Windfall

WINDFALL Oils and Mines was the Bri-X stock scandal of the 1960’s. When Texas Gulf Sulphur found an ore body near Timmins in 1964 worth $2 Billion, rumours circulated the ore reached a claim owned by noted mining promotor Viola R. MacMillan.

Bay Street went mad, shares in Windfall soared and people bought in on margin and against mortages in a flurry of trading. When assays showed the Windfall property had little gold, the stock collapsed on July 31, 1964 and millions of dollars in value were lost. Many investors were wiped out. The scandal damaged the reputation of the Toronto Stock Exchange and Canadian securities generally.

Penny’s brother, Don Peace, was in it up to his neck. He had to scramble to cover his obligations and was forced to sell all his assets, including the multi-million dollar cottage in Muskoka he’d been given by his father. He put off writing Penny about this, not just for a few days, but for more than four months. Penny received the news, posted in Toronto on December 10, around December 13, 1964.

Given that Don later worked with Hugh Lawson on Bay Street, that Penny was Don’s sister and, at the same time, Hugh’s mistress, it’s inconceivable the three didn’t meet to discuss Windfall and the family finances over drinks. She would have been interested, from both a personal and professional point of view, because her job at Dominion Securities was as a stock analyst.

Here’s where I slip into some speculation. Did Hugh help Don financially or professionally after he was wiped out in Windfall? Did Don help Hugh personally in his relationship with Penny? And what of Penny Peace, now Hilliard? What did she do, or agree to do, in any arrangement between her lover and her brother?

The picture at the top of the page is instructive. It shows, from right to left, Don’s wife Gerry, my Dad, Don’s legs, Penny, and my step-mother, Helen. In the background is a cabin cruiser (not ours) and the Big Chute power station. The marine railway is in the distance, but can’t be seen. Penny is all hunched up and doesn’t look happy. I’m not in the picture because I’m taking it.

Once again, Penny is sitting on a dock, but it’s pretty small potatoes compared to the dock she was sitting on before.

Foot’s Bay on Lake Joseph is only 27 miles from Big Chute on the Severn River and that, in turn, is only 13 miles from Honey Harbour on Georgian Bay. In effect my step-mother’s modest vacation home is mid-way between the lost Peace cottage in Muskoka and the future Lawson cottage on Georgian Bay.

Don, Gerry, and Penny all realize this because they have been, or will be, to all three. Just at the moment though they’re making do with a little down-market recreation with the Hilliards.

Penny Hilliard at Big Chute, 1967

It really gives you the shivvers when you realize that what you see in a picture, is not necessarily, what you get. It’s a real picture; these are real people; but the dynamics going on are not what you think. At least, they’re not what I thought when I snapped the shutter.

NOTE: Wikipedia has the Windfall crash happening in 1965, after Texas Gulf Sulphur found an ore body in 1964, but it’s clear from the New York Times and a Globe and Mail article it happened in 1964. Don’s letter, linked to above, confirms the date.