Under the Influence

How this Canadian-born paper company thrives in a paperless era

Hilroy’s primary-coloured exercise books have been a staple in Canadian classrooms for the better part of a century. But forging an iconic brand doesn't happen overnight.
Hilroy notebooks, or "Scribblers," as known to Nova Scotians. (Hilroy.ca)
Listen to the full episode27:44

Say what you will about a paperless world, but there's something to be said for cursive writing and creative doodling.

In July, 1918, a Torontonian named Roy Hill took a gamble.

He borrowed $432 from a life insurance policy and $1500 from his parents – who took out a second mortgage on their home to do it – to start his own business:

He called it the Canadian Pad and Paper Company.

Hill worked 16-hour days out of his Wellington Street office in downtown Toronto. He was the company's manager, salesman, shipper and paper cutter - and did it all using rented equipment.

In the evenings his wife would streetcar to the factory to help package the shipments.

Within two years, the Canadian Pad and Paper Company outgrew its offices and moved to a larger space nearby.

Slowly but surely, Hill's gamble paid off. Business was thriving. Hill's cardboard-covered notebooks could be found in schools everywhere.

Following the purchase of another envelope company in 1958, Roy Hill changed the name of the company to Hilroy Envelopes and Stationary Limited.

The business moved yet again to - appropriately - an elementary school-looking building on Eglington West.

Roy Hill - who remained chairman of the board well into old age - passed away in 1978, leaving behind a Canadian legacy.

Hilroy's primary-coloured exercise books have been a staple in Canadian classrooms for the better part of a century.

And here's the remarkable thing: The brand still produces 14 million of those notebooks a year - making it the largest stationary company in the country.

It takes just 45 seconds to make a Hilroy notebook. But it takes years to build an iconic brand.

It's amazing that a paper company can not only survive, but still thrive in a paperless era.

For more stories about Iconic Brands, click or tap the "Listen" tab above to hear the full Under the Influence episode. You can also find us on the CBC Radio app or subscribe to our Podcast.

Under the Influence is recorded in the Terstream Mobile Recording studio - a 1969 Airstream trailer that's been restored and transformed into a studio on wheels. So host Terry O'Reilly can record the show wherever he goes.

Follow the journey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and search the hashtag: #Terstream.

The Terstream Mobile Recording Studio. (Image Credit: Sidney O'Reilly)