SAINT JOHN – A young Jim Irving was introduced to the workings of the port by family members, of course. But he was also schooled by people like the outspoken former port worker and MLA Abel LeBlanc.
In accepting the Port Award of the Year at Tuesday’s Port Days luncheon, the co-CEO of J.D. Irving, Limited (JDI) said there has been a longtime family tradition of visiting the port as young people, learning about how important it is to the family businesses and the community itself.
“In the 1930s, [my father would] go with his father K.C. They’d go down to the port on the weekends and see what was on the ships – what products were coming and going,” said Irving to a packed room at the Saint John Trade and Convention Centre.
“That’s [also] the way it was when I was a youngster. Saturday and Sunday, down at the port watching them load the ships – pulp, whatever we were loading at the time. Then with my sons, it was the same thing, go down and have a look.”
But family members weren’t Jim Irving’s only influences. The port was where he also came into contact with people like LeBlanc, a longtime port worker before he became a Liberal MLA known for his colourful style, language and gestures in the provincial legislature.
“In my early working days, when I got out of school and started working in the lumber business, I spent a lot of time at the port. I got some very valuable hands-on education. It was a classroom of sorts, except the classroom was a bit rough and tumble,” said Irving.
“We had good instructors and partners. They were first class people, but I can tell you this was no UNB classroom. The language was very clear on both sides of the discussion. [It was] somewhat animated, and if you got it wrong the tuition could be very, very expensive.”
Irving got some good laughs in the room with stories like these, but he also emphasized the deep and lasting partnership that JDI companies have with the port. The influence of its companies is everywhere – the tugboats, the dredging vessels, the container ships carrying lumber to foreign ports, and the rail lines and trucks that bring products in and out of the port.
“We’ve been associated with the Port for a very long time as a service provider and a shipper,” said Irving. “We’ve had a great partnership for a very long time and we’re proud of it.”
“New Brunswick is an exporting province, it’s critical to the province’s economy … and it’s well known if you’re a manufacturer in this province. The Port is vital. It’s huge. We have to to make sure it stays an active and vibrant port. It’s critical to the growth of the economy.”
In his speech, Irving spoke about the many families – not just his own – who have multi-generational connections to the port, from harbour pilots to tugboat captains.
“It’s more than just cargo, it’s people, it’s part of the fabric of Saint John. Saint John is known as a port city and we’re proud of it.”