Home Town or Home Community:
Moose Jaw, SK
The Seaborns – Moose Jaw, SK
Submitted by: Ted Seaborn, Seaborn Agencies Ltd.,
I am pleased to submit this contribution to the “Winning the Prairie Gamble: The Saskatchewan Story” family history album project. The Seaborn legacy began before Saskatchewan became a province in 1905 when in 1884 my grandmother, Hester Kent, had the distinction of being the second non-aboriginal baby born in the area. As a result, our family has its roots going back to the very beginning of Moose Jaw as a community in the mid 1880’s when it also served as the land titles office for the North West Territories. Truly, that would have been a prairie gamble as settlers came to open up an area people knew very little about and which had to be built from the ground up. Because of their entrepreneurial spirit Moose Jaw thrived and at one time was the most significant and progressive community in western Canada boasting of diverse enterprises such as street car manufacturing, brewing, brick making, flour processing, electric power generation, education (for a time it was the location for the Normal School dedicated to teacher training in the province, a historic building which still stands as part of SIAST (Palliser Campus).
It was into this environment that my father Trevor Seaborn was born, the son of Lt. Col. Walter E. and Mrs. W. E. Seaborn, nee Hester Kent who married in 1904. Before WWI my grandfather, originally from London, Ontario, (perhaps that is where my father gained his yen to see the east) the son of Rev. and Mrs. W.M. Seaborn, was called to the Bar in 1902, commenced practice as a Barrister in 1904 and was named Kings Council in 1932. When my grandfather passed away on October 4th, 1955 he was the second oldest lawyer in Saskatchewan from the point of view of years served as a legal practitioner. During his lifetime my grandfather combined a successful legal practice with an entrepreneurial spirit.
As a result of both his legal and business expertise, he played a key role in bringing industries to the city. For example, in 1907 he was president of the Moose Jaw Brewing Company, the Saskatchewan Trust Company and the Moose Jaw Paint and Oil Company. He was closely involved with the Board of Trade and served as an alderman in 1906.
His interests also extended into other areas, most notably athletics as he was President of the Western Canada Hockey League in the 1920’s, vice-president of the Saskatchewan Cricket Association, president of the Moose Jaw Rowing Club and vice-president of the Moose Jaw Lacrosse Association. He also enjoyed playing baseball. One could say that my grandfather had a most eclectic resume! A significant achievement for “The Colonel” and indeed for Saskatchewan and Moose Jaw was that he owned the second motor vehicle to be licensed in Saskatchewan, a 1905 curved-dash Oldsmobile Runabout with license plate #2. Moose Jaw Historian Leith Knight once wrote that the rumor is that the person with the historic license plate #1 was issued to a Regina resident (Regina being THE CAPITAL and thereby deserving that distinction) who did not even own a car! As a result, locals knew that Mr. Seaborn was TRULY the first bona fide licensed motorist in the Province of Saskatchewan! True or not, it makes for interesting historical intrigue. By 1906 Moose Jaw boasted three motor vehicles, a trend which grew to 50 in 1910 and an astonishing 600 motor vehicles by 1914!
Grandfather was an active member of the army militia for a number of years before the war – and so when the war came he was actually quite experienced in army matters and the handling of men. It was a significant act of patriotism that he funded, recruited, trained and embarked to Europe some 600 soldiers to make the 210th Battalion. He was often mentioned in dispatches for his exemplary service. As evidenced by his high rank, my grandfather excelled in many aspects of life. The war, however, proved to be a costly interruption. Walter returned to Moose Jaw on February 1, 1919, via the Panama Canal on the Empress of Asia to resume his legal practice. The personal expenses he had paid in the years of army recruiting and service, as well as someone stealing a substantial amount of money from his wife left him financially strapped. To his credit and as a testament to his character (a trait I hope we as Seaborns may have inherited) he persevered and built up his interests again. In that way he reminds me of Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If” where he characterizes a man who can lose what he has “at one toss” and uncomplainingly and patiently build it up again. It was a rapidly changing time that could often go from “boom to bust” and none greater than the Great Depression of the 1930’s. It was indeed a “Prairie Gamble” and they had to learn to play their cards wisely and inventively find new “stakes” when events turned against them.
With that kind of patience my grandfather found himself in a position in 1924 to borrow some money from some well to do local farmers and renovate his residence of Clifton Hall into suites. From that day on, Walter and his family lived on the main floor and indeed four generations of Seaborns have lived at Clifton Hall. Today Clifton Hall still serves its residents through six suites and is still in the family, owned by my wife Alice and I.
