NEWS

Schefferville businessman prepares for life beyond the north

01/11/2015 05:00 EST | Updated 03/12/2015 05:59 EDT
When Gilles Porlier leaves Schefferville, there are two things he’ll be sure to take with him: the same suitcase he arrived with in the '60s, and his tuque.

It’s the same beat-up, grey, tuque he’s wearing on the day he’s interviewed by CBC in his restaurant, Restaurant Bla Bla.

Joe Guanish, a former and well respected Naskapi chief, gave it to him 25 years ago.

“He took pity on me,” Porlier says.

“I was cold [while] fueling a car with no hat, so he turned around and came back half an hour later with this hat…I’ll be buried with that hat probably.”

Porlier has been a businessman in Schefferville for more than 40 years.

He now owns numerous businesses in town ranging from the ambulance company, a restaurant, a general store, a boarding house, a car rental company and a gas pump.

Locals joke Schefferville’s real name is “Scheffer-Gilles."

Rise to success

Gilles Porlier arrived in Schefferville as a student looking for summer work.

“I arrived here with no boots in ‘67. A friend gave me size 11 boots and I walked like a duck for two weeks until I could afford new boots,” says Porlier, who wears size 9 shoes.

Eventually, Porlier was trained as an electrician by the Iron Ore Company and worked in the mines for 15 years.

He lost his job when the mine closed in 1982, but unlike hundreds of his colleagues, he didn’t leave.

“When the mine closed, instead of selling for nothing, I bought everything for nothing,” he says.

Porlier says when the Quebec government offered him a severance to leave town, he ripped up the cheque and bought 10 houses the same day.

He says he knows for many, the time when people were leaving Schefferville by the trainload was a deeply sad one, but for him, those were the best years.

“I developed the business. It was the right time… like at the tavern, everybody spent a lot of money before they left. It was time to pick it up.”

He says the year after the mine closed he made ten times as much money as he did in his well-paid, $28,000 per year, electrician job.

Time to move on

After 45 years in Schefferville, Porlier says at the age of 66, it is time for him to move on.

He doesn’t have an heir who is interested in taking over his business in Schefferville, and he has other companies, mostly in the taxi and ambulance businesses, in other parts of Quebec.

He says some locals may form a cooperative to buy him out.

“I’m not leaving tomorrow, but I want to slow down before it’s too late and I end up in my own hearse,” says Porlier, who is also Shefferville’s undertaker.

Porlier says he may retire to Quebec City or the Gaspé where he has property.

Or, he may go further south.

“Florida’s not bad either," he says.

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