1964, he was transferred to Edmonton as Branch Manager, after having spent some time as a fieldman in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. During his ten years in Edmonton, he set an enviable record for consistent underwriting profits. Owens returned to Head Office in 1974 as Chief Underwriter, replacing A. C. Carver. In 1976, he was made General Manager, and a Director of the Company soon after.

A Fellow of the Insurance Institute of Canada (F.I.I.C.), Owens' outside interests are in sports, namely curling, golfing and baseball.

Long-time agent, J.D. Adamson of Newdale, Manitoba, - and agent since 1893, - finally closed up his rate book and retired.

In 1955, A.H. Thorpe was made Managing-Director. The same year, the Company introduced the FARM UMBRELLA, which included liability insurance. The problem was, however, to convince farmers of the need for that line of protection.

To allow the odds of probability to work, a large group of policy holders must be recruited. To get the large group needed, The Portage Mutual decided to include liability under the Umbrella policy. The premium was set low initially. For just a few dollars more, farmers were covered for liability.

An advertisement of 1957
An advertisement of 1957
Retirement of Janet
Andy Stone                        Keith Stewart                        E.L. "Bill" Taylor                        Nettie

In 1955, Janet (Nettie) Nicholson retired. The following year CFRY started broadcasting.

A Manitoba building boom in the mid-1950's was followed by a recession. But 1957 was eventful on the political scene. John George Diefenbaker was elected Prime Minister of Canada.

Agents Show Appreciation to A.H. Thorpe - 1955
Mr. Thorpe                                              Jay Ryan                                              Jim Creighton
Announcing Sticker
An "Announcing" Sticker

That year, The Portage Mutual began reissuing automobile policies. E.D. Alder was made Vice President in 1957 replacing Sullivan. Prominent businessman, John Labatt, replaced Sullivan on the board, remaining for 23 years as a Director. Also, Jack Roberts was hired as the new Treasurer, remaining until 1968. Like Sullivan and several other Directors of the time, Labatt had a keen business sense. He provided a wealth of information and experience to the Company at the time when it was mustering its expertise to expand again into other provinces.

In 1958, Lawrence Smith replaced A.H. Thorpe on the Board and would stay until 1967.

W.H. (Bill) Sherritt
W.H. (Bill) Sherritt
Also in 1958, long-time staffer, A.N. Gaye retired and was replaced by W.H. (Bill) Sherritt, who joined the Company in the early 50's. His experience as Manitoba Field-man and Adjuster made him well suited to his becoming Chief Adjuster and Claims Manager up until he retired in 1982.

It was time for a new phase in the Company's future as Earl Brown took on the Manager's responsibilities. A logical step in the succession of Manager, Brown was ready to make the push for the Company's second expansion attempt.

As the decade closed, the Campbell Soup Company plant opened at Portage la Prairie.

Executive of the Portage Mutual Agents' Association - 1956
Back row: R.J. Bailey, S.K. Campbell, M.L. Turner, R.K. Wilkes
Front row: E.L. "Bill" Taylor, Keith Stewart, Cy Baker, Andy Stone
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Please note: The information provided within this page was originally published in 1984. Any "current", "new", "present" or  other such references within this information were correct in 1984 but are not necessarily so now.
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