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Chapter 9

Expansion and the Computer Age - the 1960's

T he 1960's were a continuation of the expansion phase started in the late 1950's. In 1960, an office was opened in Winnipeg with Bruce Bays as Manager. He later became Assistant Manager of the company in 1974. In 1975, he left the Company to join a rival mutual in Saskatchewan, where at this time his is General Manager.

Bruce Bays
Bruce Bays
In 1963, a St. Catharines, Ontario, office was opened. Hugh Owens was transferred to run the Edmonton Branch in 1964.

From 1960 on, the Company expanded on many fronts. Windsor and Don Mills, Ontario, Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Vancouver B.C.

Tom McCartney
Tom McCartney

Tom McCartney

In 1962, Tom McCartney was hired as underwriting clerk. By 1967, he was the Windsor, Ontario, office Branch Manager until 1971 when he transferred to open the Halifax office. Next he was off to St. Catharines as the Branch Manager until his return to head office in 1976 to become the Assistant General Manager, and eventually Chief Underwriter too.

McCartney was born in 1941 and raised on a mixed farm near Portage. He is currently Past-President of the Portage Rotary Club, Past President of the Insurance Institute of Manitoba, and Western Vice Chairman of the Insurance Institute of Canada. Tom is a fellow of the Institute (F.I.I.C.).

The 1960's saw several big changes in The Portage Mutual both outwardly and inwardly. On the inside, new policies were being developed offering tenants' and the homeowners' insurance packages. The composite or farm umbrella policy was also being updated with the addition of "floaters" for livestock.

On the outside, changes included a new $300,000 building completed in 1961 on Saskatchewan Avenue.

Board of Directors - 1961
J.C. Miller, Q.C., Portage la Prairie
Barristers: Miller & Miller
Vice President:
E.D. Adler, Q.C., Brandon, Man.
Barrister and Magistrate
Alder and Storey
Douglas L. Campbell, LLD, M.L.A.,
Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Former Premier of Manitoba
E.L. Kitchen, Oakville, Manitoba
N.H. Muir, High Bluff, Manitoba
J.T. Trimble, Portage la Prairie, Manitoba,
Member Manitoba Milk Control Board.
J.P. Labatt, London, Ontario
Vice President John Labatts Ltd.
Lawrence Smith, Portage la Prairie
Reeve Rural Municipality of
Portage la Prairie.
R.E. Braden, Portage la Prairie, Manitoba

Planning Was Done With Greatest Care

The Portage la Prairie Mutual Insurance Company head office which opens officially on Tuesday, May 2, may not be the largest office building in western Canada, but there is no doubting it is the best from a standpoint of construction and office efficiency.

The new Structure, already occupied by the firm's management, administrative and office staff, is located at Saskatchewan avenue and Seventh street east, adding a fine new impression to that section of the city.

When it became evident a few years ago that the Portage Mutual would need a vastly increased head office to process the increasing business of the company, directors and management quietly began to plan for the day.

Almost two years ago plans began to finalize, and it was on April 6 last year that J.C. Miller, QC, company president, announced definite plans for the new head office.

At this point, the Mutual company had outgrown its former quarters five different times and there was no room for further expansion at the Royal Road north location.

In fact, the last expansion of the company when it returned to the automobile insurance business, was to separate quarters on Tupper street, immediately to the rear of the head office.

make the new Mutual building probably the most operational of its kind in western Canada.

Three weeks ago the company offices and staff were moved from the Royal Road site to the new building. The move was accomplished with such despatch and with such an absence of flurry that few people in the city and district realized that the move had been made.

One-half hour after opening time on the first morning, the office was buzzing and operating with its usual, if not better, efficiency.

The official opening Tuesday brings to an end a long term of detailed planning on the part of directors and management and the end result is one of which the company, its shareholders and policyholders, and the community at large can well be proud.

Needless to say, with a long and successful history behind it, the company included the future in its planning. The new head office is designed to adequately handle twice the business it processed in 1959.

Similarly, it is designed and situated so that it can be easily increased to handle five times the present Portage Mutual business.

- Daily Graphic
Head Office Construction

The two storey building comprised about 13,000 square feet, more than enough for several expansions to come. In fact, it was designed to handle six times the 1959 business. Behind the 110-foot long building was a twenty car parking lot. Private offices, reception desks and general underwriting offices are on the main floor for convenience of customers. The lower floor houses the large storeroom and a records storage room. Zone control heating and cooling allows individual area control.

Head Office Official Opening- 1961
PREMIER DUFF ROBLIN, at right, cuts the ribbon to officially open the
new Portage Mutual head office here Tuesday. Looking on are
J.C. Miller, QC, president of the company and general manager E.M. Brown.

A computer, the latest in office automation was soon to be added. The Company had come a long way from 1895 when the typewriter had not yet entered the picture and a letter press to copy handwritten letters was the latest in office equipment.

The earliest mention of a typewriter was an Empire in 1896, soon followed by Underwood. A Burroughs adding machine was added in 1907 and in 1918, the first dictating machine, an Ediphone was added to inventory. A cheque-writer followed the same year.

