Articles

Granby’s Walking Billboard

Horace Boivin, the ebullient mayor of Granby, Que., spends $25,000 of his own money every year selling his flourishing city’s virtues to the rest of the world. No one has ever opposed him in an election and he has never taken a cent in payment for his services. Without question, he is

McKENZIE PORTER June 1 1954
Articles

Granby’s Walking Billboard

Horace Boivin, the ebullient mayor of Granby, Que., spends $25,000 of his own money every year selling his flourishing city’s virtues to the rest of the world. No one has ever opposed him in an election and he has never taken a cent in payment for his services. Without question, he is

McKENZIE PORTER June 1 1954

Granby’s Walking Billboard

Horace Boivin, the ebullient mayor of Granby, Que., spends $25,000 of his own money every year selling his flourishing city’s virtues to the rest of the world. No one has ever opposed him in an election and he has never taken a cent in payment for his services. Without question, he is

McKENZIE PORTER

BECAUSE he is so adept at getting his picture in the newspapers many people assume that Horace Boivin, the mayor of Granby, Que., is a gladhanding professional politician with a quick eye for a free junket and an unlimited appetite for publicity.

When pointed at Boivin the camera catches a big light-grey Stetson sel at a jaunty angle, a chunky frame in a suit that is often a little too bright, heavy-lidded eyes set in a well-nourished face, an ebullient grin, and frequently a background of airliners, steamships, trains and hotels in exotic parts of the world.

Before and since he became mayor of Granby in 1938 Boivin has traveled incessantly and posed for newsphotos in settings that have ranged from zoos and blood banks to the Vatican and the Presidential Palace of France, from ballrooms and art galleries to the steps of the Kremlin and the palm beaches of Hawaii, and from football fields and curling rinks to the ruins of the Reichstag in Berlin and the precincts of Westminster Abbey on Coronation Day.

No other Canadian city of Granby’s size - 25,000 population can boast a mayor who has seen so many countries or has caught the attention of so many photographers.

George Mooney, the executive director of the Canadian Federation of Mayors and Municipalities, of which Boivin is a past president, says, “Of course he loves publicity. His ego thrives on it. But his mayoral colleagues across Canada are less concerned about this than they would be if they were not sure that his primary motive is the promotion of his city. Their general attit ude toward him is one of affection because they are convinced that, to Horace Boivir, Granby is a sort of mission.”

Since Boivin took office 16 years ago he has consistently refused a mayoral stipend and has spent an average of $25,000 a year of his own money on extolling Granby in Canada and abroad as a residential and industrial Elysium. While his photographs give the impression that he’s a noisy extrovert, he’s actually a quiet courteous man. A few months ago a Montreal clubwoman visiting Granby said to Paul-André Joly, Boivin’s energetic young assistant, “Why the mayor is not a bit like his pictures. He’s completely charming.” Joly, who is used to such remarks, merely grinned and hurried away to help his boss don a gorgeous Arab robe for still another picture.

The paradox of public flamboyance and private restraint that distinguishes Boivin’s personality has produced some remarkable results.

In the first years of his mayoralty Granby was just anot her small Quebec town, 53 miles southeast of Montreal, through which cars flashed on their way to Sherbrooke and the American border. The 12,000 inhabitants lived off thirty small factories an 3 the shopping budgets of surrounding farmers’ wives. Outside the region known as the Eastern Townships few had heard of Granby. Since then Granby has grown up. Part of it, perhaps, was simply normal expansion; but a good chunk of the credit belongs to the mayor.

Today the main street is a traffic bottleneck in which visiting salesmen battle daily for parking

space with hundreds of prosperous citizens. The narrow side streets have been widened into sweeping boulevards lined wit h pretty lif t le homes in clumps of frees, and clean single-story industrial plants amid lawns and flowers. Granby’s name is now familiar to many industrialists and statesmen on five continents because Boivin’s self-advertisement has helped bring into the little Quebec city millions of dollars of commonwealth and foreign capital.

Although much of Granby’s growth may be ascribed to the general war and postwar expansion of the Canadian economy, Boivin’s individual drive has accelerated it to a phenomenal degree. Of the 98 industries now flourishing within the city limits Boivin is personally responsible for the introduction of 47.

Most of the new capital has poured in since the end of the last war as a result of Boivin’s salesmanship in Europe and the United States, and Granby might well have been disfigured by a rash of indiscriminate building. But Boivin preserved the city’s natural beauty by retaining Jacques Greber, the famous Paris town planner who designed the layout of greater Ottawa.

