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Bruce, Harry.

Toronto, Macmillan, c1985. 443pp, cloth, $34.95, ISBN 0-7715-9834-3.CIP

Grades 11 and up
Reviewed by James Kingstone

Volume 13 Number 6
1985 November

Harry Bruce's Frank Sobey is the fascinating story of a man who built an empire of business enterprises that reached every Canadian home. Sobey's remarkable Company Limited grew as a result of a special combination of imagination, tenacity, drive, and simple thoroughness. His is an extraordinary accomplishment. In many places, the biography reads like a chronicle of Canadian growth in business and industry; in fact, so diverse are Sobey holdings that one finds it difficult to believe that one man could have put it all together and been responsible for so much for so long.

Passage after passage celebrates Frank Sobey's business acumen. Bruce traces his rise to power from his father's butcher shop in the mining town of Stellerton, Nova Scotia. The cornerstone seems to have been laid when energy and a desire to please as many people as possible persuaded first Frank's father, J.W. Sobey, and then Frank, that there was a lot of money to be made in the food distribution business. The little butcher shop was the beginning; from there Frank opened one grocery store,and then several. He took an interest in theatres and bought the Roseland Theatre, then began expanding more aggressively and building still more grocery stores. The 1940's appear to have been something of a turning point for Frank Sobey as the following passage suggests.

The years 1945-50 were a time in which [Frank] wasn't content merely to lay the foundation for an immense business structure. They were also a time in which the ex-butcher was at last free to become a hunter, a sharp-eyed, far-ranging tracker of that eternal quarry, the Good Deal. He itched to snare pieces of businesses that promised to grow. (In 1982 the fact that he was eighty had not even faintly dulled this hunger. It seemed to keep him young.)

Frank Sobey was certainly a special man. It was his belief that a man in business had to get to know people. He always said, "You have to get along with people." Bruce's biography is detailed and extremely thorough and reveals the many-sided character of this pillar of Canadian business. Above anything else, we have, after all the facts and figures are laid out clearly for us, and Frank Sobey's accomplishments taken collectively are almost mythic, a very human portrait. Sobey was a real man.

On every page we have a sense of his compelling spirit, his care for people despite his drive for power, the attractive qualities that set him apart and make him a personality of whom Canadians can be particularly proud.

James Kingstone, Ridley College, St. Catharines, Ont.
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