A story of the Siversky family’s success in Vankleek Hill
In 2001, Historical Society summer student Seema Maloni interviewed Sidney Siversky. Here is an excerpt focused on the Sinclair Supply business that his older brother Alex Siversky began in the 1940s, and which Sidney joined as a partner.
The interview covered various aspects of Sidney’s busy life: arrival of the Siversky Family in Canada; his business life; and his political life when he served as Mayor of Vankleek Hill.
As Sidney Siversky mentions here in 2001, his older brother and business partner Alex Siversky died in 1996. Sidney died in 2005, and their brother Frank Siversky passed away in 2020. Frank, together with his wife Frances Siversky, founded and managed the successful Siversky Hardware store on Main Street in Hawkesbury. The brothers were a powerhouse example of entrepreneurial spirit.
Here is the Sinclair Supply Company portion of the 2001 interview, in Sidney’s own words. Additional content is clearly indicated.
Sinclair Supply: the beginning
The company my brother Alex and his partners bought in Vankleek Hill was operated by John A. Sinclair. After we purchased the company, Mr. Sinclair used to come down and sit in the office and he did this for probably four or five years. He didn’t work or anything, but he was interested in the progress the company was making. We decided to continue operating the business under the name Sinclair. Because of the different ventures, we called it Sinclair Supply Company. He was well-known in the community, and, until the end of the business we used Mr. Sinclair’s name.
The company was originally purchased in 1947 by my brother Alex and his partners. And then the partners were eventually bought out. My brother Alex and I worked together for some 50 years. He is now deceased.
The year I came to Vankleek Hill, my brother Alex had come 2 or 3 years earlier, and bought a building that operated as a building supply company in those days.
They sold coal, they sold lumber, they had a sawmill, they had a kiln to dry lumber, and a little sash and door plant. The sash and door plant was inside the former Agricultural Society building. It was a very interesting building in the design of it.
Historical Society Note: The first fairgrounds in town were at the corner of Mill and Boyd streets, today vacant land. The Vankleek Hill Agricultural Society purchased the land in 1872, and a segment of Mill Street became Agriculture Street. There was a $575 mortgage which was discharged in 1880. As the fair became more popular and expanded, the Fair Board sold the land for $805. In 1886, they purchased a larger lot on Main Street West for $1,625, where the Vankleek Hill Agricultural Fair is held today.
Sidney continues: When I first came to Vankleek Hill to join my brother, I drove a truck. We had an old Model T Ford truck. I did that, delivering merchandise.
In those days, we made some changes in the sash and door plant. We started building furniture, and we built end-tables and sold them to Eaton’s in Montreal. After a few years, we found out that this wasn’t a viable profit-type of operation, so we abandoned doing that.
We continued making door frames and windows in the sash and door plant. We sawed the lumber and we had a lumber-drawing in the yard, and kept a big inventory. We had the kiln, and we had horses.
As time went on, we decided to buy an oil truck. We could see that oil was the coming fuel, and we did an assessment of the area and we found that none of the trucks had meters on them, only gauges. It was a visible type of thing. So, we bought a new truck with a meter on it. We built-up quite an oil business.
We found that we had developed a lot of steady customers with our lumber supplies sales. When a large construction contract was awarded in the area, we’d complain that we were not able to sell these customers any materials. Our customers said, why don’t you get into construction and you can supply your own materials.
So, then we decided to get into construction.
And then we had a terrible fire.
We were pretty well wiped-out of the whole business of the sash and door plant. There was no town water system, so we just grabbed what water we could. That was the end of that operation.
After the fire my brother and I sat down and discussed, “What do we do?,” “Do we rebuild?” We had no insurance. We couldn’t afford insurance because there were no fire hydrants, no fire protection; insurance was too costly.
We did rebuild, and later we had some 200 employees. We had our own plumbers, our own electricians, our own carpenters, so it was a big responsibility.
Sinclair Supply Rebuilds Bigger
We started doing repairs in the construction field. We did renovations. Somehow, we got into housing, and we did a considerable number of houses in the community. We started the first subdivision in Vankleek Hill just off Highway 34. (Hillview Subdivision)
And we built houses in the subdivision (Stevens subdivision – nicknamed the ‘new development.’). We built houses for CIP. Over a 15- to 20-year period, we built a house for every CIP President elected. We were fortunate to be awarded those houses.
During that period of time, we also worked at the Seigneury Club in Montebello. They built some huge houses.
But then because we lived in a small community, and our staff was getting larger, we felt that we had to expand.
Sinclair Supply Employees Remembered
We had several employees in those days, and a lot of them were related or inter-related. We had quite a few employees, and their names were Lapensée. We had four or five from the same family working for us. Then we had another family by the name of Cummings, and we had two of their family working for us. Then we had twins working for us, their name was Doth. They stayed with us for years and years. I’ve forgotten how many, 35 or 40 years.