During Boivin’s mayoralty Granby has drawn immigrants of 17 nationalities, doubled its population, trebled its acreage, and so diversified its industry that the recent slump in textiles, which hit many comparable Quebec cities hard, hasn’t hurt Granby.

The city claims to have the lowest funded debt of any municipality of its size in North America, the highest ratio of home ownership in Canada, an automobile to every three people, a television set to every fourth family, and a city hall which, through renting office space to private companies, makes a profit of $3,000 a year.

Boivin’s civic spirit has enabled Granby to acquire 18 parks, a zoological garden, an art gallery, an airport, and three hotels, one of which compares with any big city hostelry.

During the same period Boivin has increased employment in his own family business, Granby Elastic and Textiles Ltd., from 100 to 450 workers.

Boivin has never stood for election but has been given an unbroken series of twoand three-year terms by a unanimous declaration of the voters. Last January, when he spoke of retiring, 6,000 citizens signed a petition pleading with him to remain in office. He agreed and was again returned by acclamation. A few months ago the city council polled a cross-section of the population in a survey that indicated that 95 percent of the inhabitants prefer life in Granby to anywhere else. Last year the National Film Board decided to make a movie of Ganada’s ideal small-city mayor and chose for the subject Horace Boivin.

Six aldermen join Boivin at an average of three council meetings a month and by mutual consent never let party politics impede municipal decisions. “Although we sometimes try to put the brakes on him,” says Alderman J. J. B. Payne, “we usually just string along with everything Horace wishes to do. The town owes nearly everything it’s got to him and we know now it would be foolish to hold him back.” Continued on next page

His Honor never backs away from the camera

At least once a year Boivin crosses Canada and covers a wide area in the United States on business for his own company. Two or three times a year he takes trips to either South America, Europe, the Far East, Australia or New Zealand. On all these journeys he sets time aside for seeking out business organizations which might be interested in Canadian investment and then impresses upon them the attractions of Granby. Since he knows long speeches would be boring he usually delivers a few complimentary remarks from the platform then gets down among his audience to praise his city’s merits in conversational terms.

Lars Christiansen, the Norwegian international shipping and whaling magnate, who was induced by Boivin to finance a Granby nylon factory, Thor Mills Ltd., once said, “He is sensationally persuasive.”

To potential investors in Granby Boivin talks about the cheaper living costs of the small city, the easy access to a beautiful countryside, the proximity to Montreal, the nightly freight train to Toronto, the strategic importance to Canada of a well-dispersed industry, the large pool of skilled and contented labor and the plentiful supply of electric power.

Granby, he promises, will give to the founders of every desirable and sound new industry free land for factories in special zones handy to highways and railroads. Contractors, working in cooperation with the city council, will build the factories and either rent or sell them to the new companies for cash or on mortgage terms approved by Granby officials.

A Chicago industrialist once asked Boivin on a train if he had seen the Yosemite National Park. Boivin said, “No, have you seen Victoria Park?” The industrialist looked puzzled and said, “Which Victoria Park?” Showing great amazement Boivin replied, “Why, Victoria Park, Granby, of course!”

When the City of Granby entertained Maurice Chevalier at lunch in 1948 Boivin promised the six other councilors he would eschew civic matters for once in his speech and talk about the theatre. But when he rose he said, “I have a problem. The people of Montreal are called Montrealers. The people of Toronto are called Torontonians. But we have no collective noun for the people of Granby. I want you all to write down on a slip of paper what you think the best collective noun would be. I shall give a small cash prize for the best one.” For twenty minutes the guests scratched their heads, scribbled and finally handed up to Boivin their suggestions. When he had read them all Boivin announced, “Monsieur Maurice Chevalier has won with the suggestion ‘Granbyens.’ ” liver since the residents of Granby have been called Granbyens but none is sure whether it really was Chevalier or the mayor who invented the term.

Wherever he goes in the cause of Granby Boivin makes contact with influential people by virtue of the numerous official appointments he holds.

Industrial doors are wide open to him as a director of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the Canadian Industrial Professional Association and the Eastern Townships Board of Trade.

Every mayor in the Western world feels bound to greet him because he is a director of the Quebec Municipal Union, the Canadian Federation of Mayors and Municipalities, the PanAmerican Conference of Mayors and the International Union of Local Authorities.

Social welfare workers receive him as a director of the Canadian Citizenship Council, the Inter-American Citizenship Council, the Lions and the Ki-

wanis, among fraternal organizations.

Sporting circles hold out their arms to him as a director of the Quebec provincial baseball and hockey leagues. Musicians accept him as president of Granby Harmony, the local orchestra, soldiers respect him as the honorary colonel of the Regiment de Chateauguay, and the Catholic Church honors him as a Knight of the Order of St. Gregory, a title bestowed on him by the Pope.

