The meteoric career of “Flying Phil” Gaglardi

British Columbia’s fast-moving minister of highways (three speeding raps) is also a whirlwind minister of the gospel. Heckled by a hostile press and accused of everything from meddling to manipulation, he bursts through all opposition like a bat out of heaven

RAY GARDNER October 24 1959

The meteoric career of “Flying Phil” Gaglardi

British Columbia’s fast-moving minister of highways (three speeding raps) is also a whirlwind minister of the gospel. Heckled by a hostile press and accused of everything from meddling to manipulation, he bursts through all opposition like a bat out of heaven

RAY GARDNER October 24 1959

The meteoric career of “Flying Phil” Gaglardi

British Columbia’s fast-moving minister of highways (three speeding raps) is also a whirlwind minister of the gospel. Heckled by a hostile press and accused of everything from meddling to manipulation, he bursts through all opposition like a bat out of heaven


AS MINISTER OF HIGHWAYS for the province of British Columbia, the Reverend Philip A. Gaglardi, a fiery forty-six-year-old evangelist who bowls through life like a bat out of heaven, is easily his own best customer: he’s been pinched three times and had his driver’s license lifted twice for speeding over the roads he’s built.

In typical Gaglardi fashion (“You’ve got to make yards out of everything — even your mistakes"), the little minister blithely raised the provincial speed limit from fifty to sixty miles per hour.

This penchant for speed has not only cost Gaglardi sixty dollars in fines and earned him the nickname "Flying Phil,” but has helped strength-

en his reputation as one of the most controversial figures to flit across the British Columbia political scene in recent times.

Since he became a cabinet minister after the surprising Social Credit victory of 1952, Gaglardi has been attacked so often by the Vancouver Sun, the province’s biggest and most important newspaper, that readers regard anti-Gaglardi editorials as a regular feature, like Li’l Abner or the crossw'ord puzzle. The Sun flays most Social Credit ministers, but none as often as Gaglardi.

Last summer, he was being attacked from two sides at once. From one direction came allegations of political patronage in his highways department, and from another flew charges that the

higher speed limit was causing more traffic deaths He met both attacks with flat denials.

In any case, Gaglardi has to move fast: the double life he leads as minister of both the Crown and the Gospel makes him just about the busies! man in the w'hole province if not, as he might pui it, “in the en-tire free world.”

“I don’t even have a pair of bedroom slippers,’' he boasts. “When I quit work It’s time to go to bed.”

"My w'hole en-tire life,” he explains, employing a redundant turn of speech that all but overwhelm; the listener, “is run like a clock. I’m shunten around by appointments and by time. The clod dictates my policy. I move by the watch.”


Five days a week. Gaglardi, a chunky figure, nattily dressed, and endowed with a powerful tenor voice that seems forever to be purring along in overdrive, runs a government department that spends eighty million dollars a year, or a quarter of the provincial budget.

No swivel-chair cabinet minister, he loves to dash about the country by plane and car, and. recalling a time when he jockeyed a bulldozer for a living, he's fond of saying. “I’m one of the guys that built the highways with my own two hands.” His critics say that's just the trouble: that he gets around too much, poking his nose into practical problems he only fancies he knows something about, and that, anyway, all his blacktop leads to the same destination—the ballot box. He answers: “How crazy can they get?”

Certainly he has built a lot of roads and erected a lot of bridges in a province that needed and still needs plenty of both. In 1958 when B. C. celebrated its centenary. Social Credit had been in power six years, and Gaglardi claimed. “We built more roads in six years than all other governments did in ninety-four.” But even he remarked. “Maybe that's not a proper comparison; still it gives an idea of what we’ve done.”

He has also put the government in the coast ferry business in a big way and — his proudest achievement—thrust a twenty-million-dollar highway tunnel under the Fraser River not far from Vancouver.

In a typical opposition blast, the Vancouver Sun has sourly written off Gaglardi’s highways program with this comment: “The Socreds have far more money than any previous B. C. government. And they're taking bows for spending it.” “I don't care what they say about me, God bless

them, as long as they spell my name right,” Gaglardi snaps back.

Any British Columbian able to read should be able to spell it right for they've all seen it often enough, emblazoned across the SORRY FOR THE INCONVENIENCE signs that Gaglardi has posted on every one of his highway projects. Dubbed “permanent election posters” by some of his opponents, the signs have won Gaglardi yet another nickname. “Sorry Phil.”

When B. C.'s civil servants went on strike last spring, they ribbed Gaglardi and his cabinet colleagues by swiping his slogan. Pickets paraded before the parliament buildings, prisons, and other government institutions with placards that said they. too. were SORRY FOR THE INCONVENIENCE.