The 1932 Pitney Bowes mailing machine was modern a wonder as was the Gestetner duplicator about the same time. In 1946 the Company's first printing press was purchased for personalizing company advertising. Two more presses would come and go until the present modern offset press that can print nearly every form the company needs.

"1895" "1946" "1984"

During the 1950's, manual typewriters fell by the wayside and were replaced by new, efficient electric models. In 1981, electronic typewriters began replacing the outdated electric machines.

The accounting department was updated in the 1950's with the purchase of Elliot-Fisher billing machines. In 1966, the bulky IBM 403 Tabulator was installed, the first computer, followed by the IBM System 3 in 1972 and the sleek and quiet Burroughs model 1855 in 1983.

Computer Equipment
PORTAGE MUTUAL DIRECTORS look over some of the new computing
equipment recently installed in the head office here. Shown are, left to right,
Lawrence Smith, John Labatt, J.T. Trimble, company manager E.M. Brown, Neil H. Muir,
E.D. Alder, QC, president J.C. Miller, QC (partially hidden) and D.L. Campbell.
Back to camera is Bill Watson, in charge of the computing system. - 1966
Programmers at work on the new Model B1800. Ken Metcalfe and John Mitchell
Programmers at work on the new Model B1800. Ken Metcalfe and John Mitchell

Many who started at The Portage Mutual, and went on to higher positions in the Company, had no post-high school education, although a good number have taken insurance courses to hone their insurance knowledge. In the 1930's, courses with the Insurance Institute of America, and later in the 40's with the Insurance Institute of Canada, were company training requisites. Members who complete the courses gain firstly the Associate (A.I.I.C.) designation, and then go one to the Fellowship (F.I.I.C.).

Present-day Associates are Gary Park, Branch Manager of Edmonton; Randy Clark, Branch Manager of Vancouver; Harry Woodward, Senior Underwriter at Head Office, Al Connors, Adjustor at Edmonton; & Doug Mockford, adjuster at St. Catharines.

Those with the Fellowship designation are Hugh Owens, Tom McCartney and Les Green, all of Head Office.

While The Portage Mutual was prospering and preparing to move into its new offices, farmers were again facing disastrously low wheat crops in 1960. But in 1961, prices rose to just under $2 per bushel in the mid 1960's and prosperity returned to farming.

'At the Fair' - 1963
"At the Fair" - 1963

For The Portage Mutual, the 1960's brought renewed growth. In 1960, the Company had $1.55 million in premium income and $1.74 the following year; ten years later that figure would increase by nearly five times. Interestingly, the Company's success was by now being measured by its premium income rather than total dollars in risk. Based on its volume of risks written, including some liability policies alone worth several million dollars each, the figure would likely be in the billions of dollars.

Today, The Portage mutual has roughly one-third of its business as farm policies, one-third as residential and commercial, and the remaining one-third in automobile coverage.

The late 1960's were a heady time for many Canadians as the country celebrated its Centennial in 1967. The following year, a charismatic man would be elected to one of the longest terms as Prime Minister of Canada, Pierre Elliot Trudeau.

In 1968, J.F. (Jack) Mitchell, C.A., replaced Jack Roberts as Treasurer of the Company. He came well-qualified for the ever increasing responsibilities of this position. He was born in Winnipeg, educated in the schools there and the University of Manitoba in 1950. His interests range from reading to horses to hockey, and he is presently Vice President of the Portage Fair Board.

It was in 1968 that The Portage Mutual began the writing of "extra" coverages, such as liability, glass and floaters, for smaller farm mutuals. King's Mutual of Berwick, Nova Scotia, was the first of these. Later in the 70's, they made similar arrangements with five other mutuals in Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick. Since the beginning, this has worked out to the "mutual advantage" of all concerned.

All in all, the 60's were a time of expansion and growth, much to the credit of the forward-looking Directors and Management. It provided a good spring-board for what was to transpire in the 70's.

The Fort La Reine Museum
THE FORT LA REINE MUSEUM complex is taking shape, step by step. The museum proper is
at the extreme right of the photo. The York boat display is shown at the left, the school house
at left centre and the church next to the school.
The Fort la Reine museum site on No. 1 highway east of Portage la Prairie is rounding into shape these days with added impetus as the local committee supporters and well wishers join forces to help the cause.

A centennial project with great potential the museum is fast gaining in local and country wide recognition.

When finally completed and who knows when that will be as the project is to be an ever developing local attraction, the Fort la Reine Museum may well rival Island Park as a tourist attraction and area landmark.

A complete pioneer village church and school hold the spot light.

The school building was purchased by the Rural Municipality of Portage la Prairie for the sum of one dollar.

The Portage la Prairie Mutual Insurance Company assumed all the costs of moving and relocating the school on to the museum sight and they are underwriting the costs of restoring and repairing the old school.

The outside will be restored to its original "little red schoolhouse" appearance. The interior will be maintained as it was during the final days of use.

The Portage Mutual Insurance Company has donated a glass walled counter into which will be put all of the school registers of the old school districts of the rural Portage area.

- Daily Graphic
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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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