Boivin stands high in the estimation of the diplomatic service. On his tours abroad the staffs of Canadian embassies and consulates arrange meetings for him with prominent businessmen. Last year he traveled all over Germany in a chauffeur-driven car provided by Hugo Stinnes, a powerful steel magnate in that country. He was received by President Vincent Auriol of France, who hung round Boivin’s neck the presidential insignia of office and deputed Boivin to represent him at the Canada Day ceremonies connected with Paris’ 2,000th anniversary.

In thirty days last year he visited seven European countries, 140 industrial plants and addressed 18 business associations on the advantages of investment in Canada, and in Granby in particular. His salesmanship has brought Granby a strange assortment of enterprises. An example is that of Joseph Bri, an artist and sculptor from Germany, who fashions toys and music boxes of such appeal that last year he won the first prize of a toy ma kers’ association in New York.

Exposure is Fatal

Another example is a Dutch company in Granhy making wooden furniture that is unusually light, stacks in a small space and yet is attractive and comfortable. The furniture is selling well to schools and institutions. A French company is making some of the most important radar equipment now being consigned to the Royal Canadian Navy. An American electronics company is turning out a fleet of radio telephone vans for NATO defenses. One company from Hollywood is making the plastic domes that equip Canadian Sabre jet fighter aircraft and experimenting with a molded plastic motor boat that may revolutionize the small pleasure-craft industry.

These and many others chose Granby after being exposed to Boivin’s persuasive powers. Boivin’s inducements sometimes take unusual forms. For several years he tried unsuccessfully to get the Stedfast Rubber Company, an American concern, to open a Granby branch plant. Finally Boivin said to the president, “Oh, come on to Granby and I’ll name a street after you.” Soon afterward the company opened up in Granby and Sydeman Street was named for its president.

Boivin, however, is not free with his street names. A Boston manufacturer who owns a plant in Granby asked that a street be named after his wife. Boivin did not believe the woman had done quite enough for Granby to merit this, so he compromised by naming a street after a street in Boston about which the couple were sentimental.

Boivin is so valuable to Granby industrialists as general publicist that they take him into their confidence on many matters concerning their business. He discovered, for instance, that one company was buying hundreds of thousands of cardboard tubes. Its orders represented the biggest part of the cardboard-tube company’s trade. To Boivin it seemed uneconomical that this cardboard-tube company should operate outside Granby. Boivin convinced its president that a move to Granby would eliminate transport costs

and increase profits. Today the cardboard-tube company stands in Granby right opposite its best customer.

But Boivin, so eager for industrial development, is determined not to let it spoil the scenery. When present landscaping projects designed by Jacques Greber are completed there will not be a house in Granby more than a fiveminute walk from a park. All companies operating in Granby sign an agreement with the city council to maintain lawns and flower beds around their factories.

Four housing co-operatives, working on methods devised by Boivin, have almost wiped out the down-payment problem in Granby. The members of ; one co-operative pay $2 a week into a ! general pool for a year, then can start their homes. The co-operative borrows money from the Caisse Populaire and the Alliance Nationale, two financing agencies. Then it buys land cheaply from the city and building materials at wholesale rates from Granby suppliers. Each new householder then does all the labor on his own house under the direction of two professional builders paid by the co-operative.

The little frame homes, with three bedrooms and brightly painted exteriors, have a market value of between $5,500 and $7,000 when finished. The j owners pay off the mortgages at the rate of between $20 and $30 a month for twenty years.

Boivin’s own company, Granby Elastic and Textiles Ltd., lends any employee who requires it the down payment on his house and recovers the funds through payroll deductions. This plan was at first opposed by the unions, who feared that the worker would be tied too tightly to his employer by ! debt—an old company-town bogey. Boivin got round this by writing a clause into the agreement which enables ! a man to sell back the house to the company if he wishes on terms which the unions decided were acceptable. Toj day eighty percent of Boivin’s male j employees are house owners. Fiftythree percent of family heads in Granby own their own homes. Both Boivin and the Granby Leader-Mail regularly claim that this is the highest ratio in Canada.

Every year Granby gives a cash prize of $50 for the best new house and for the best conversion of an old house. This has induced a spirit of friendly rivalry which Boivin thinks has had a j good effect on design and building.

! Sometimes the prize is won by an expensive house and sometimes by a lowpriced one. Cost, design and durability are all taken into account when judging.

In the city Boivin likes to cultivate ! a warm social life. Granby theatre owners, at his suggestion, removed the arms from the back rows of seats to facilitate the cuddling of sweethearts.