“Everything goes up under me”

While Gaglardi’s week-day chores as the unorthodox minister of highways are prodigious enough, they hardly amount to a warm-up for the weekends he spends at his home in Kamloops, a small cattle and lumber town in the interior. It is then he assumes his role as pastor of the Calvary Temple of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, preaching, as he puts it. "the same type of religion as Billy Graham preaches.”

There Flying Phil, the evangelist, is in constant orbit as he soars through seven radio broadcasts and a television appearance, conducts two fiery church services and a prayer meeting, and with his wife. Jennie, presides over a busy, successful Sunday school with a fleet of eleven buses.

Intensely proud of his success as preacher and politician. Gaglardi says, "Nothing ever goes down

under me. Everything goes up under me.”

As preacher, he's proud that he began in Kamloops, in 1945, with a flock of eight in a rundown church and now can count on attracting congregations of at least five hundred to his gleaming new $150,000 air-conditioned temple. It takes sixty-five teachers to handle all the Sunday school's nine hundred children.

As politician, he’s proud that he “parlayed my department into one of the biggest-spending departments of highways in the free world.” His boss. Premier W. A. C. Bennett, recently announced that Gaglardi will soon be spending at an even faster rate — one billion dollars over the next ten years.

All this forces Gaglardi to conclude: "If I had turned the same energy, see. into any business that I've put into church or political work. I'd be a multimillionaire. I could have been a millionaire seven times over. If a man is able to di-rect affairs, he just keeps climbing, climbing, climbing.”

Gaglardi has now climbed so high and made so much clatter about it. he's the favorite target of the opposition. In a recent public statement, one of his implacable political foes. Robert Strachan. the CCF opposition leader, called for an investigation of the highways department. "Many of the road contracts are given to companies that are sympathetic to, or have directors connected with Mr. Gaglardi, Social Credit, or Mr. Gaglardi’s church.” Strachan maintained. Gaglardi challenged the CCF leader to name names.

Just as Gaglardi feels strongly about himself, so do others. There seems to be no middle road. Alex Cassidy, for instance, a Kamloops businessman and a leader in GagL.rdi’s church, says. "Phil has been a good pastor. continued on page 45



continued on page 45

The meteoric career of “Flying Phil” Gaglardi continued from page 33

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“I wasn’t really bom in a tent,” he admits sadly. “Perhaps a house with a canvas roof”

and a good friend to everyone in the community. No one can say a bad word against Phil and make it stick. He’s gone to bat for hundreds of fellows who needed help. There was one chronic alcoholic — Phil spent more time with him than

he would with the lieutenant-governor.” Gaglardi’s beginnings were humble. He was born in Mission City, in the Fraser Valley, on January 13, 1913. the sixth of eleven children of Italian immigrant parents. A frequently told story is that

he was born in a tent but he says, “My sister now tells me that isn't so.” As if reluctant to discard the story altogether, he adds. “It was probably a house with a canvas roof.”

His father was a CPR section hand

who later kept a small store. The family was Roman Catholic, but turned to Protestantism while he was still a boy.

"No one,” he says, “could have had a happier childhood than I had. I roamed the hills like a wild creature." Gaglardi’s formal education stopped short at grade eight.

At first he scrambled for a living, doing odd jobs as a mechanic and truck driver. At sixteen he went to work in the woods and eventually became a bulldozer operator. His mastery of many jobs is noted in a flurry of Gaglardi comments: “I was a born mechanic. Anything that wouldn't run. if I couldn't make it run, then it just wasn't runnable. I could buck a load of logs before they could turn the truck around. 1 was a bulldozer expert. I could almost name my own price. I could plane a highway as flat as that floor. I could make a grade — boy, I'll tell you!” He lived the lusty life of the logging and construction camps of British Columbia: “I’d fight at the drop of a hat. I was a heavy drinker. I did my share of rattling around.”

But that life, he found, was an empty one. Soon he was studying for the ministry, „pending a year — 1937 — at the Northwest Bible College, a Pentecostal seminary, in Seattle. He was ordained in 1938 after a year in the field as an evangelist.

“I preach with fervor”

He returned to Mission City and there, in December. 1938, married Jennie Sandin. a tall, quiet - spoken woman preacher of Swedish descent who had been his pastor in the Mission City church. Miss Sandin had been transferred to Langley, a nearby town, and, after their marriage, Gaglardi took over her pastorate.

In 1945 the church sent him to Kamloops. The first six months there, Gaglardi, helped by volunteers from among his handful of followers, worked night and day virtually rebuilding an old ramshackle church. He and Jennie and their two infant sons, Robert, now eighteen, and William, now fifteen, lived in the church basement.

