Bill Caldwell: life was a command performance

Road hockey.  Down at Poyntz and Dunlop Street.  With boys who grew to men who owned businesses and contributed greatly to this city.  School.  Prince of Wales and later BCI (Barrie Central).  Music and BCI went hand in hand.  Trombone.  Marching bands.  Time together.  With friends.

Bill Caldwell was engaged in whatever he did.  With a summer job selling milk and collecting cans for Lakeview Dairy, Bill earned his university tuition and pushed Lakeview into top sales along the Oro Township cottage crowd.  Winsome, handsome, daredevil, Bill… would get up at 3 am to beat every other milk salesman along the route.

On to University of Toronto, a degree in Chemical Engineering.  A job in Montreal with a chemical company.  And bingo!  Bill started to look around.  He developed a formula using wood flour (fine sawdust) and resin when moulded together, pressed and heated would develop an almost-rock hard product.  And thus the lowly toilet seat, companion to Thomas Crapper’s bowl, got its first Canadian manufacturer.

Bill came back to his old boss at the dairy, who was now mayor and Willard Kinzie pulled together a team to support Bill Caldwell and his partner to open a factory to produce toilet seats. Bill was 26.  Bill was driven.  He saw a wide open country and an untapped market and, like milk, a product the world needed.  The partner moved on.

Moldex…born in Barrie, raised everywhere.  If you lived in Barrie in the 60’s and 70’s, you knew this motto.  The little Vespra Street factory tripled its size and its output from 1956 to 1972.  Across the street was Kolmar, down the street Wallwin Electric.  Next door, Prodomax Production Systems.  Bob Burk remembers Bill as entrepreneurial, forward thinking, quick to decide and move.  “We made a couple of machines for Bill at Prodomax,” he remembers.  They were designed to improve, to increase production, to change product lines.

Moldex burst at its own seams and in 1973 his friend Millet Salter and team designed a new building way out in the country at 316 Bayview Dr.  (now occupied by Coty).  Bill left Barrie’s Anne/Victoria/Vespra/Innisfil industrial area and made a courageous move to the south of town, beside the rail track so deliveries could come in handily.  Bumped up employee numbers to 200. In 1969 he opened United Extrusions in Orangeville, a sister company whose products were essential to Moldex.  Soon Moldex had 40% of the Canadian market and expanded to institutions, commercial centres–that familiar black ring in the cubicle toilet.

Moldex toilet seats (and 100,000 crochet balls a year!) were sold across North America with sales agents in the U.S.  Success  was in numbers and the numbers were great.  And the people who worked with Bill were right hand, lifelong people.  They were friends.  He used local architects, local builders, local subtrades… Bill believed in Barrie.

With wealth came the chance to make change and Bill did.  He liked to get things done!  Building committees for Royal Victoria Hospital, the Barrie Y, Barrie Central’s technical wing and auditorium.

Lifelong Progressive Conservative, Bill petitioned Ontario Premier Bill Davis to choose Barrie for a community college.  From humble beginnings in a unit at the new Wellington Plaza to an education mecca that anchors this community today, Bill served as Board of Directors President, and took over as Principal briefly with the untimely death of Bob Crawford in the mid-70’s.  (on top of his day job)

Everything he touched, well, it worked.  He gave generously–his time and direction.  Barrie Raceway.  Municipal Savings & Loan.  Rotary. Georgian College.  Ontario Council of Regents. Trinity Anglican Church.  Barrie Chamber of Commerce.  A mean trombone player in the Barrie City Band. Barrie Winter Carnival.

It would seem everything Bill touched turned to gold but with great highs come great lows.  Bill lost his wife, Shirley, to cancer.  Their four children now needed Dad to be Mom, too.  Bill married again, his secretary, also Shirley.  As the kids grew and took their places in the world, daughter Cathy was struck with MS, and Bill’s son, Billy died at age 34; these realities shook Bill’s foundation.  With support from sisters Janet and Linda, Cathy has determinedly managed Bill’s late-life care at Grove Park Home as dementia consumed a hero.

Bill was an enthusiastic military historian, eager to debate character traits of heroes.  Those at his funeral–boyhood friends, business allies, charitable companions–feel certain he chose his leaving, on November 11.

Bill was 83.  You can drive through this city, multiplied many times since 26 year old Bill talked a few people into believing in his dream, and you can see the results of his enthusiastic drive, his engagement with life.

Thanks, Bill.