Friday, April 08, 2011

The ‘X’ Factor

It was September of 1968. I was in my second year at the University of Western Ontario. Lost in thought, I was walking across the lawn and up the hill leading to University College when I noticed a pretty girl coming down the hill towards me. I recognized her, having seen her a few times at the St. Catharines Collegiate Institute where I had attended high school. I didn’t actually know her, but I knew her name. We passed each other, but neither of us said anything. I don’t know if she even knew who I was. That chance meeting, however, was important to me. I’ll explain why, a bit later.

In April of 1968, I had completed my first year at Western. Like thousands of other students, I looked for a summer job to help me pay my bills. Jobs were hard to find and I found myself driving a cab for an independent owner who had his vehicle on the U-Need-a-Cab fleet. The cab owner was an understanding and cooperative guy and he agreed to allow me to spend time every day away from the cab. Most weekdays, between the hours of 10am and 2pm, I sat in the waiting room of the offices of Isard, Robertson, Easson & Co., Ltd., a local stock brokerage firm at the time, and watched stock symbols and prices scroll by on an electronic display mounted on the wall. When something caught my attention, I would place a small buy order, usually under three hundred dollars. I rarely held any stock more than three days because the third day was settlement day when the stock purchase had to be paid for. I made enough money to supplement my meager income as a cabbie and somehow managed to survive.

When I did drive my cab, I noticed that calls would come in from local businesses which needed something delivered right away. There were no messenger companies in London at the time. Local delivery or cartage companies would typically pick up whatever businesses sent out one day and then deliver it the next. I couldn’t imagine why a dedicated messenger company didn’t exist, so decided to start one. I gave up my cabbie job. I called my brother who was just about to leave Ontario for a job in Alberta, and asked him if he wished to be my partner in a new enterprise. He said yes and agreed to come to London, from St. Catharines. He was eighteen. I had just turned a ripe old twenty-three, having taken several years off during my high school years before being admitted to Western.

My brother Alfred manned the telephone at our new company and I continued at Western, but my heart wasn’t in it. I was bored and felt unchallenged but didn’t want to drop out of school. My biggest concern as I was walking up that hill at Western in September was trying to find a suitable name for our new company. I had been calling it Pedde Deliveries but wanted something ‘cool’ and memorable instead.

I have always liked the letter X. Xerox came to mind. What a great name that was. If only I could come up with a name that had an ‘X’ in it . . .

As I watched the girl come down the hill towards me, I thought back to my years in St. Catharines and remembered the great times I had there. I remembered founding the Club Unicorn, a weekend nightclub for teenagers that I started at age 17. I remembered my band, The Continentals, and the many happy hours we had spent playing together. I was just a bit homesick. With my mind on St. Catharines, I returned my attention to the girl and tried to remember her name. What was it? Penny. That’s it. Penny . . .

Penny Helis was her name. I had one of those moments when you get a chill and realize that something important had just happened. As soon as I said her name to myself, I thought of grade eleven physics and discussion of the double helix in DNA. I had a name for our new messenger company. Helix.

That was over forty-two years ago. Soon after that day, I decided to leave Western and to devote myself to my company. I bought out my brother Alfred’s interest eventually and today, Helix Courier Limited still provides local messenger services and overnight courier services to hundreds of customers.

Penny Helis, if you are out there somewhere, I never said thanks for your part in the Helix saga. Thank you, Penny. I wish you well, wherever you are, and hope that life has been good to you.

Sieg Pedde, President, Helix Courier Limited

Addendum, May 5, 2011: Last week I discovered that the girl's name was actually Penny Heelis, not Helis. It doesn't change the story, really, because it was the pronunciation of her surname that I remembered. I had never actually seen it spelled out. So, Penelope Heelis, wherever you are, hello, and thank you again!


  1. Great story Sieg. Always love learning more about your history. I was less than a year old when that happened!

  2. Thanks, Mark . . . now I feel really old!