Our last name “Seaborn” sometimes puts me in mind of how our journey to this point has been very much like a sea born object. A family which somehow has managed to survive, and remarkably even at times thrive while being carried along by the unpredictable currents of life, in periods of becalming when nothing seems to be happening economically, in drought when the rain and snow disappears year after year, in the face of a relentless wind which whips everything around in to a frenzy, in a climate which swings wildly through extremes from 40 C above to 40 C below in as little as a five month period and in a community which was once “promised” unparalleled growth and success in business, politics and post-secondary education, (it was once championed to be the center of government and learning) only to see itself quickly surpassed by the cities of Regina and Saskatoon, ever expanding development to the west and the cities of Calgary and Edmonton in Alberta. That, however, did not deter the local spirit and tenacity of Moosejavians of which the Seaborns are proud to be part.
My father, Trevor Seaborn, began his life as one of those Moosejavians when he was born in Moose Jaw in 1908. After attending King George School, and Central and Ross collegiates, all three buildings which today still stand to serve the educational needs of children of the community. The only change in the nature of these schools is Ross School which is now a bilingual school and serves the needs of English as a second language, showing again how the community has adapted to the new and changing demographics.
My father, Trevor, inherited his love of finance and business from his father who was generally referred to as The Colonel. When one combines a military background and their upbringing with an entrepreneurial spirit, it does not surprise me when I look back that my father succeeded. It was, however, like the journey on the sea, a zig zag route that eventually ended up where it started.I know my father wasn’t the inspiration for the song “I’ve Been Everywhere” but it seems at times he could have been! He started his career in banking in 1926 at the age of 18 as a clerk at the Moose Jaw branch of the Royal Bank of Canada. He held that position for five years until he was transferred in 1931, the beginning of the depression, to a rural community, Macklin, SK in the west central part of the province. A year later he was transferred to another rural community north of Swift Current, a French community named Cabri. His love of life attracted him to the freedom of motorcycles but unfortunately (no doubt due to the unpredictable condition of rural roads) led to an accident barely one year later that laid him up for 10 months.
It was then that his travels really began in earnest when he was transferred from the quiet agricultural community and indeed a province now trying to come to grips with the Dirty Thirties. Precipitously perhaps, his transfer took him to eastern Canada to the Yonge and Richmond Street branch of the Royal Bank in Toronto, a center of commerce that is still the heartbeat of Canada’s financial district. What a dramatic change that would have been for a “prairie boy”. Subsequently, he served in branches in Toronto, Chatham, Hamilton and Kitchener during the years 1933-40. It was in the Chatham Branch that Marion Morse, who worked for The Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, came to Trevor’s window each day with their deposit. My father said “he never had to count her carefully rolled coins as she was so accurate”. They were married in Chatham in December of 1939. This background in finance, customer service and exposure to new and developing fields, led him to change his vocation by entering the insurance business. He studied and sold life insurance in the east and in the spring of 1944, barely one year before the end of WWII, he returned to Moose Jaw.
Moose Jaw Business and Family Recollections
In Moose Jaw my father entered the real estate and insurance business on his own, representing Great -West Life Assurance, which is now one of Canada’s largest companies. His entrepreneurial journey continued the family traditions which had been started by his father.
My father also recognized the importance of community, serving as the President of the Moose Jaw Y’s Men club in 1946. He also had a love of sports (he once held the record for the high jump and hop step and jump in Saskatchewan in 1929-30) and continued his athletic interests in rugby, basketball and volleyball. Interestingly enough. Moose Jaw still boasts its own Rugby team showing just how deep the roots were that these prairie businessmen and athletes planted. He also enjoyed basketball and served as the president of the local association. His grandson, my son Barry, has sports in his genes as well and both played and coached adult basketball in Moose Jaw, including coaching SIAST Palliser Campus, Moose Jaw, to two league championships and being honored with a Coach of the Year award. To say my dad was well-rounded would be an understatement, for in addition to being a “jock” he was also a musician playing both the banjo and saxophone in Moose Jaw dance bands. He also sang in barbershop quartets and choruses, and in the choir at St. John’s Church. Our home was often filled with the sounds of sing songs.
While his dad. The Colonel, was also a musician, it was likely from his mother that he got most of his talent since she was an accomplished pianist who had several other students perform professionally. It was from my grandfather that I received an unusual source of inspiration from “great literature” and the lessons it holds for life. When I was a young boy I well recall going down to his office on a Saturday and his giving me money to buy a comic. There was only one condition. It had to be a Classic! Looking back, it was money very much appreciated and very well spent. From my grandmother I also inherited some musical talent although I must confess it was a modest ability. Like my father I also eventually played in bands, playing keyboards for 25 years in six different Saskatchewan locations in which I lived, once being a member of three bands at one time in North Battleford. It made for an interesting if not sometimes exhausting lifestyle!
My grandmother also had a remarkable sense of humor and while the music served me well as a diversion, great way to meet people and have fun, I think it is this sense of humor which was the greatest gift of all. Life does not always deal us Royal Flushes, as evidenced by the challenges faced by both my grandfather and father in an unpredictable and rapidly changing prairie economy. The ability to laugh at ourselves and to bring a sense of humor to life and work is a wonderful gift.