Boivin is an epicure. By distributing his patronage round the three hotels j and many restaurants, and taking large ! groups of friends to those which best pleased his palate, he raised the general j standard of cooking in Granby to a much higher level than that prevailing in the average small city.

Boivin suggested to one hotel that it should put on a Sunday night buffet supper at $2 a head. This has developed into a popular weekly gathering. Frequently Boivin drops into another hotel where many younger Granbyens gather for nightly dancing and watches with approval.

The entrance, the wide staircase and the gallery over the lobby of Granby’s City Hall are always decked with an exhibition of Granby or Quebec art, such as a showing of the impressionist paintings of George Emile Daudelin, the son of a Granby railroad worker,

who is now studying in Paris on a Quebec provincial scholarship. The council chamber serves as a courtroom and as a permanent art gallery for paintings which are lent, and changed at intervals, by the National Gallery in Ottawa. Also, the Granby City Hall has a large room full of showcases containing the products of every local industry.

Since the war Les Petits Chanteurs de Granby, a choir of twelve boys belonging to the local classical College of the Sacred Heart, has gained widespread renown throughout the Catholic Church. Early this year it was invited to appear at a service in St. Peter’s, Rome, at which the Pope was scheduled to sing the High Mass. Last April the choir departed for Italy on $6,000 expenses raised by Boivin and local citizens.

Boivin is one of the few contemporary men to persuade the municipal authorities of Rome to part with one of their ancient monuments. For three years he tried in vain to heg from Rome an exquisite fountain, circa AD 147, which had been moved from its historic site on the Piazza Barberini for traffic reasons and stored away until some new location could be found for it. Undaunted by regular refusals of his request Boivin went to Italy last year and addressed the Christian-Industrial Association. He argued that if the monument were permitted to go to Granby many Canadians would pay it a visit and become inspired to see more ancient sculpture in the Eternal City. This, he said, would be excellent for the Italian tourist industry.

Then Came the Zoo

The Christian-Industrial Association was impressed, used its influence on the Rome city council, and got Boivin his wish. Last May the fountain, which had once spouted the waters of the Tiber, began to spout the waters of the Yamaska in Granby. Canadian and Italian statesmen at the unveiling saw that its beautiful mellowed masonry carried on one side carvings of the vestal virgins, and on the other of Christ, with six of His disciples, thus depicting the era of transition from paganism to Christianity in which its creators lived.

By much the same tactics Boivin acquired for Granby one of the only three Cedars of Lebanon that have been allowed to leave that Middle Eastern country since it achieved its independence from France in 1943. A special act of the Lebanese Parliament had to be passed before the tree could be dug up and shipped.

It was planted by the consul for Lebanon in Canada. Boivin expected a huge tree with roots firmly sealed in a great ball of Lebanese earth and led the Granbyens to expect much more than the tiny sapling which arrived. Three or four times a week during the recent winter Boivin was seen driving up to the little park where the cedar nestled in a coat of straw and taking an anxious peek to see how it was surviving the frost.

The most famous attraction which Boivin has developed in Granby is the zoo. He opened it ten years ago with a couple of bison from the prairies. Then, during his travels, he begged animals and birds from anybody who might have the slightest influence to get them for him free. Sea lions came from the Los Angeles zoo. Lars Christiansen, the Norwegian millionaire, was instrumental in getting two zebras. The mayor of New Orleans gave Granby a puma in return for a consignment of maple syrup. Lions, polar bears, llamas, coyotes and a magnificent North American elk came from their native habitats or from zoos and menageries

where Boivin had demonstrated his masterly cajolerie. This year the Regent’s Park Zoo in London will ship a flock of royal swans from the Thames. The mayor of Lima, Peru, is sending a small school of penguins captured in the Antarctic. Boivin’s triumph, however, will be the arrival this summer of two baby elephants, gifts of Prime Minister Nehru of India.

This gift arose out of a touching petition signed by 4,000 Granby school children pleading with Nehru for elephants. The publicity attending the petition was so great that Nehru could hardly ignore it. Granbyens have their own ideas about who put the children up to it.

No strain on the local taxes is imposed by the Granby zoo. Each group of animals is adopted by committees of neighbors in the city who raise funds for feed and attention. “The upkeep of two elephants,” says Boivin, “will cost a lot of effort, but it will be worth it.”

Boivin has been fond of animals for as long as he can remember and Granby has been equally fond of Boivin. His father, the late Pierre Ernest Boivin, began his working life in Granby as an odd-job man, who later prospered making suspenders. He built up a flourishing factory, became mayor of Granby and the federal Liberal member for County Shefford, in which Granby stands.

