The Most Hated Man in Europe
British Columbia was growing very rapidly in the 1950’s and 60’s. The amount of construction requiring inspection was well beyond the capacity of the inspectors to actually inspect. Like drinking from a fire hydrant, inspectors were barely able to maintain acceptable levels of oversight in the field. If any inspector took time off, became sick, retired, or couldn’t work, a big personnel gap was created. Having earned a reputation for productivity, management capability and, bluntly, backbone, Peter Knight was selected by George Harrower, the Provincial Chief Inspector, to be the Provincial relief inspector from 1963 onward. In this role, he would assume authority over an inspection office that, for whatever reason, was now lacking inspection staff. While in this role, he remained responsible for his Richmond district, but was running other inspection offices roughly 50% of the time.
By this point, Peter Knight had been urging his inspection colleagues for several years to prioritize CSA certification of all electrical equipment as a condition of approving an installation. Inspectors gather fairly regularly, and at every formal Code committee and informal amendments discussion, Peter could be counted on to advocate linking CSA equipment certification to inspection approval. Mostly this was fighting the tide; a strict interpretation of this linkage would result in rejection of the vast majority of industrial installations. Of course, Peter Knight had started by rejecting the majority of industrial installations in Richmond and, by 1963, most contractors there had adapted by using the relatively rare CSA certified products. It was well known that using non-CSA approved equipment wouldn’t profit you in Richmond.
Somewhere in the management ranks of Western Canada’s three electrical distributors there must’ve been some serious worry at the news of Peter Knight’s growing influence. Whereas their non-CSA approved products were locked out of Richmond, they could still sell throughout BC and elsewhere in Western Canada. Now, with Peter’s relief inspectors’ role, all of their BC market was at risk. Everywhere Peter Knight was sent, he imported his pro-CSA policy to the local offices. Of course, the distributors were discussing the problem together, trying to find a way around it. Within a year of his relief appointment, all three importers had installed whiteboards on the walls of their offices, printed with the various electrical districts of the Province, and Peter Knight’s name would be written under the district in which he was serving in that particular month. Their employees were instructed that no imported product shipments could be made to any district in which Peter was known to be present until they could verify that he’d left. Then the phone calls would begin. Each distributor would call their contacts in the various districts to ask if Peter Knight was now in their area. And Provincial Inspection Head Office wasn’t interested in helping their process. Inspectors had been warming to the idea of standardization and were pleased to let the distributors burn their energy chasing the increasingly infamous Peter Knight.
This process continued for several years, through several interprovincial conferences and Code cycles. Internationally, particularly in Europe, there was an increasing appreciation of the financial necessity of CSA certification if they were to have profitable access to Western Canadian markets. Standardizing CSA certification in Canada was driven by individual inspectors across the country in relationship with foreign suppliers. Incidentally, foreign CSA certifications became the norm long before the CSA Group set up their twenty-nine international offices.
While soundly disliked by European manufacturers, Peter Knight was getting on very well with the locals in the trade. A recurring theme during these years was that the Code itself was written in legalese, and as most folks in the trade weren’t well versed in legalese, it would be awfully helpful to have some explanatory text available in clear, easy to sort-out writing. The reality of Code legalese also cost inspectors a great deal of time. Individual contractors and homeowners would often treat an inspection visit as an instructional session. Inspectors found themselves coaching people on the particulars of their installation and, for each such visit, there was less time available to reach all of the other jobsites on the inspection schedule. We take it for granted now that inspectors only inspect, but their jobs were much more diverse and distracting only a few years ago.
Field relief work is not without adventure. One memorable inspection started with a phone call from a contractor in a rural area near the Grand Forks office. In those days one was accustomed to some rather creative driving directions to rural sites. One could be guided to an installation by counting the number of telephone polls before turning right, or by the sudden presence of a ditch beside the roadway. In the case of Grand Forks, Peter was advised to drive down a gravel road and turn right when he saw a “bare breasted woman clearing land.” Sure enough, there was indeed such a woman working in a field with burn piles built in several places and wearing not a lot of clothing. She waved at him from the field and he responded, trying to look non-committal and disinterested as he drove by. It is very difficult to maintain eye contact from 30 yards distance.