My father used his sense of humor and ability to connect with people in his advertising where he was truly a Renaissance man. He intuitively knew the power of slogans and quickly adopted his own slogan to help him sell Saskatchewan Government Insurance. That slogan was simple, unforgettable and light hearted: “Be Clever, See Trevor”. Ads in a similar lighthearted vein included “Call us B4 you need us!” and “DDT- Drop down to see Trevor.” He also knew the value of repetition as most editions of the newspaper would carry an ad from him proclaiming: ” Insure. Insure. Insurance!”, which like the DDT ad was a simple and clever play on words that spoke volumes. My father understood like Shakespeare’s Hamlet that it was not “words, words, words” that carried meaning, but it was cleverly crafted words with a strong impact that stayed with people and indeed swayed people in their choices.
The best example and a classic in advertising and insurance occurred when we were the victim of a fire ourselves. One Sunday afternoon in June, the playhouse beside our family home “mysteriously” caught fire. My father was at home at the time but my mother and the rest of our family were holidaying at Regina Beach. Since this small playhouse was attached to the house and office, it could have been a very serious conflagration but local firemen brought the blaze under control within one hour and saved the day. The next week my father turned his misfortune into an opportunity with a newspaper ad addressed to him from me, his son!
“Dear Dad…Seems you had quite a fire while I was away. Tsk! Tsk! Kids playing with matches wasn’t it? Well, we’re both covered this time. Nice to know that anyway. Your relieved son, TED.”
He further turned misfortune into “fortune” by following that ad up with this priceless copy:
“Dear Ted……Sure our fire last Sunday found your old Dad prepared. He practices what he preaches. Wired his insurance company Monday. Had the adjuster in Tuesday, and the contractor is already working on the damage at the time of writing. Insurance works fast when a client is familiar with the procedure. Like I always tell the folks, son: Be Clever, See Trevor. Insuredly, POP.”
What consumer could resist such a folksy yet powerful message?
Who would not love and appreciate the importance of this business with a father as inventive and genuinely humorous as my dad!
While he had an inexhaustible sense of humor he took his role and work seriously. The insurance industry is a difficult one in that when people need you most is when they have suffered a serious loss whether to a business, home, livestock, crops, cars and even pets! My dad enjoyed being of service and help to people and proudly displayed in an ad a picture of him handing a claim cheque to Don Prentice, Manager of Bloss Jewellers which experienced a business fire. Once again the ad was to the point, and conveyed a significant message about both his business practices and his product, Saskatchewan Government Insurance.
“Tuesday Bloss Jewellers Fire. Wednesday Claim File Opened. Thursday Claim Cheque Paid Over By Agent.”
After 13 years of growth in the insurance agency and being one of the top five SGIO agencies in Saskatchewan, my father sold the main portion of his business to McCauley Agencies in 1957 and moved next door to our present location at 463 Main Street North. Here he retained a small number of insurance files with the line companies and concentrated his attention on revenue properties and his hobby (no doubt inspired by his dad, the Col.), a collection of military cap badges. While I did not realize it at the time, this business location would serve as another period of rebuilding just like my grandfather rebuilt his business after WWI.
My father also helped and influenced others in the insurance business. A colleague and friend, Del Fisher, a successful insurance broker in Calgary and now in Strathmore, Alberta, wrote in a letter to our family after my dad’s passing, “I am sure I owe my present success to his training and understanding.” In turn I can credit Del with teaching me how to ride a two wheel bike by holding me up while running up and down the city sidewalk in front of our office and Zion United Church and back until I got my balance. Was this a forerunner of the practice of riding bicycles on city sidewalks? I sincerely hope not.
My Genesis Into Business
Like my father, I seem to have been hit by a period of wanderlust, driven both by the nature of my work and a desire to meet different types of people. I was the second generation of Seaborns who both completed his schooling here and eventually carried out a business career here. In Moose Jaw I first attended Victoria School, as had my grandmother, then King George School, as did my father, and later Central Collegiate, finishing at St. Louis College. I also enjoyed athletics and won two scoring championships in high school basketball and later was part of a championship team in the North Battleford men’s league. (I remind my son Barry of his source of basketball wizardry from time to time just to keep him in check!) While I was born in Toronto (1942) my family moved to Moose Jaw when I was only two, so Moose Jaw is “metaphorically” my birthplace; it is where I consider I have always come from (no offence to Toronto!). Like my father, I too ventured into the world of banking (Is that what’s good for the gander is good for the cygnet?) Unlike my father who joined the Royal Bank, I had to be different, so I joined the Bank of Nova Scotia in 1961. My life changed quickly as in 1962 I was transferred to North Battleford, which ironically like Moose Jaw played a key role in the settling of the West, as a historic center of the North West Mounted Police. I worked in North Battleford for two years, leaving the bank to return to Moose Jaw to broaden my experiences.
