It’s a meagre start to riches story. From a modest beginning in Stephenville Crossing, Bill Grenier went on to later become chief executive officer of a land development business — and an airline pilot.
Despite living in Vancouver, the now-author of a book on his life up to 1987 entitled “From Miles to Millions” Grenier still returns to Stephenville Crossing with his wife of 27 years, Sharon Grenier, to regularly visit the place of his first years.
He spends time visiting with relatives in the area, mostly a family of Whites in Stephenville Crossing and Stephenville.
Just two years ago, during one of those visits, he was shocked to see how a Roman Catholic graveyard in the town — where some of his relatives are buried, including his grandfather Robert Retieffe — had fallen into disrepair.
After he learned the town didn’t have the money to fix it up, he took on the project himself, paying for equipment to come in and do the repairs.
He said global positioning was used to locate the graves and the grave markers there, so they could be put back in their original locations. A fence was erected and although his dad, William White, was not buried at the location he had a monument erected in the cemetery and dedicated to him.
The bigger part of Grenier’s “riches” came from his land development business Pagebrook Inc., now run by his son Michael Grenier, which he operated on his time off as a pilot and built to a $500 million enterprise.
The majority of the buildings built by Grenier’s business were in Canada, but some were also constructed in the United States.
Grenier said Pagebrook Inc. established more than 4,000 residential rental units in Ontario, some others in Alberta and quite a number in Vancouver. Another project was the Sheraton Hotel located on the Halifax waterfront, along with a few minor shopping centres in Canada.
In addition to Michael, Grenier has two other sons, Guy, a psychologist, and Glenn, a lawyer in Toronto who mostly focuses on real estate and aviation cases.
Up in the air
At 50, Grenier retired from the aviation industry, at the time as a pilot with Air Canada flying 747s. He felt after 30 years flying it was time to concentrate fully on his construction business.
His beginning in the aviation industry started with flight training at the age of 18 and landed his first job at 20 which involved flying in the Arctic, bringing supplies to the distant early warning line.
Some of the supplies included dynamite and petroleum oil and lubricants, so the likelihood of surviving a crash with that kind of cargo was slim, according to Grenier.
In 1957, at the age of 21, Grenier was hired by Trans-Canada Airlines, but five years later was laid off when big jets came on the scene and fewer pilots were needed.
He then went to live with his mom, Loretta Grenier and his stepdad Jacques Grenier, who were in Florida at the time and being resourceful, started selling items made from seashells. After a year of doing that he landed a job flying executives of General Electric from New York and was later recalled to Trans-Canada Air Lines, which later was replaced by Air Canada and flew everything from the Viscount to DC-3s before graduating to the 747s.
Grenier decided to write his book “From Miles to Millions” simply because people told him he should through the years. He said it’s an ambitious memoir of a big chunk of his life and he’s already got some great reviews on it.
The book starts from his beginnings in Stephenville Crossing up to when his mom and dad divorced, then he went to Halifax, then Windsor, Ont., Quebec City and then Vancouver. His teen years were spent in Winnipeg, Man.
During most of his life as a pilot he was based in Toronto.
Aviation student scholarships
The net proceeds from the sale of “From Miles to Millions” are being donated to aviation student scholarships, which is in the process of being established now.
Grenier is starting the fund with initial seed funding of $5,000 for the express purpose of assisting aviation students in their quest for advanced training in flying skills.
He said the fund will result in providing new flying students with 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.
Not too likeable
He said during the writing of the book he learned a lot about himself as during the search of his memory, old newspaper clippings and diary notes he gained a suspicion that he might have been a bit of “a jerk” when he was a young man.
Grenier said the book’s editor confirmed that suspicion and reminded him about it a few times after he handed in copy for the book.
He said people who read the book can make their own conclusion.
Flying into Stephenville during the early years, Grenier didn’t realize how simple it was to get to Stephenville Crossing until he asked a staff member at the airport and got a ride to the nearby town.
After that, on many of his flights into Stephenville he made the trip to his hometown, and still does so today in retirement.
He said even though he left the area at five years of age, the 78-year-old remembers quite a lot about the place.
Grenier said he remembers walking next door to the Nardini’s house, his big Newfoundland dog named Rover stopping him from going too far, walking with his cousins to the one-room school that he wasn’t old enough to attend yet and Rover escorting him back home.
He also remembers going to the General Store on Main Street that he said was a typical turn of the century store.