It’s in the difficult economic times immediately following WW II that General Bearing Service (GBS) is founded.
In the early 40’s, while working for SKF in Montreal as an automotive division sales representative, the Lynn McLeod company in Thetford-Mines offers Ernest Bouchard the opportunity to open and manage a store in the city of Ottawa.
Ernest takes up the challenge and moves his young pregnant wife, Eva, and their 5 children to Orléans, a small, affordable town 20 km east of Ottawa. The reasonable rents there enables him to find a small house for his family. Not long after the move, a TIMKEN’s sales representative who is aware of Ernest’s sales abilities convinces him to start his own business.
The rest, as they say, is history.
As part of a modest working-class family, Ernest Bouchard doesn’t have the money to start his own business. Nevertheless, he manages to convince the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) to loan him $500, providing him the opportunity to build a small inventory. Ernest was grateful for this support and GBS is still a customer of the RBC after more than 60 years. Armed with the $500 loan, he builds a strong relationship and the foundation for an enduring success with TIMKEN and SKF.
GBS’s first official day of operation was April 1st 1946.
A few years later, Ernest moves his family again, this time to the city of Ottawa, on Fairmont St. In his new home the dining room serves as a stockroom, much to the dismay of Eva. Focused and hardworking, he takes the train from Ottawa so he can work a full day in Montréal. Then he takes the night train allowing him to sleep, eat and shave early in the morning so he can start a new day in Québec City. He maintains this schedule until he reaches Newfoundland.
In the 40’s, bearings are scarce and business is hard to come by. He often borrows bearings from one customer to supply them to another, promising to replace them as quickly as possible – sometimes a tough promise to keep. His wife Eva recalled the times he would linger in the kitchen trying to remember where he saw such and such a bearing and in which customer’s inventory. He would suddenly stop, pick up the phone and call one of the stockkeepers he knew to see if he could find the much-needed bearing. His incredible memory helped many clients and contributed to his growing reputation.
Ernest always said, “I need to sell, otherwise we can’t eat and the kids won’t have any clothes to wear”. Not missing any opportunities, he begins to sell watches to his industrial customers. He buys watches from a Montréal wholesaler and offers them to the same mechanics and storekeepers to whom he sells bearings. Everyone who buys a watch pays him a dollar each visit until the watch is paid in full.”
At the corner of Fairmont and Wellington (a busy Ottawa intersection), a local bakery has two huge windows that can serve as a strategic display. Ernest negotiates the use of one of them and uses it to advertise a new line of products: DARNELL CASTERS. Darnell is a Canadian caster manufacturer in Toronto and GBS supplies their products to the Canadian National Railway along with its regular line of bearings.
Ernest’s wife Eva, in addition to raising 6 kids, takes care of the accounting and shipping. Then, with business booming, they hire their first employee, Alban Gauthier. He works for GBS until 1986, more than 40 years of service. Before GBS, Alban worked in St-Isidore, Ontario.
Six months later, Ernest opens up a store in Montréal, partly to be closer to his suppliers and partly to hire his unemployed father. Soon after, towards the end of the 1940s, GBS branches open in Québec City and Sherbrooke. Ernest enjoys the Sherbrooke area scenery. He particularly loves the sunset as seen from then route 1 on the south shore between Montréal and Sherbrooke. The Sherbrooke store gave him many opportunities to enjoy it.
His son Jean, an accountant, joins the family business in 1959 and contributes to the growth of the company. He increases the number of branches to 24 and adds one central warehouse covering eastern Ontario and all of Québec. Jean assumes the presidency until his death in 2004.
Ernest’s youngest son, Pierre, has been active in the company since the early 70’s and now serves as its President. As an engineer he also coordinates all technical efforts throughout GBS’ distribution network.
The next generation is already active. Ernest’s grandson, Mitch, with the help of the GBS staff, is already working towards building a stronger than ever relationship with all of our customers.