A Personal History of EXFOR
March 1, 2008 By Pulp & Paper Canada
When I joined the staff of Technical Section as a junior engineer back in 1950, I had no idea that within a few years, I would be overseeing a major section of what is now EXFOR, a major global exhibi…
When I joined the staff of Technical Section as a junior engineer back in 1950, I had no idea that within a few years, I would be overseeing a major section of what is now EXFOR, a major global exhibition by anyone’s standards.
EXFOR and me: we began our respective journeys modestly enough.
Back in the early 1950s, the CPPA Annual Meeting took place at the Mount Royal Hotel in Montreal the last week of January. Part of the meet was an unofficial ‘Technical Section’ where various hopeful suppliers used available rooms and suites to exhibit their wares, the hotel helpfully moving the furniture and beds to give everyone a bit more elbow room.
In 1958, when the new Queen Elizabeth Hotel opened, arrangements were made to change the annual meeting to that venue. No more moving room furniture: the exhibits moved to the hotel’s Les Galleries, designed especially for events.
The Technical Section’s first official Product Display was held in the new elegant hotel in 1959, managed by Clarkson-Conway Inc. With some apprehension, I agreed to oversee the operation – as “running a tradeshow” was not part of my engineering training at McGill! Nonetheless, all went reasonably well. With 29 exhibitors on the floor, the display was a modest success and subsequent product displays grew at exponential rate.
Irene and Ray Meikle had taken over the management company Clarkson-Conway Inc., adding Richard and Dianne Gilker to their team.
Eventually, the product display grew to fill Les Galleries to capacity – and more space was needed.
The show was renamed EXFOR – EXhibits of products for the FORest industry and, in 1985, the first EXFOR held at the Palais des Congrs. And it was a sell out – 400 booths! That and every EXFOR at the Palais des Congrs showed a healthy surplus, helping CPPA balance its budget (In 1998, the Technical Section became the Pulp and Paper Technical Association of Canada).
Profitable, friendly and innovative; the main show spun off the mini-EXFOR where newer companies displayed in smaller, less costly booths. Dave Paterson, former manager of the Technical Section, introduced closedcircuit television on the show floor, allowing guests at major downtown hotels a real-time look-see at what was going on. Walkie-talkies helped section staff coordinate the many social functions. Later years saw such refinements as computerized bar codes on all participants and visitors’ badges; with a swipe of an optical reader (provided by EXFOR), exhibitors knew who was whom, from where, for instant recognition and far easier follow up.
Fun too. For instance, the Great Canadian Paper Airplane Contest. For a $1 donation to charity, armed with only a standard sheet of paper and imagination, amid the hoots and hilarity of the audience, the contestants would try for maximum range. Judges included famed fighter pilot and Canadair water bomber Larry Robillard. There were many prangs but some shining successes. One contestant, whose stiletto-like design achieved an incredible distance, was even interviewed on a local latenight TV talk show.
During the evenings, many gathered at the Baroque Pit on the exhibition floor, where bass player Charlie Biddle and piano player Wray Downes held sway -and harpsichord music was provided using Arti Shaw’s Gramercy Five records. Because paper machines have “broke pits,” the bar was named the “Baroque Pit” -hence the harpsichord music!
When EXFOR first opened at the Palais des Congrs, there was talk about making it a bi-annual show, once every two years, to ease the exhibitors’ outlay. Thankfully, this was rejected by the Section’s Sustaining Members’ Group; it wanted see its Canadian customers every year.
This decision established EXFOR as the largest annual pulp and paper trade show in the world. Still open to the public (registration required) in 2005, EXFOR posted its highest number of booths -478 in total. So far, that was the peak.
EXFOR’s biggest asset is its people. The people I worked with and remember well: Irene and Ray Meikle, their daughter Marilyn, Richard Gilker and his wife Dianne, Wayne Novak, David Paterson and Rob Wood. Then there was Maury Castagne, the hotshot pulp and paper PR man from New York who came aboard to generate year-round publicity for PaperWeek; Maury came up with “PaperWeek International” as the all-encompassing term for CPPA’s annual functions.
Then and now, the EXFOR managers and staff, together with the Technical Section staff who provided publicity and registration services, look after their clients well.
Accolades also to the chairmen and members of the EXFOR Committee of the Sustaining Members Group of the Technical Section; their bright ideas and brainstorming created the many thoughtful touches that enlivened EXFOR. People such as David Webster, Gerry McKeown, Jim Clothier, Steve Huza, Irene Meikle, ever-efficient Palais contact Ghislaine Taurillec, Denise Desneiges and Patricia Rennie (nee Kennedy), my secretary and assistant who sadly passed away last year.
Present times are hard but this too will pass. The industry is cyclical. It has seen bad times before but it has always recovered. In turn, the industry will always need suppliers and suppliers need a place to sell their wares and smarts. EXFOR is –and will –remain a major marketing venue, nationally and internationally.
EXFOR –long may its success continue.
R. A. ‘Bert’ Joss is former vice-president/ production services for CPPA and a major force and supporter of EXFOR. Bert took flight, literally, on his 18th birthday when he joined the RCAF in 1943, going on to pilot Swordfish a. k. a. ‘String Bag’ torpedo attack aircraft until incapacitated by a crash in 1945. In 1946 Bert entered Dawson College at McGill University to graduate in 1950 with a degree in chemical engineering. He began his pulp and paper career as a junior engineer with CPPA, moving up the ranks for 39 years and 11 months. As Bert puts it: “Forty years would have been overdoing it.”
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