Scene and Heard

January 11, 2021

Ford's remarkable Madison Schill
photo: Steve Alkok
You know by now that Ford is closing its lone Canadian office. Monday morning, HR and accounting representatives from New York showed up unannounced to tell staff January 31st would be their last day, forcing bookers -- some of whom have worked at the Lorne Building for a decade or more -- to start thinking about new career paths.

It wasn't until the end of Tuesday that all the models were informed (not surprisingly, several found out from competitor agents), while the inevitable questions began to surface: What of models currently on contracts that keep them away into February and beyond? Where goes the furniture? Do bookings get taken for February?

The larger network remains intact (although with massive staff cuts across the board, and a steady procession of models abandoning the New York office), so payments, collections and commissions will still be carried out. Ford's accounting was always done stateside anyway, so that's not an issue.

But why Ford chose to pull the plug now is a mystery. The Adelaide Street office was just re-wired to accommodate new computers, so this seems to be a very recent decision.

A few years ago this would have made more sense, when the economy was tanking and the agency bled like an open wound, losing talent like Kate Somers, Elyse Saunders, Bojana Reljic, Tamara McDonald, Shelby Furber and Paulina Murchie (all travelling a block north to Elmer Olsen).

In the past year though, not only have rates improved, but Tamara McDonald returned to the agency she started with, and other notables (Jessica Lewis, Madison "Matt" Leyes, Leigh Hoby, Maddy Van Rijn) added themselves to a roster that also boasted homegrown successes like Madison Schill and Jenica Vandermeer. The agency was billing well enough locally that Chantale Nadeau had more than twenty of her own models toting white portfolios around town.

But even if the Toronto office was profitable, for an American firm looking to streamline (the San Francisco, Milwaukee and Atlanta offices were already axed) it just might not have been worth the extra administration to have a whole other set of taxes, dollars and labour standards to deal with. Last year, when American laws changed to offer better protection to interns, the Ford network made a company-wide decision to stop having interns altogether even in Canada, where no such laws existed, and several Ford interns have worked their way into full time, paid positions with the company.

Ford, by the way, is different from the other "networks" in Canada. Elite in Toronto operates independently of the other satellites. Next Toronto is connected to Next Montréal and Next Vancouver, but like Elite, cannot have its locks changed at the whims of a foreign head office.

To Ford's credit, the staff were not cut loose right before Christmas, they enjoyed a longer holiday than any other agency, and everyone was given three weeks notice and severance packages.

Although other agencies will be stronger as a result of Ford's closure, the sad fact is that many models won't enjoy the same level of representation elsewhere, and several bookers are losing their jobs.

The rumours of Ford pulling out of Canada have been around for a long time, but as I said earlier, this would have made more sense a few years ago. There are still persistent rumours of another top Toronto agency on the verge of collapse, but there are also rumours the Leafs might be contenders this season.

I was shocked by this week's announcement, because despite all the gossip, speculation and drama, Ford Canada was run by a strong team of bookers, and its roster (both models and artists) was only getting better. The only plausible explanation for this happening now, is that it has nothing at all to do with what's happening in Canada.

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