Born in Stephenville Crossing, man found pie in the sky (and on the ground)
It's a rags-to-riches story that started in Stephenville Crossing.
From modest beginnings, Bill Grenier went on to become CEO of a land development business, Pagebrook Inc., which he built into a $500-million enterprise.
And that was during his time off as an airline pilot.
Grenier now lives in Vancouver and has written a memoir of his life up to 1987 entitled "From Miles to Millions."
Self-made millionaire Bill Grenier poses with his book, “From Miles to Millions.” — Submitted photo
He still returns to Stephenville Crossing with his wife of 27 years, Sharon Grenier, to visit relatives in the White family.
Grenier decided to write his life story because people had told him he should. He said it's an ambitious memoir and he's already got some great reviews.
He said he learned a lot about himself during the writing of the book when he searched his memory and pored over old newspaper clippings and diary notes. He says he suspected he might have been a bit of a jerk as a young man.
Grenier says his editor confirmed that after he handed in copy for the book, but he'd like people who read it to make up their own minds.
The story starts from his beginnings in Stephenville Crossing up until his parents divorced. He moved on to Halifax, then Windsor, Ont., Quebec City and Vancouver. His teenage years were spent in Winnipeg.
He started flight training at 18 and his first job at age 20 involved flying in the Arctic, bringing supplies to the Distant Early Warning (DEW) line.
Those supplies included dynamite, petroleum oil and lubricants, so the likelihood of surviving a crash with that kind of cargo was slim, Grenier says.
In 1957, then 21 years old, he was hired by Trans-Canada Airlines but was laid off five years later when the big jets came in and fewer pilots were needed.
He went to live with his mom, Loretta Grenier and his stepdad, Jacques Grenier in Florida and, being resourceful, started selling crafts made from seashells. After a year of that he got a job flying executives for General Electric out of New York.
Grenier was later rehired by Trans-Canada Air Lines, which was eventually replaced by Air Canada, flying everything from Viscounts to DC-3s before graduating to 747s.
Most of his life as a pilot was spent in Toronto.
He retired at age 50, figuring that after 30 years of flying it was time to concentrate on his construction business.
Pagebrook did construction work in Canada and the United States.
Grenier said the company built more than 4,000 residential rental units in Ontario, some in Alberta and several in Vancouver. The company also built the Sheraton Hotel on the Halifax waterfront, and a few shopping centres in Canada.
Pagebrook is now run by his son, Michael Grenier.
The Greniers have two other sons, Guy, a psychologist, and Glenn, a lawyer in Toronto who mostly focuses on real estate and aviation cases.
Two years ago, during a visit to the Stephenville area, Grenier was shocked to see how a Roman Catholic graveyard had fallen into disrepair. It was where some of his relatives are buried, including his grandfather, Robert Retieffe.
After he learned the town didn't have the money to fix it up, he took on the project, paying for equipment to come in and do the repairs.
Global positioning was used to locate graves and grave markers so they could be put back in their original locations. A fence was erected and a monument was dedicated to his dad, William White, although he is not buried there.
Net proceeds from the sale of "From Miles to Millions" are being donated to aviation student scholarships. Grenier is using initial seed funding of $5,000 to help aviation students gain advanced training in flying skills.
New flying students will be eligible for a scholarship of $1,000 to help them get their start.
"For me, it's payback time, and every cent from my book, with the exception of the cost of printing, is going into the fund," he said.
He has fond memories of Stephenville Crossing, even though he left at age five and is now 78.
He remembers going next door to the Nardinis' place and to the general store on Main Street, and his big Newfoundland dog, Rover.
He also recalls walking with his cousins to the one-room school that he wasn't old enough to attend and Rover escorting him safely back home.