Mr. Turton

Mr. Turton

A. E. (Ted) Turton, broker, promoter, financier and mentor to many, has died age 84. Mr. Turton stood out in the investment business; he cared more about people and their projects than about accumulating wealth. From time to time he could be a rascal, but he was always a gentleman. Loyal, humble and dignified, he treated everyone he met as his equal. Many successful Vancouverites owe their success to Mr. Turton.

Family and friends gathered to celebrate the life of this unusual man at a funeral service on Jan. 11, followed by a reception at the Shaughnessy Golf and Country Club, where he was a member.

Mr. Turton lived by the phrase, “Stick and stay and make it pay,” but always it was the people he supported first, then their projects. Knowing the individuals was often enough for him to finance a company, even if no one else thought so, and such was the case with Brenda Mines Ltd. When Mr. Turton became involved with Brenda it was a highly speculative mining company, but he knew and trusted its two geologists, Morris Menzies and Bern Brynelsen, both of whom had worked at Noranda Inc. The men had tried to convince Noranda to take on the Brenda property, but failed. That did not matter to Mr. Turton. He conducted the company’s first financing. Brenda later turned out to be a massive, low-grade, open-pit copper mine that reached production in 1970.

Early days

Alfred Edward (Ted) Turton was born on May 31, 1930, to parents Alfred and May, a working family in Brandon, Man. Growing up, the young man took a job at a local clothing store, but it did little to satisfy his entrepreneurial spirit. At age 20, he left Brandon for Edmonton, where he worked for the Morris Fraser organization as a broker. He quickly learned about and fell in love with the investment business.

Mr. Turton spent a decade in Edmonton, but he wanted to do better deals in bigger markets. So, in early 1960, as told in Michael Caldwell’s book, The Wizards: Millionaire Magicians of the Vancouver Stock Market, Mr. Turton left Edmonton. The Wizards devoted an entire chapter to Mr. Turton, aptly titled ‘Some nice guys finish first.’ He spent a few months in Dallas before moving on to Vancouver, where he set up his own broker-dealer, A.E. Turton & Company.

Pyramid Mines

One of Mr. Turton’s earliest deals was also one of his most famous. In November, 1964, Alec Lenec, whose office was just down the hall from Mr. Turton’s, came looking for a financing. Mr. Lenec’s company, Pyramid Mines, had only $7 in the bank, but it had some claims it had staked adjacent to the Pine Point lead-silver-zinc discovery in the Northwest Territories. Mr. Turton got to work.

He did two underwritings, one at 35 cents and one at 50 cents, then a private placement at 75 cents, raising the company $298,500 in total, a respectable amount in those days. “I had trouble even giving the stock away at 35 cents,” Mr. Turton told David Cruise and Alison Griffiths, when they were doing research for Fleecing the Lamb, a book about the VSE. He had to put up some of his own money and he sold the stock to anyone he could collar. Thanks to his perseverance and salesmanship, Pyramid was widely distributed when its first drill hole hit an orebody.

Once the money was raised, geologist Henry Hill began surveying the property. It was the fall of 1965. The results were so good that Mr. Hill decided to drill right away, in spite of minus-50 prewinter temperatures. As Fleecing the Lamb told it, Mr. Hill had to communicate the results back to Vancouver using a radiotelephone, which meant eavesdroppers. To foil any uninvited ears, Mr. Hill and Mr. Lenec devised an elaborate code, using hours of the day to correspond with drill results. For example, if Mr. Hill said it was 3 a.m. that meant he had made a strike. On Friday, Oct. 28, 1965, Mr. Hill called Vancouver. He had been drinking, so he was having difficulty adhering to the code. When asked what time it was, he blurted out, “I don’t give a f..k what time it is, we’re all f…..g millionaires.” Pyramid’s first drill hole had hit. The value of Mr. Turton’s 100,000 shares climbed by $1.5-million within a week. He could afford to buy another suit. Previously, said Jimmy Lenec, Alec’s grandson, Mr. Turton had only one.

