They can get Canada for you wholesale
Terrance Howes (at left) and John Heaven are nimbleminded Toronto promoters whose gimmick is helping to peddle what isn’t theirs — land being sold for back taxes. They'll also make you a Greek “millionaire” or sell you gold bricks. “Any way we can make an easy buck,” they admit, “we'll jump at it” BY BILL STEPHENSON
TERRANCE HOWES and John Heaven, two Toronto men in their mid-thirties, don't much resemble the conventional images of buccaneers, except for a certain raffish derision in their eyes when confronting government officials or solid businessmen. Yet in their four-year partnership, they have separated the public from more money than many men ever see, most of it by the sale or rent of Canadian land which they neither own nor want to own.
One of their money-coining enterprises is a broadsheet called The Ontario Journal, which lists lands, mainly in Ontario, which are to be sold for nonpayment of taxes. This paper — which has no other editorial matter and comes out only a few times each year — has more than seven thousand subscribers at five dollars a year. But this thirty-five thousand dollar income is minuscule beside the profits they reap from sales of a simple kit listing lands the Ontario government has for lease. By advertising these kits in six Canadian and a hundred U. S. publications, they have grossed some three hundred and fifty thousand dollars in the past two years.
By assiduously tracking down opportunities, the partners have launched enterprises that include selling gold bricks and charging interest on them until the buyers come to Canada to collect their bricks; peddling “international press cards” to free-lance writers; printing facsimiles of obsolete foreign currency in large denominations
(“Become a Greek millionaire for $1”) and promoting packaged fishing trips — a week at “virgin Ontario lakes” for ninety-eight dollars.
Since the partners’ sales methods consist almost entirely of advertising, their advertising bills are formidable, reaching three thousand dollars a week at times. The Madison Avenue advertising agency in New York that handles their U. S. business claims this makes them the largest private Canadian advertisers in the American market. Howes and Heaven make no such claims, preferring to talk about the fun they get out of their unorthodox businesses.
“Every night last summer we'd all sit around the kitchen table and open envelopes,” recalls Howes with a reminiscent smile. “Average nights there’d be two thousand dollars, but many nights we counted twice that much. We loved it and our wives thought it a great change from housekeeping.”
All their enterprises are legal, the pair claim, and point to the location of their Toronto offices at 92 King Street East for confirmation. Besides themselves, the main tenant of this building is the Metropolitan Toronto Police department. The chief of police and the two often receive each other’s mail by mistake.
What makes such mailing mistakes not only possible but probable is the reason why the Ontario government, the Better Business Bureau and other agencies have at times been / continued on page 37
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What’s wrong, they ask, with making money without seeming to work for it?
GET CANADA WHOLESALE
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against Howes and Heaven being in business at all. For their ads, which run in papers ranging from the Wall Street Journal to The Sportsnïan’s Guide, they formerly urged people wanting to rent land to send their dollars to “The Registrar,” “The Administrator,” or “The Director,f in Toronto.
"Anyone reading this might think they were a government body,” complains Grant Ferguson, solicitor for the Ontario Department of Lands and Forests, the agency renting the land. Tom Rimmer. advertising consultant of the Toronto Better Business Bureau, concurs. At one time, they claim, the pair's printing firm, the Sovereign Publishing Co., even had a crown over the name on its stationery.
Howes’ answer to this: “If your firm name is ‘Sovereign,’ a crown is a natural illustration. Does anyone censure Seagram's for peddling Crown Royal?”
Lands and Forests officials’ irritation has not been lessened by other claims in the same ads, which describe the department's long-standing scheme to rent one acre of bush land on which anyone may erect a hunting cabin for twenty dollars a year plus $6.50 taxes. Departmental policy however permits, where possible, only one hunting cabin per mile of bush.
“They interpret this to mean that for $26.50 a year anyone can rent a square mile of exclusive Canadian bush,” says Grant Ferguson. “And so their ads read. ‘640 Acres of Wildlife — $20.’ This is certainly not our interpretation of the scheme.”