Memory from J. Denis Seguin Architect of Vankleek Hill who worked summers as a student at Sinclair Supply, and credits many of the longtime employees for grounding him in construction methods.
Denis adds: When we remember the employees, it is equally important to recognize the Siversky Family as ‘donneur d’ouvrage’ – their business efforts kept countless families fed in this region.
There were in-store workers like Lionel Mercier, and Gerry Piché. Carpenters, such as René Ouimet – in my view, a man who could make anything with any material.
My stint with Sinclair began in the estimating office working under Leonce Delplancke. In 1976, I was a junior estimator at $5.00 /hr. This was summer employment while attending university.
Later that same summer I asked Mr. Siversky – Sydney – if I could join the construction/carpenters crew. He said, we need to know what you can do. He gave me the job of adding tin to the 2nd floor office rooftop. I was up for it, and jumped at it for a raise to $ 7.00/hr if I did well.
Télis Lapensée took me down to the third yard, known as the company scrapyard, and left me there to sort through secondhand tin. There was a lot of re-purposing back then. After I completed my selections, Télis returned with the big Hyster fork lift and got the sheets of tin. He raised it all to the roof and I unloaded it.
It took a few days for me to complete the roofing, and Sidney came to inspect. His response was, job well done. He brought me orange paint to make it all look good from afar.
I got my raise, and was sent out with the men to construction sites in Cornwall, Prescott, Hawkesbury and then across the river to Quebec projects. We left the shop at 7:00 or sometimes at 6:00 a.m., which made for 44-hour weeks with some O/T.
Sinclair was building homes all over the place. René Ouimet and I were on the finishing crew. We did all the touch-ups, special installs like fireplaces, poured walkways, installed floor finishes and carpet, hung doors etc.
Sinclair began doing social housing projects in Cornwall. René and I did final stairs, window caulking and deficiencies clean-up for final inspections.
Once Sinclair got the provincial contract to build and maintain OPP stations, I got to help. We also did work on their buildings in Hawkesbury and Vankleek Hill.
In Vankleek Hill, in the ‘new development,’ I worked on the 28-day house at the corner of Home and Barton streets. It was built in 28 days.
Sinclair had me build decks and even window flowerboxes such as at the Orr’s house on Barton Street. They are still there, 40 + years later.
I worked for Sidney and Alex Siversky for four summers, and it strengthened my construction knowledge which led to my becoming a successful architect. To this day, I can walk through any construction site and say, “I did that kind of work.” Because of my experience with Sinclair Supply and the employees I worked with, I know what it takes and how to do it well.
Sidney continued: At that time, I was looking after construction, and doing the estimating and pretty much everything except doing the inspection of the construction. We thought that we would have to specialize, and go farther afield.
From there, we got involved with curling clubs; there was a need for curling clubs. So, we built the curling club in Vankleek Hill; we built the Hawkesbury Golf and Curling Club. Then we went to Baie d’Urfe and built a curling club. From there we went into different types of construction, we went into schools, and we did high schools too. Another year, it was church halls. Then the Ontario government decided to subsidize housing and build senior citizens’ homes. We set-up a department to look after that. We built them in most communities from here to beyond Cornwall, and up as far as Ottawa. We stayed out of the big cities.
Housing & Industry Markets
We built hundreds and hundreds of either individual houses that were subsidized, or senior citizens’ homes that were probably 40 or 50 units at a time, in different towns like Finch, Avonmore, Lancaster, Hawkesbury.
Alex looked after the building supply company; he looked after the financing of both that and the construction because it grew so large that we pretty well had to divide it. We still operated under the same name, but I was responsible for construction and he was responsible for the financing. As the projects grew, the financing was considerable.
Then in 1970 or 1972, there was a movement from the province of Quebec for industry, and we got involved in what we call ‘design build.’ We hired our own designers and by that time we had three estimators in the office, and we started building plants.
In Hawkesbury alone, we built about 80% of all the new plants. We expanded and went into Cornwall to build some plants, and then up to Kingston, Brockville and Napanee. During those years we were specializing in industrial buildings.
At the same time, we sometimes got involved in what is called a turn-key building, that we owned and we would lease to the manufacturers. We built some of those, kept some of them for ourselves which we still own. There was another period where we got into building banks. We built numerous of those.
At the same time, we built-up quite a large land-bank in the Hawkesbury area. Between the two communities of Hawkesbury and Champlain Township, we had some 400 to 500 acres of industrial or commercial land, and we have been developing it.
Within the town of Hawkesbury, we also have commercial land which we have sold over the years. Where the new Zellers store is, that was developed on our land.
Note: The Zellers building is Walmart today. In 1999, Hawkesbury named the street access to Walmart, Alex Siversky Street.
In the late 80s, Sinclair Supply built a second outlet in Hawkesbury. It was a 10,000 square foot building on Spence Street which had a modern building supply store and it was operated for three or four years.
But it proved to be unnecessary as it was too close to the one in Vankleek Hill which maintained its popularity.