My family’s entrepreneurial spirit drew me to the retail business and in 1965 I started back at square one as a stock boy with the Woolworth’s chain. In 1966 I moved to Weyburn, then Regina and finally in 1967 began to work with Woolworth’s in Swift Current, which ironically is very near where my father worked for the bank in Cabri. While in Swift Current I too succumbed to a French influence, but in this case it was not from Cabri but from Ponteix, a French speaking community south and east of Swift Current. Her name was Alice and she would become my wife in 1967. In that year I changed from Woolworth’s to work for MacDonalds Consolidated also in Swift Current.
In 1968 retail again called along with an opportunity to be a store manager (in name only) just west of Ponteix, in Shaunavon in the southwest, a diversified community building on agriculture and the oil industry. For two years I “managed” McGregor’s Retail Variety Store which I briefly considered buying; however, my business sense told me that perhaps I would be wiser to return to Moose Jaw and so the circle was completed when I returned in 1970 to the city I call home. My father knew the power of commission sales as a motivational tool and it was in this environment that I was challenged to grow the business once more. While I did not share his passion for vehicles of the two wheeled variety, perhaps being influenced by his accident in Cabri many years ago, I did develop a fondness for vehicles of the four wheel variety.
I purchased the insurance files from my father in February 1974; sadly he passed away in 1976 at the age of 68. I then began to follow even more so in my father’s footsteps, purchasing the office building from my Uncle George, my dad’s younger brother, in 1977 and began the process of acquiring various agencies over the years in order to improve and diversify our client base. While working for my father and since that time, I have often been reminded of our reasons for success. Like my father’s advertising acumen, the recipe is simple – Our clients; they are the reason for our success and the long term friendships that we’ve developed over the years that make doing business and providing first-class prompt and friendly service a genuine pleasure. Our staff: Long-term employees such as Elaine Steams, Sheila Anne Powers and Shelly Evans have helped, as my father would say, “insure” solid office practices with knowledgeable, committed employees who share our values, work ethic and who also have a refreshing sense of humor that makes going to work fun and invigorating. No one personifies that type of employee service record more than the late Elsie Timms who was affectionately known as “Timmy”. Timmy passed away in 1987 counting among her many achievements a remarkable 39 years of service to Seaborn Agencies, including to Colonel Seaborn, his son Trevor (my dad), and of course, me. In 1997 we renovated our business and received a City of Moose Jaw heritage award for “sensitive infill” architecture. We are proud of that achievement as it shows we are being true to our roots.
In 1994, our 50th year in business, the generational trend of Seaborn Agencies continued its legacy of service to Moose Jaw and area when my son Barry joined our firm after he worked in (surprise, surprise!) retail for three years after graduating from a business program at SIAST Palliser Campus in Moose Jaw. Our daughter, Carolyn, of whom we are equally proud, also lives in Moose Jaw, and has recently enjoyed the challenges and mastery of the freedom that comes with independent living. Barry, the third generation Seaborn in the insurance business, along with his wife Aftyn, herself a graduate of SIAST Palliser Campus, bring us new ideas for the new generation of insurers with existing and new insurance needs. Perhaps my grandchildren, 3 year old Riley and 1 year old Nylah, will catch the “bug” as well and follow in their father’s footsteps. Only time will tell but whatever choice they make I am confident it will be the right one for them. My only sibling, a sister, is married and lives in Saskatoon where she is the Director of Recreation and Volunteer Services at Oliver Lodge, a special care home in Saskatoon.
Our agency just celebrated 60 years of business in Moose Jaw, making it one of the longest established agencies in the Province. It is an achievement which we are very proud of and do not take lightly. If my dad were here to write copy for this project I am sure he would write something like:
“They learned to be clever from Trevor and they will insure, and I mean INSURE, that you get the right kind of insurance. DDT&B…. Drop down to see Ted and Barry!” You know, it’s music to my ears.
To return to my original theme of Seaborn, I am again reminded of Shakespeare who wrote about a tide in the affairs of men, which when taken at the right moment can lead to wonderful things. In that regard, I am very proud to have been “Seaborn” this time on the waves of wheat waving in the prairie wind as they cover the flatlands which have their own varied tales of prairie gambles lost and won. But then it is not whether one wins or loses that matters, is it. It is indeed “how we play the game”. I thank my family most for teaching me how closely the “rules” of life and business are intertwined. If we do truly have a legacy to leave, that would be my choice.
Special thanks to SMI Saskatoon for their sponsorship and Rod McLean of Moose Jaw for helping us with our story.
Ted Seaborn, Moose Jaw, 2004