The national publicity that accompanied the Pyramid strike also did wonders for the Vancouver stock exchange. Eastern brokerage firms started paying attention to the affairs of Howe Street. The august members of the Toronto Stock Exchange had much disdain for the VSE but because there was money to be made they started opening offices and exercising their seats on the exchange. Mr. Turton left his broker-dealer firm and opened a Howe Street office for Toronto-based Waite Reid & Company. Waite Reid and many others hoped to participate in more companies like Pyramid, but Pyramid did not lead to other finds in the area. Waite Reid closed because of unrelated problems, and Mr. Turton found himself without a job, but not for long. Brokerage firm H.H. Hemsworth and Company was for sale.

Hemsworth Turton

In 1967, Mr. Turton bought 51 per cent of H.H. Hemsworth for $23,000 and a $200,000 injection of working capital, renaming the brokerage house Hemsworth Turton and Company. A year later, he recruited Peter Brown as sales manager and acquired the remaining 49 per cent of the firm from Harold Hemsworth for $140,000. Mr. Brown said he attended that lunch. He had just left a job at a very proper national firm, against his father’s wishes, to join the rambunctious Hemsworth Turton. He had no capital at the time, only an understanding that he and Mr. Turton would later revisit his equity position in the firm. (When they did discuss the partnership five years later, Mr. Brown said the $163,000 firm, now renamed Canarim Investment Corp., was worth closer to $5-million. Mr. Brown, another excellent salesman, proposed he pay only $80,000 for his half, the same as Mr. Turton. To his surprise, Mr. Turton agreed. He was a fair man, said Mr. Brown.)

The easiest part about buying Hemsworth Turton was just that, buying it, Mr. Turton once said. He was a salesman not an administrator, and the oil and gas market of 1968 and 1969 was a wild period for the VSE. Murray Pezim, who had been kicked out of Toronto with most of the other promoters, in a purge resulting from a trading scandal at the Toronto Stock Exchange, had settled in at the VSE, and found it very much to his liking. Hemsworth Turton soon became the liveliest of the local brokerage firms that populated Howe Street in those days. On busy days its street-level office would be packed with speculators trading rumours and market gossip as their stocks rose and fell. If it sometimes looked like a madhouse, it was. Unfortunately, the fortunes of Hemsworth Turton often rose and fell with those of its boisterous clients.

By 1970 the firm was on the brink of collapse. That is until Peter Brown hired Brian Harwood away from his banking career to come and straighten things out. Canarim had its administrator.

When asked about working with Mr. Brown, Mr. Turton once said, “I couldn’t go at the pace Peter does. I guess I tend to zero in on one situation at a time.” For his slower work habits, he was given the nickname the Turtle, while Mr. Brown received the faster Rabbit moniker. The turtle and the rabbit worked alongside each other for 45 years. “We had many disagreements, but not one argument of consequence,” said Mr. Brown.

People before profit

Mr. Turton had many successes, said Mr. Brown, with the winners outnumbering the losers; there were diamond mines, oil and gas wells and a successful fertilizer business. There was also his dog biscuit company, recalled Mr. Brown. That one was exactly that, a dog biscuit. During the mid-1970s, Mr. Brown said Mr. Turton suffered a reversal, along with the rest of the market. Even so, he could never refuse a hard-luck story. Mr. Brown remembered one day when the 6 o’ clock news featured a grade-two class that had managed to raise some money for an uninsured American boy, living in Whiterock. The boy had lost his leg after being hit by a train and needed $30,000 for a prosthetic. The seven-year-olds had managed to scrounge up $25. Before the news ended, Mr. Turton had acquired the family’s phone number, called them and told them he would be coming by tomorrow to drop off a cheque for the entire $30,000. Mr. Brown said, “You just added $30,000 to your bank loan.”

“It’s nothing,” said Mr. Turton. “I can make money. This little guy needs a start to life.”

Back to Brandon

In 1974, a schoolmate from Brandon called Mr. Turton asking for help with his business. The friend’s company, Inventronics, manufactured custom metals parts but was having a cash flow problem. Mr. Turton went home to check it out. He discovered a 130-person business that could flourish if only it had more money. He created a prospectus for $150,000, ran ads in the Brandon and Winnipeg newspapers and generated over 1,300 enquiries. Inventronics’s problem was solved.