Gaglardi then set about building a congregation. Soon his voice was resounding daily over the local radio station. He was to be seen everywhere, making friends with everyone. By 1950 he had become the most talked-about man in Kamloops. Every Sunday his church was packed. The seating capacity was increased several times until it reached four hundred and fifty. Still there were Sundays w'hen people were turned away.

Why did they come?

"I think because of my earnestness,” Gaglardi explains. “I believe what I preach and 1 preach it with fervor . . , Then I don’t put on any airs. I’m not a clergyman in that sense . . . I’m an ordinary fellow. There’s nothing false about me.”

Gaglardi says he did not seek a political career; it was thrust upon him. He had joined the Social Credit party because of its “high moral standards” and then, in spite of his repeated objections, w'as nominated to run, in 1952, in the Kamloops constituency.

The reluctant candidate not only won, but came close to capturing the premier-

ship itself. When the leaderless Socrcds suddenly found themselves in power, a party caucus named W. A. C. Bennett, a well-to-do hardware merchant from Kelowna, as premier. He was two votes ahead of the bouncy little evangelist from Kamloops.

Gaglardi has since been the primetarget of opposition newspapers and political sharpshooters.

More than once the Vancouver Sun and the Victoria Times have accused the cabinet member of flying home to Kamloops to his other career every weekend

in a government plane. Gaglardi denies he uses a government plane that often and he says he’s conducting government business when he does.

When Neil McCallum, chief engineer of the highways department, resigned in ¡956, he said he quit because a proposed reorganization of the department seemed to him "unworkable." The Sun attributed discontent in the department — other senior men resigned about the same time —to Gaglardi's alleged interference with technical and mechanical decisions. For instance, a committee of engineers, chair-

ed by McCallum, wanted to lead a highway across the Fraser River by bridge. Gaglardi plumped for a tunnel, w'hich has since been dug and is now in use.

The Sun has since attributed the phrase "a triumph of imagination over engineering facts" to Gaglardi, in connection with this controversy. Gaglardi insists the Sun invented the phrase.

When eighteen men died in the collapse of a section of the Second Narrow's Bridge, the Sun attacked him. He protested: "They blamed me. Was I holding it up and went for coffee or something?”

At a cost of roughly five million dollars, he has built two huge ferries, each capable of carrying one hundred and fifty cars, and early next year he'll have them plying daily between Vancouver Island and B. C.’s Lower Mainland in competition with two privately owned lines. The Sun and other anti-Gaglardi elements view the whole scheme with disfavor.

Flying Phil has never denied he's a three-time loser to the RCMP on speeding raps but he does wonder why they've nabbed him only recently when he's been driving for thirty-two years. “I am a fast driver," he admits. "1 do everything fast. I talk fast. I work fast. I act fast. I think fast. I’m fast everywhere. I was born in a hurry and I’ve been in a hurry ever since. And I'm not slow in anything." Still, he maintains he didn't raise the speed limit to sixty miles per hour because he likes speeding, but because, he says, it's the safest speed.

Faced with an appalling increase in traffic deaths, George Lindsay, superintendent of the motor-vehicles branch in B. C., blamed it on the sixty-mile-perhour zones created on twenty-two highways. Fundamentalist Gaglardi discounted this, saying alcohol, not speed, was the big killer.

Though he has become accustomed to this constant harassment on the secular front, Gaglardi was slightly taken aback when the opening of his new Kamloops church, a fine edifice with such modern conveniences as a glass - walled crying room for infants, provoked a storm in the press and in the legislature.

“I sleep only five hours”

The opening, one Sunday in January. 1958. was staged in the grandiose Gaglardi manner. At his request Canadian Pacific Airlines had donated the use of an airliner to fly thirty-two prominent businessmen, including Ralph Pybus. president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, to Kamloops. The lieutenantgovernor, Frank Ross, arrived by private railroad car. and Robert G. Le Tourneau, Texas millionaire and self-styled "God's businessman," came in his own plane.

The new church was jammed and overflow crowds filled the basement as well as the old church next door as Gaglardi began the dedication service with a solo. Bless This House, to be follow'ed by Premier Bennett reading from the Scriptures. Then Frank Ross, who earlier in the day had attended Sunday school where he heard hundreds of children sing Kamloops is for Jesus — Watch our Dust, cut the ceremonial ribbon. Le Tourneau preached the sermon.

Quoting Gaglardi, the Sun reported next day that although it was valued at SI50,000, the new church had cost only fifty to seventy-five thousand to build because labor had been donated and materials supplied at cut rates. This caused Robert Strachan. the CCF leader, to ask, "Are these firms making contributions because he was building a church or because he is minister of highways?"

