was influenced by all the propaganda and news regarding the Cold War,
so I knew that the Russians were the bad guys. At least until such time
as they became trading partners. Then, they became sort of good guys.
I had tutored myself in HTML and website programming. This hidden talent
was discovered by a Trade Commissioner where I was working for the Canadian
federal government. She put me to work for an organization that she had
spearheaded called 'The Canada Russia Business Forum'. It has since merged
with another group but was a fairly big deal in Toronto at that time.
The CRBF had some government funding to aid its efforts to establish viable
trade relations with Russia through local business concerns. The CRBF
became quite proud of the website I designed for them in these early years
of the web.
Over time I learned a lot about the Russia trade. I went to their Board
Meetings as their Internet communications person, although I had no vote.
I sat in on Board Meetings with businessmen, both native Canadian and
Russian immigrants to Canada, along with a sprinkling of Canadian federal
and provincial government representatives. There was not a whole lot of
difference between Russian and Canadian businessmen. A businessman is
a businessman. He's interested in business.
The political situation in Russia made it somewhat difficult and even
dangerous in the economic sense to do business in Russia at that time.
A company might invest a fair amount in trying to develop, oh, Russian
silver mines or something like that, then find that the concern had been
taken over by some Russian interests, so they would lose their shirts.
It was a bit like building a Department Store on quicksand. The main thing
about the Russia trade was resources. I mean exports of gold, silver and
oil. For imports it was generally something like prefabricated housing
where everything was pretty much done up in plastic and incorporating
local lumber. These were quite popular because they came with kitchen
counters and everything.
There was a great deal of talk about something called 'transparency'.
I had no idea what this meant but learned that, basically, it just meant
What you see is what you get. You have to say who owns the
business, where the lines of power ran and where the money was coming
from and going to. People, if they wanted to invest, could thus see where
their money was going and what, with good luck, was likely to happen to
I organized many, many, many meetings online, using email, with the help
of a gentleman who was acting as the Secretary of the group. We developed
a protocol and trained the email recipients. We would tell them You
have this window of opportunity to Register for this Forum or Conference.
If you sign up here online you can pay at the door. This is the cost but
you have to Register. We'd Register them and show on line who was Registered.
Government reps, both Federal and Provincial, would look at these lists
because it was part of their portfolio to keep track of such information.
They needed to know where the information was flowing, as well as the
money. It was of interest to the businessmen too because they wanted to
be seen to attend these things. We had both local speakers and speakers
who were dignitaries from Russia. Some of these were academics, some were
political figures and some were businessmen. If the speaker who was well
known in the Russia trade there would be a huge jam to get in on that
meeting. Keeping track of who was Registered by email became quite a challenge.
I developed a method of bypassing Internet security on my actual job.
I could collect email from a Unix Shell account and keep track of who
had Registered for posting to the website. I can't say I actually stole
the time from work because it was all Trade-related and trade and commerce
were part of my regular job, if not specifically the Russia trade. I used
to joke and say I was working for the Russians but, actually, I was indirectly
working for the Trade section of my own government.
The Canada Russia Business Forum paid me quite a reasonable amount and
I bought a lot of computer equipment funded by the proceeds.
In the fullness of time it all ended. I ran a no frills all access government
type of site and they needed something flashier with a better design that
could be updated auto-magically by a secretary.
What I remember fondly was meeting both Russian and Canadian businessmen.
They were really nice people who were trying to make a buck. They were
a good bunch. I also remember a young college student who interned with
us for a short while. He was a business major. We had an important meeting
hosted by a Bay Street firm and at the last moment we had to borrow a
Russian flag from our Trade department to add to the ambiance. This poor
young man had the joy of running down Bay Street (Toronto's main business
artery) with a Russian flag on a flagpole.
© Sonia Brock 2005