Around the same time, Mr. Turton and Mr. Brown decided to expand Canarim across Canada, opening offices in Edmonton, Calgary, Regina, Saskatoon and Winnipeg. Mr. Turton stayed in Manitoba, opening the Winnipeg office. He spent 10 years in the land of the deep freeze and the mosquito. He was in his element, said Keith Anderson, one of the first brokers to work with Mr. Turton in the Winnipeg office. Working in Winnipeg was not easy, given the nature of Canarim’s business and Winnipeg’s conservatism. Still, the men managed, thanks to Mr. Turton. When he got behind a company, a flood of buy orders would soon follow. The first day Bob Jefferies, a broker from Vancouver, arrived to Winnipeg, Mr. Turton threw him a phone book. “There is a million dollars in there for you. Now, get your finger in the hole,” referring to the rotary dial.

Larry Van Hattan, then an accountant with Canarim’s auditors, said Mr. Turton’s Winnipeg office was intimidating. It housed the biggest desk he had ever seen along with a boardroom table, a pool table and a fireplace surrounded by several large comfortable chairs, where after work the men could relax with a cocktail. For Mr. Turton, it was always the same, a glass of I.W. Harper bourbon.

After a drink, it was time for dinner and their Donald St. office was a short walk from Hy’s, a place familiar to all the brokers form Vancouver. Despite the cold weather, the Winnipeg time zone had its advantages. The market opened at 8:30 a.m. not 6:30 a.m., which meant they could squeeze in a couple of extra hours of sleep, especially if they had stayed up late the previous night playing cards or craps with Mr. Turton. Mr. Jefferies and Wayne Morgan remembered throwing dice down the long hall of Mr. Turton’s penthouse suite at the Holiday Inn. The dice would hit the door of the bedroom often waking up Deanna (Mr. Turton’s wife, whom he met and married in Winnipeg) who would promptly kick the men out.

Outings with their boss were always fun and sometimes unusual. Mr. Morgan and Mr. Jefferies recalled the time Mr. Turton took them to Denver to meet an oil-and-gas man. After the meeting, he said, “Boys there’s a great boot store around here.” They piled into a limo and drove across town. While the boys admired the fancy footwear, Mr. Turton was having his feet poked and prodded by the local cobbler. The cobbler was fitting him for a custom-made pair of eel-skin boots. The process took several hours, and months later the much-anticipated boots arrived in Winnipeg. An excited Mr. Turton, however, could barely squeeze them on. He had not realized that he would need to break the boots in until they molded to his feet. The $2,000 eel-skin stunners sat on his shelf, unworn.

Return and retirement

In the early 1980s a recession hit; Canarim was forced to make some cuts, which meant shutting its satellite offices. It closed the Regina and Saskatoon branches and sold the other three — Winnipeg, Edmonton and Calgary — to Davidson & Company. Mr. Turton returned to Vancouver. Canarim would later expand again, but not until 1986, at which point Mr. Turton decided it was time to focus on some of his personal ventures. “After 37 years,” he said, “the thing I see most clearly is that this business is changing more rapidly than ever. It may be old hat to say it but this is a young man’s business. And while I can see that the opportunities are tremendous, greater than ever before, at the same time I can think of other, and for me personally greater, opportunities that I’m more interest in looking at.” He sold all but 5 per cent of his 33-per-cent interest in Canarim back to the firm so new, younger shareholders could take over. Then, he turned to his great loves, family, farming, golf and a birdseed venture. His golf game was good, but every so often he would have a bad shot, prompting an outburst of one-of-a-kind expletives, “mammy jammer” and “cock knocker.” A gentleman did not swear.

Bill Rand last visited with Mr. Turton in early December. The old friends drank martinis and reminisced about life. Mr. Turton was happy as ever, he said — one of his stocks was flying.

Mr. Turton died at home on Dec. 15, 2013. He is survivided by his wife Deanna, his daughters Deborah, Sabrina and Julia, his six grandchildren and his two great-grandsons.

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