Heaven’s reply to this argument: “We're only taking the Ontario government at their own word, so why should it make them so mad? Don't they want outsiders to spend money in Ontario?”
Despite their arguments, the two have made most of the changes demanded by Lands and Forests and the Better Business Bureau, even to including the words “no connection
with any government agency,” in their ads. The Better Business Bureau now has no complaints, and the post office, after investigation, has also given them written approval.
The two. however, believe that governments and The Establishment would be against them no matter how they operated, because they perform
"the un-Canadian and unforgivable feat” of making good money without seeming to work for it. In 1958. before he embarked on his main mailorder enterprises, Howes chartered a twenty - eight - passenger Dakota then lying idle in Toronto, to fly homesick uranium workers from Elliot Lake, Ont., to Rouyn. Que., for a flat return
rate of sixty-nine dollars. The miners were actually crowding aboard “The Miners’ Sixty-niner” when the Air Transport Board cancelled the flight. Howes and Heaven are still wondering why. They were given no explanation for the action. Howes had to return the money and hitchhike back to his pretty wife Marion and
their four children (they now have seven).
The same thing happened when Howes and Heaven applied for registration of a corporate title in 1962. The name they wanted to use, “The Gentlemen Company of Adventures Trading out of Humber Bay,” aptly described their work and location, they felt, as well as possessing the fine historical tone they admired. But the Ontario government turned them down flat, for reasons of its own. So they incorporated themselves as “The Great Northern Pulp And Paper Group Limited,” their second choice for a corporate identity.
“I must admit that, except for using great quantities of paper, we don’t have much to do with the pulp-andpaper business,” says Heaven. "But the way we operate, we could be kneedeep in pulp any day — we’re in so many businesses.”
Many established firms soon exhibit the same animosity toward them that some government agencies have displayed. For “The Terrible Twosome,” as one Toronto newspaper dubbed them, firmly believe in their democratic rights as shareholders to invade even the most sacred shrines of industry and ask questions of top management.
"Protection” stopped thefts
Howes, a cheerful-faced barrel of a man who worries constantly about his weight, is a former sailor on Canadian ocean freighters, and a former window washer, coin - laundry salesman and dealer for Consumers’ Gas. He and his wife are both native Torontonians of Irish descent. Heaven is taller than Howes and somewhat resembles a sardonic Cary Grant. He and his petite blond wife Barbara came to Canada from the north of England in 1951. They have two children. He has been an air mechanic, truck driver, door-to-door peddler, real-estate and car salesman and many other things.
The two met in I960 when both were coin-laundry salesmen worried about weekly robberies at a laundry in a tough district of Toronto. Their practical solution: hire a local mob leader to “protect” the shop. The thefts stopped.
Howes was already in publishing, printing lists of crown lands for sale in Ontario. But the lands were selling so briskly that the lists were obsolete before they came off the press. A friend suggested he publish instead the properties up for sale at municipal and county tax auctions, which by law must be advertised at least ninetyone days in advance. This proved a much more stable and valuable catalogue. Today Howes and Heaven supply tax-sale lists for all provinces.
Most of the recent auctions, however, have left Howes and Heaven bitter, because of the refusal of local treasurers to accept mailed or telegraphed bids from distant subscribers to the pair's Ontario Journal who cannot get to the sales. As an example of this, Howes and Heaven point to the Hastings County annual auction in Belleville, Ont., last October 14.
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six properties on which no bid had been received from the audience of about two hundred. These properties, announced Treasurer C. E. Bateman, who had doubled as auctioneer, would be sold at “adjourned sale” a week later, at which it was the county's intention to acquire them for whatever price it saw fit. Later, Bateman admitted he had received almost one thousand bids for the sale properties by mail and wire. Most were from the United States, and nearly all of them, he said with some exasperation, had come as a direct result of the lists published by Howes and Heaven. What had he done with these bids? “I sent them all back,” he said. “I may be in error, but I interpret auction rules to mean that the bidder — or someone representing him — must be present at the sale with the required cash.” (Auctioneers at subsequent sales in Barrie, Port Arthur and other Ontario centres agreed with Bateman’s interpretation of the rules.)
