Yuri Bilinsky, New Pathway – Ukrainian News.
When you walk into an office building or a bank branch across Canada, the high chances are that you will see the plastic or acrylic signs made by a Toronto-based company owned by a son of Ukrainian DP refugees, Bohdan (Bob) Galamaga. Bohdan’s company, Modern Age Plastics, specializes in high-quality signs, displays and custom fabrication.
When a friendly Bohdan Galamaga welcomed me at his Etobicoke-based office, the first thing to notice was the home-printed 4-metre-long banner which says, “Isn’t it wonderful to work and live in a multicultural environment!” and depicts the places where the company’s employees come from and where Bohdan himself has travelled to. The company’s employees, which I had a chance to chat to, and Bohdan’s thoughts, which he shared with me, very much confirmed the owner’s dedication to multiculturalism. “I wouldn’t say that if I didn’t believe that”, said Bohdan.
The display at the company’s entrance features the signs that Modern Age Plastics has made over the years, for the likes of TD Bank, CIBC, RBC, Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Raptors, Walt Disney, Budweiser and many other world-class names.
During the pandemic, Modern Age Plastics made most of the COVID shields that you will see in Canadian banks and also in practically all of Bank of America’s branches in the United States. Altogether, over 50,000 shields.
It was interesting to find that Modern Age Plastics made the huge acrylic covers for Toronto’s Ripley's Aquarium. The company also made custom light fixtures, screens, trophies and giveaways for movies and TV shows: a windshield for a 12-foot cabin in the spaceship for the Pacific Rim movie; an acrylic “weird-formed” piece for the futuristic security desk in the Total Recall movie, etc. “We're not bored here”, told me Bohdan.
All those beautiful signs, covers, screens and trophies do not bear the Modern Age Plastics name though, that’s why not so many people know who made them. The company works mainly in partnership with design firms and at a wholesale level.
Modern Age Plastics started off with one little printer 50 years ago. Now it has the latest-version Mac computers; two digitized 3D printers; five large-format printers size of a small car which put 3D and Braille characters on acrylic and vinyl film; four giant cutters; digital ovens; five CNC machines and dozens of smaller pieces of equipment which occupy 29,000 square feet at 50 Fasken Drive.The company’s 30 employees are its most valuable assets. “We have the most knowledgeable best trained people, each of them can run these machines and computers”, said Bohdan.
He spoke highly of his employees:
“Megan there at that 3D printer is a bit of a genius”;
“Maria runs this whole big sign department. She started from the very bottom and has worked her way up. She came to Canada as a refugee, like myself. She is from Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina and was one of the people being shot at. And we have a lot of people like that. People don't realize that when you get a refugee you usually get someone smart because they tried to get out”;
“Zlatko is our plant manager and he is the best manager one can dream of, so knowledgeable and such great people skills”;
“Zdenko is one of our brand fabricators. He’s been with us for 45 years and has golden hands – he never gets bubbles while bending or attaching acrylic”.
Bohdan’s experience in plastics, acrylics and other materials spans over more than five decades. He has done math, physics and chemistry at York and Ryerson universities and has worked for a number of companies in sales. He also took accounting courses at Humber College, which gave him a knowledge equivalent of a Registered Industrial Accountant designation.
All this knowledge and experience have taught Bohdan several major skills that allow his business to prosper. His rule number one is to listen to the customer, his attitude has always been to have an open mind: “When people come and say, can you do this, my first thing is, I don't know, let me think about it. We are all about servicing the clients. We give them options which often save them a lot of money”.
The Modern Age Plastics’ front wall hosts Bohdan’s statement: “We didn't know it couldn't be done, so we did it anyway”. To do complex things with acrylic and other materials, the company has invented some equipment like heating coils to bend the material and the extrusion equipment. Bohdan is not a designer by education but has designed many unique solutions on the go: “I've made some very big sales on a napkin during a business lunch”.
Are there more ingredients to Bohdan’s success? “Above all, I would not have been able to accomplish what we have done without the most important person, my wife Beverley. She was also my partner in business, while her family stood by and supported us in all our endeavors, for over 50 years. It was her wise counsel that enabled us to make the good decisions and go forward”, he said.
Bohdan comes across as a friendly and outgoing person. Over the years, he has accumulated a wealth of connections that have proven critical in his business. He has known the current President and CEO of CIBC, Victor Dodig, since the time when the teenaged Dodig danced in the Croatian folk group led by Bohdan’s long-time partner, Stanko Trtanj.
Bohdan’s high personal and business qualities stem from his background. He is proud to be a son of refugees and to have experienced hardship in his early life. Bohdan and his sister Ollie said that their devotion to education and professional excellence (Ollie has worked for CRA and has an honours science degree) comes from their mother, who did not get a chance to learn to read and write but instilled the desire to be educated in her children: “They can take everything away from you, but unless they kill you they can't take what’s in your brain”, she would say.
