Most of the worlds religions, great and small, mark the return of spring, the season of renewed life and hope. Jews celebrate Passover, the eight-day commemoration of their freedom from bondage in Egypt more than 3,000 years ago. And, after the solemn ceremonies of Holy Week, Christians rejoice at Easter, the feast of Jesus Christ’s resurrection and the climactic point of the liturgical year. This spring Holy Week and Passover coincide over the last days of March. It’s an apt time for Macleans to pay tribute to nine individuals in multicultural, multi-faith, modern Canada committed to practising their religion not just on religious holidays but in their daily lives.
Is religion an important part of your life?
When Tom Caldwell was a kid, he’d regularly clean out the spare change left by parishioners for the purchase of flowers at a neighbourhood Catholic church. He spent it at the local cinema, in the days when tickets were 10 cents a pop. “I’d go and help myself and supplement my pathetic allowance,” he recalls. “It meant nothing to me.”
Caldwell, now a stocky 58-year-old, is the founding chairman of the Bay Street
investment firm Caldwell Securities Ltd. On weekends, for fun, he rides a HarleyDavidson, wearing a helmet with a fake ponytail attached. He swears and smokes the odd cigar, and he can be sharptongued. Just as in his youth—he grew up in a violent, messy Toronto family—he’s scrappy, unafraid of a fight. In 1999, at a cost of at least $70,000, he took out fullpage ads in the National Post and Globe and Mail practically heckling the federal government over its “ad hoc policies” in the airline and banking industries. But under the gruff veneer, Caldwell is also a
devout Christian who lives his faith day-in, day-out. He’s allied to no particular denomination, attending both Presbyterian and Pentecostal churches when he’s at his home in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. In Toronto, he usually goes to Alderwood Congregational, an evangelical church.
Money is Tom Caldwell’s business; faith, his lifeline. As much as he can, he brings the two together. He is the co-chairman of King-Bay Chaplaincy, a drop-in centre that holds Bible studies and offers youth outreach and counselling deep in an underground passage beneath one of Toronto’s
bank towers. He is a founding member of All-A-Board Youth Ventures, which operates a restaurant and a furniture manufacturing company that both employ troubled teens. And through his firm, he offers short-term, quick financial help to people in crisis. His faith acts on another level, beyond the charitable work, in the way he deals with his clients, all of whom have entrusted him with handling their money. “The incredible thing in my work is you get very close to people,” he says. “I’m closer to some than their doctors or their priests and, in many cases, their spouses. It’s an immense privilege.”
Caldwell’s sense of right and wrong is reflected in his investing style: he focuses on companies that offer socially beneficial products and won’t, for example, buy stocks of gambling, alcohol or tobacco companies. “One year,” he recalls, “five guys in the securities business took their own lives, and booze was a part of four of the deaths. So I don’t want to be in those businesses.” Asked to reconcile the hardedged, often greedy Bay Street world with that of faith, he says the root of all evil is not money, but the love of it.
He became a born-again Christian when he was in his early 30s, married and the father of two boys. He had been a topperforming broker, but after he left that job, he recalls, his prospects took a steep nose-dive. “I guess I was like the pro hockey player who starts to believe his own press clippings.” Caldwell won’t say what caused him to crash down, but notes it wasn’t anything unlawful. He lost everything, financially, and managed to rack up an additional $200,000 in debt. After 18 months of unemployment he was offered a new position as a retail broker with Fry Mills Spence (a predecessor company to BMO Nesbitt Burns)—and a chance to rebuild his life. One day a trader at the firm invited him to attend lunchtime Bible study. “I don’t know why I said yes.” Bible study turned out to be an “oasis of sanity.” He learned he wasn’t in the centre of the universe, and that God was. He says it’s a struggle sometimes to live the life of the faithful. “I get angry, tired, frustrated, irritated,” he says. “I’m not ready to be canonized just yet, you know.”
And that debt to the Catholic church? About five years ago, he calculated what the interest over 45 years would be on an estimated $50 heist, and left a cheque for almost $4,000 on the altar.
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