Howes and Heaven disagree and claim: “The county had bids for all those properties it will eventually take over for peanuts. This is just legalized robbery.”
Even worse, they say, is the law requiring owners to apply for money the municipality gets for their properties over and above the taxes, or forfeit the money to the municipality by default.
"Ordinary citizens don’t have much chance against this sort of stacked deck.” says Howes. “Whoever said, ‘You can’t beat city hall,’ certainly knew what he was talking about.”
Many of the letters reaching Howes and Heaven are from as far away as Pakistan, Papua, Italy, Hawaii, Britain — and from sailors everywhere — “sailors really hunger for land,” says ex-sailor Howes. One contented subscriber to the Journal is Harold E. Hughes, governor of Iowa, who seconded the nomination of Lyndon Johnson at the Democratic National Convention last fall. A financier in New Mexico wired simply, "Buy me one hundred thousand acres.”
The Toronto pair write back suggesting firms these buyers might contact. “We’re not in real estate,” they explain, “though we certainly could be.”
Some letters which they don’t answer because they are invariably unsigned, are quite rude. “You lousy Nazi con men,” said one. “Selling our
country to the Yanks!” Others are masses of obscenity, crudely scrawled, often on toilet tissue.
From their mountains of mail, the pair have come to believe that many of almost four hundred thousand people who buy either their landrental kit or tax-sale journal, have no intention of doing anything further. “They just want to know they can rent or buy if they feel like it," says Howes. Many immigrants can hardly believe they can actually own land in
Canada. When they do. they often go deep into debt buying tax-sale lands.
One thing the pair are certain of: buyers must be able to drive to land they consider purchasing. They discovered this the costly way last year when they spent ten thousand dollars advertising islands in the tax - free Bahamas for as little as fourteen dollars an acre. "We lost our shirts,” moans Heaven. "Barely a dozen people even answered.”
The lesson paid off, however, in last
summer's ninety - eight - dollara - week fishing trips, in which planeloads of anglers flew from Azilda, near Sudbury, Ont., into lakes within a seventy-mile radius. There, roughing it in tents, most caught their limits the first day. "The big point of this venture,” say the pair, “is that they could drive to Azilda. It was unimportant how far Azilda might be from their homes, so long as a highway led to it." Several parties drove from Oregon and Wyoming to the take-off
point. Of the eight hundred who were accommodated, only one man — a Torontonian — complained, not about the great fishing, but about the living quarters. Howes refunded him seventy-five percent of his money.
The fact that Americans may drive to Toronto may explain the pair’s adoption of the gold-brick venture. The bricks come in sizes worth five dollars to twenty thousand dollars, and American law allows them to be carried into the country, but not shipped in. So Howes and Heaven collect interest on them till the owners claim them in person.
The “Greek millionaire” plan requires no such philosophical basis. The two print million-drachma notes, which are outlawed in Greece, and send them to anyone submitting a dollar.
From all these ventures, both the successes and the costly failures, Howes and Heaven extract enormous enjoyment. Pressed for their own philosophy, they candidly admit that service to the public is secondary. “We’re incredibly lazy,” says Heaven. “Any way we can make an easy buck, we’ll jump at it.”
Their permanent staff, which consists of only two pretty girls, Cathy Lonergan and Adrienne Hamel, participate in the easy-buck operations and the laughs. The hilarity usually reaches its peak when the whole office closes so that everyone can go to the annual meetings of firms in which the pair own shares. Yet they cannot explain even to themselves why they go, for they reap nothing but the enmity of the big corporations. At one meeting they blithely pointed out that one director had missed most of the meetings yet had still drawn his full salary. Their impudent nomination for a more conscientious replacement: John Heaven, president of the Great Northern Pulp And Paper Group.
The nomination failed to be accepted on the grounds, as the chairman impatiently ruled, that Heaven’s single share fell far short of eligibility for office under the company’s bylaws. The partners accepted their failure philosophically. After all, as they like to point out, they contrive to get more fun out of failing than most businessmen get out of total success. ★