His Father Moaned

He had two daughters and a son— Pierre Horace. Attention was focused early on Pierre Horace because he lived in the biggest house in town and his father was the largest employer. Granbyens called the boy “Tit-Pit,” or “Little Pete.” He hung around the family plant and sometimes the workmen put him up on a box and cried “Speech!” Then young Boivin would imitate his father’s platform mannerisms. But the plank in his own political platform was always the same. “All great cities,” he used to say, “have a zoo. And Granby will never be famous until it has a zoo too.”

He was educated at the local College of the Sacred Heart, the Mt. St. Louis College in Montreal, where he proved an excellent athlete, and at a commercial college in New York whence he returned with some aggressive plans for expanding the family business. Granby Elastic and Textiles Ltd. j began weaving the two-way stretch j material that goes into women’s girdles and bathing suits. Through the depression Boivin traveled round the world selling the family products. He cut prices so low that his father used to moan, “Bring that boy home before he ruins us all.” But Boivin’s policy enabled the company to compete j against bigger British and American concerns and created a global export ; business that is still flourishing.

Boivin once traveled from England to Russia on a sales trip and by chance another passenger was Herbert Morrison, the English socialist. Boivin j made friends with him, was much photographed in Moscow, and in com! pany with Morrison saw Stalin. “He i was quite striking in appearance,” says Boivin. “He talked to us through an j interpreter, but what he said could not have been very interesting for I’ve ; forgotten every word of it.”

Boivin recalls an odd experience in the South Seas. “There was a festival I in Bali and for days on end the people beat big drums in a most infectious rhythm. As the drummers became exhausted, men would drag them away and take their place. A drummer near me collapsed, so 1 grabbed his sticks and started up. 1 felt sure that I’d miss the beat and break the spell. But no-

body noticed any difference. I kept on drumming until I could drum no more. Then I was pulled away and somebody else carried on.”

On the death of his father in 1938 Boivin succeeded to the presidency of the elastic company. Then, like his father before him, he was acclaimed mayor. Granby senior must have had some experience that prompted the idea that business does not mix with provincial or federal politics. Boivin never talks about this, but he is reputed to have promised his father that he would stick to municipal politics in ! Granby and never venture into wider fields.

During the last war Boivin joined the Regiment de Chateauguay as a private and rose to the rank of captain. Lately he became the regiment’s honorary colonel and derives pride and pleasure from wearing its uniform on ceremonial occasions. His own active soldiering was limited because in the middle of hostilities he was released by the army to become the head of the Rubber Products and Textiles Division of the Wartime Prices and Trade Board.

When he told Granbyens early in t1 e war that their population would r se from 12,000 to 25,000 in ten years there were many sceptics. A few weeks ago when he told them that the city could expect 100,000 in the next ten years there were confident cheers. Boivin’s ambition is to secure for Granby Canada’s first atomic-power plant for peacetime purposes.

Since his marriage in 1939 to Frances Bergeron, a tall and beautiful Granby girl, Boivin has become the father of eight children. One story goes in H Granby that every time Mrs. Boivin presents him with a new child he presents her with a new fur coat. This Boivin angrily denies. “A child,” he says, “is a gift of God and one’s gratitude must be shown in a different way from that.”

Boivin has done much to harmonize the relations of Frenchand Englishspeaking groups in Granby. Although the French-speaking citizens represent eighty percent of the population he urges them to learn English. At the same time he expresses his disappointment at the tardiness of the EnglishI speaking citizens to learn French.

“Bilingualism,” he says, “is inj separable from happiness in Canada.” On Sundays it is a rule in his big old! fashioned home that all the family j speak English. Even a two-year-old toddler goes around manfully repeating ! “How do you do?”

Behind his back the people of Granby call the mayor “ ’Orass.” However, they always address him “Monsieur le Maire.” As he walks through the streets he glances quickly from side to side recognizing passers-by. He raises his big hat so often that his hair is rarely covered, and his body is constantly bobbing in courteous bows. On street corners he talks to teen-age boys as if they were statesmen and he holds back the doors of stores and restaurants for teen-age girls as though they were princesses.

Once at a dinner a pretty Englishspeaking Montreal advertising writer passed across a note to Boivin. It read, “Dear ’Orass: How are the

swans?” Several days later when the woman had almost forgotten the incident she received a reply by mail on official notepaper. It read, “Dear Madam: His Worship the Mayor of Granby thanks you for your kind enquiry and wishes to state that the swans are in excellent health.”

Thus one more Canadian discovered that Horace Boivin is not quite the sort of man that his newspaper pictures suggest. ★