Recently. I spent a weekend with this astonishing little man. It began at eight on a Friday morning in August when I joined him at breakfast in the Hotel Vancouver. He'd been awake since five, reading government reports in bed. "I need only five hours sleep," he said. "The help of God, that's the real basis of my energy.”

Our attempts at an interview were constantly frustrated by the ringing of the telephone. He'd pick up the instrument with a flourish and, with great heartiness, shout into it: “Yes, sir! Yes, sir! Fine! . . .

That’s for sure! . . . One hundred percent! That’s for sure!”

Shortly after noon we were galloping across the street together to another hotel where he was to address a businessmen’s luncheon.Gaglardi spoke about Gaglardi’s adventures with the RCMP, Gaglardi’s trials and tribulations with the press, the great shining future of British Columbia, hydro-electric power, highways, the tunnel, labor-management relations, and the government-owned railway, and then, with a "God bless you! Nice to be with you!”, delivered with the inflections of a Jimmy Durante, he was gone.

We picked up our luggage, piled into a government - owned Oldsmobile, and headed for the airport. He drove aggressively, muttering a "God bless you!” whenever another motorist caused him annoyance.

We flew to Kamloops in a government plane. Gaglardi was at pains to assure me he usually makes his weekend trips by train; he was flying this time only because he'd need the plane for a business journey on Monday. It was almost four o’clock when we reached Kamloops; still he went directly to his highways office where twelve appointments had been arranged for him. Other tasks kept him busy almost until midnight.

I caught up with him on Saturday morning at about ten, at Calvary Temple. He’d been busy since eight and now was about to record five fifteen-minute radio broadcasts, as he does every Saturday morning—one to be heard each weekday over five stations: “Good morning, all! Top of the morning to you on this tine Monday morning, friend o’ mine!”

And so he'd race through one recording after another, ad libbing every word and faltering only momentarily when, in introduction, he’d lose track of the day of the week.

Once again highways and church business kept Gaglardi from sleep until nearly midnight, but, at eight-thirty the next morning, as chipper as ever, he was at the local radio station, delivering his regular half-hour Sunday message, and urging his listeners — always addressed familiarly and in the singular as "friend o’ mine”—to be sure to come to Calvary Temple that evening to hear his answer to the question that today is uppermost in the minds of all men, "Am I my own boss?”

By 9.15 he was at the temple to see that all eleven of his volunteer bus drivers were ready to leave on their regular Sunday rounds. Then, in his own car, he made two trips, as he does every Sunday, to bring children to Sunday school.

Four hundred and thirty-one children came. Jennie Gaglardi led them through the lively opening exercises, the children clapping their hands joyfully as they sang, "God bless our Sunday school,” and "B-I-B-L-E—that’s the book for me.”

When the lessons began, Gaglardi took charge of the teen-agers’ class, as he al-

Advancing years

I once thought middle-age to be Approximately thirty-three;

Then, somewhat later on, I knew That it was nearer forty-two;

But recently 1 notice I’ve Pegged mis age at fifty-five.

The evidence distinctly shows As 1 grow older, up it goes.


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ways does. He told them the story of Sampson and, thrusting a warning finger in their direction and his voice booming, he said, "The whisky boys are after you. Yes, sir! They’re after you, just as they were after Sampson. To mock you! Yes, sir. to mock you!”

Hardly had he discharged his Sunday school class than he was mounting the pulpit for the morning devotional service. Then, after retiring to his home for a lunch of roast beef and for a nap. he returned to the church at five to conduct a prayer meeting. In the winter, he rushes

from this meeting to telecast a fifteenminute fireside chat called Man to Man. Shortly after seven he was again in the church, preparing for the evangelistic meeting he considers to be his main appearance of the day.

There was, after this, another quick trip home, for coffee and sandwiches, before he appeared in the pulpit again to broadcast a radio service from 10.15 to 10.45.

As he finished, I asked him. “Are you tired?" He was almost offended. “No siree! ” he said. “No siree! I’m in business

twenty-four hours a day. Got to be.”

This, I was to discover, is no figure of speech; he is in business twenty - four hours a day. Back at my hotel that night I curiously dialed 3170, one of two telephone numbers given to me by Mrs. Gaglardi, and, in a moment, I heard a familiar, recorded voice: "This is Phil Gaglardi coming your way with a minute message.”

1 hung up thinking that in British Columbia, as in Kamloops, there is no escaping Phil Gaglardi. He is. as they say, as near as your telephone. ★