The mother’s life history is characteristic of the lives of the DP refugees from the war-time Ukraine. As a girl, she served a Jewish family in Warsaw. Bohdan told me his family’s story about his mother’s experience with the Gestapo: when they came to take the family, the captain of the Gestapo called her over and gave her a big diamond ring: ‘Here, take this and get out’. “Because she wasn't Jewish. She wouldn't take it. She might have traded it for who knows how much bread or something later, but that's the kind of person she was, she just ran away. And somehow she got back home to Ukraine”, he said.
Being older than Bohdan, Ollie remembers the war. Their parents were taken from Ukraine to Germany at gunpoint by the Nazis as slave labourers. Ollie’s memories are not fun: “I remember, we lived in a house in Germany, when the plane came over, I was two and a half and was sitting at the table. I went to eat my soup and my father swept that away because it was full of glass after the bomb went off. I also remember running to the bomb shelter, at the end of the street there was an apartment building, and all of a sudden there was no building. It might be a reason why I am very sensitive to noise, like lightning and thunder, and I don't like being in the basement”.
The family’s legend says that their father was involved in the underground while in Germany. Ollie remembers playing in the forest and noticing an allied paratrooper, who was stuck in the tree. The children ran and told their parents who then cut the paratrooper down and hid him with different families every night. The story goes on about some German artillery which the partisans stole and buried in the cemetery before somebody turned them in. Their father’s brother was captured and the Germans beat him to death.
Bohdan’s father came to Canada in 1949 and brought the family over later after he paid off his fare working for the CNR Railroad. The family settled in Toronto, in the Ossington and Dundas area.
As a son of DPs, Bohdan experienced intolerance at an early age: “There was a kid I met from up the block and we started playing. For about four days we played and then on the fifth day he came out and said, ‘I can't play with you’. He said that his parents told him that we were [expletive] DPs so he can’t play with me now. I can still remember how people talked about black people or Pakistanis and that's something my mother would never tolerate”, said Bohdan.
Ollie remembered: “When you walk into the school as a DP you don’t know what you’ve done wrong, but you can feel it. Imagine how visible minorities felt at that time. If you're on the streetcar and if you talk to each other in Ukrainian somebody would come and tell you, ‘Speak English, what’s the matter with you’. You couldn’t practice your own culture the way we are allowed the freedom nowadays”.
“Canada is very blessed, I don’t want to see it go like the U.S.”, said Bohdan.
When Bohdan was nine, their father died prematurely. The experience after the father’s untimely death was bitter for the family: “It was a very tough time. In those days when you were considered a half orphan it was like you were nobody. People were embarrassed to have anything to do with you. We had no help whatsoever from our church although my father was very involved in the church, everybody disappeared”.
The only people who supported the family at that time were their fellow DPs, the Tushyks, the Dudas, the Sitkas, the Tymiches and Seniws, remembered Bohdan.
Ollie said that, apart from those families, Galamagas had the most response from the Jewish people: “I have great respect and admiration for them”, she told me.
Bohdan had his first job with a local Jewish grocer, Mr. Laderman. “He was the one that kept us, he would give us credit and never ask when we pay it back”, remembered Bohdan. Laderman offered Bohdan, who was ten at that time, to work at his store for 10 cents an hour. Bohdan saved up and bought a bicycle for $25, with help from his mother. The bicycle was the means for Bohdan’s second job as a courier.
The family had hard times. But Bohdan insisted they were not poor: “Poor is what’s in your head. We were hungry. There were times when all we had was cereal, we had our bread with sugar on it”. Ollie noted: “We eat everything, there is no such thing as waste, we cook the whole chicken, all the parts, we know how to cut out the bladders”.
Although Galamagas had some unfavourable experience with the Ukrainian community after their father died, Bohdan doesn’t have any resentment: “That was the culture that I think has changed”, he said.
Over the years, he became involved in the Ukrainian community. Marshall Dorosh, the long-time head of the men's club at the St. Mary's church in Mississauga, and Rev. Fr. Michael Luchka brought him back into the community. Bohdan is a long-time friend of Les Salnick, a former Head of the Board of New Pathway. Together, they have been actively involved in the Ukrainian Canadian Professional and Business Association, Toronto branch.
Bohdan is a man of many talents. Before he became a successful businessman, he was a musician (bass), a security guard and even a bouncer. He loves sports and made high school hockey, basketball and baseball teams. He studied poetry at university and sold Teflon lining used in bridge construction. His main talent seems to lie in the people skills sphere. He speaks with respect and admiration about his parents, clients, employees, his wife Beverley and his son Jason. He is an active member of the community and has been a long-time supporter of New Pathway – Ukrainian News. But, most importantly, he is a son of Displaced Persons, which has been a major factor in all his life accomplishments.