The unknown giant K. C. IRVING
This iiiaii is strong: so strong thcit his $400 million empire in New Brunswick dominates the lift and outlook of the entire. province. He is also silent: so silent that the report beginning on the nea't pages is the first full account of/~i~s' e.x'ti'aordinary character and even more extraordinary activities
hirst of a series by Ralph Allen
THE FIRST WORD the average traveler sees on arrival at the lovely, historic anti slightly down-at-the heels city of Saint John. New Brunswick, is the word Irving, towering ten feet high on a private hangar at the edge of the airport. The next word he sees is also the word Irving, announcing the first-chance gas station less than a hundred yards along the main road to the city. And then he turns a corner overlooking a green hillside and a soaring backdrop of New Brunswick spruce and fir. Spread across the face of the
hill like giant stacks of silver dollars are the six six-million-gallon storage tanks of a gleaming new oil refinery and on each a single skyscraper letter: I-R-V-I-N-G.
At the great Reversing Falls, where the St. John River wages its perpetual war against the tides of the Bay of Fundy, a pulp mill belches and clanks and erupts its awful smells; it bears the name of Irving. The visitor's route will not have taken him past the vast Irving shipyard and drydock (one of the three largest in Canada) or the huge Irving sawmill or the Irving steel plant, but all the public buses he passes and encounters on entering the city will be Irving buses. The sturdy little tugboats he sees fighting up the river are almost sure to be Irving tugs and the outbound
tankers in the Bay of Fundy will not unlikely bear names like Irving Glen or Irvingstream. If the visitor is early enough to buy a copy of the city’s only morning paper it will be an Irving paper. If the evening paper has arrived, that, too, will be an Irving paper. If the television is on, the only channel in reach will be an Irving channel. If he turns on either one of Saint John's two radio stations the mathematical odds are exactly even that it will be an Irving station. If there are labor pickets holding placards up or passing leaflets around they will probably be — as some of them were all last fall and winter — striking against an Irving firm.
This is the surface, and only the surface, of one of the most unbelievable business empires and one
of the most astonishing men in the history of the Maritime provinces, of Canada and quite conceivably of the modern business world anywhere. The primer facts about Kenneth Colin Irving are in themselves unbelievable. Starting from a New Brunswick village but staying home where Max Aitken went away to become Lord Beaverbrook, where R. B. Bennett went away to become prime minister of Canada, where Bonar Law went away to become prime minister of Great Britain, where James Dunn went away to become a steel baron, Parting from nowhere and staying home, K. C. Irving has made himself one of the richest men alive. He has also made himself one of the most powerful, one of the most respected and revered, one of the least continued overleaf
continued known and one of the most feared and resented.
No one hut K. C. Irving has any real idea of what he's worth and he won't say. With one minor exception all the companies he owns and controls — only he and his three sons and a tiny handful of bankers and business associates are sure how many there are — are private companies. Five years ago the Fredericton publisher Michael Wardell, one of the few men outside Irving's family who has more than a nodding personal acquaintance with him, estimated that Irving owned “somewhere in the order of two hundred million dollars in much the same way as a man may own his house or his motor car." Since then Irving's lumber, pulp, manufacturing, oil, construction,
hardware, transport and publishing enterprises have grown somewhat faster than the economy as a whole and he has added to them (in partnership with Standard Oil of California) the fifty-million-dollar Irving Oil Refinery and (in partnership with the fabulously wealthy Société Générale of Belgium, the heirs of the late Bolivian tin king, Simon Patino, and the Toronto mining promoter Jim Boylen) a large share of a new base-metals and smelting complex near the north-shore city of Bathurst. “Irving's got a piece of everything that goes down here," an occasionally opposing and frequently collaborating industrialist explained, “and if he hasn't got it it doesn't go." The current guess is that his fortune has grown to four hundred million. I asked him
during one of several interviews I had with him not long ago whether he would care to confirm or deny this figure. “I have no comment whatsoever,” he said.
No one has yet found a wholly logical explanation for Irving's phenomenal success. Hard work is one phrase everybody falls back on sooner or later. His friends, his enemies, his huge army of employees, his competitors, his partners, the politicians he holds in a thrall of fear and honest reverence, the union leaders who sometimes fight him and more frequently join him, all the people who know the slightest thing about K. C. Irving know that he works fourteen hours a day, sixteen hours a day, eighteen hours a day. all day, every day; does not smoke, does not drink, does not
listen to music, does not look at paintings, does not read, does not — although he owns some of the world’s greatest salmon waters and one of the world’s most expensive salmon clubs — even fish; everybody knows that aside from going to church at the St. John and St. Stephen Presbyterian Church every Sunday he does not have any hobby but work.
K. C. Irving began sixty-five years ago in the little oyster-farming village of Buctouche. He learned the rudiments of trade from his father, an industrious and modestly successful general merchant. As a boy he collected binder twine and raised ducks and cabbages and sold them to the neighbors. In the First World War he tried, underage, to join the army, but his father had
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With one storage tank and a few trucks, he took on Imperial Oil
him discharged. He did, later, get into the Royal Flying Corps long enough to learn to fly, and later he went to Acadia University long enough to discover that the academic life was not for him. In one of his rare times of uncertainty he started to leave Buctouchc, to leave New Brunswick and Canada and seek his fortune in Australia, but he turned back at Vancouver; when 1 asked him if, when he made this crucial choice, he had any notion of what awaited him back home he said, “No, all I thought was that I was going back to a very great deal of very hard work and I might as well get used to it."
Soon after he got home Irving stepped from beneath his father's shadow and in his middle twenties acquired agencies to sell Ford cars and Imperial Oil.
Imperial, allegedly under pressure from Irving's local business rivals — to this day Imperial won't officially discuss the matter — withdrew his franchise. Irving, instead of folding as any sensible man would have done, acquired a two-thousand-dollar bank loan, bought one rickety storage tank and a small fleet of trucks, and went into business for himself, buying his own gas and oil from Oklahoma, South America and the Middle East and waiting to sec whether he or Imperial would get tired first.
The look of a hare-knuckle fighter
From there he just kept on going. "Irving," a business competitor said recently, “just won't go to sleep.” He has not run Imperial out of the Maritimes, but in New Brunswick the sixteen hundred Irving signs far outnumber the Esso signs. As his oil stations multiplied so did the other Irving enterprises. He bought a defunct railway and with it as much pulp and timber land as would occupy the entire province of Prince Edward Island. He bought the floundering pulp mill at the Reversing Falls and put it and the dock on full production, made jobs grow in a job-starved province or. as his enemies kept charging, made people work for less or not work at all. Irving says about twelve or thirteen thousand people are on his payroll, and his friend, the premier of the province, Louis Robichaud. thinks it might be fifteen thousand; this would mean nearly one in ten of the province's labor force.
The corporate aspects of K. C. Irving, impressive and mysterious as they are. do not begin to match his personal aspects. He is a lean man, very hard and wary. He looks like a print of an English bare-knuckles fighter, a James Figg or a John Broughton or a Cheshire Hero. He is six feet tall, with wide shoulders and a narrow waist. He is as bald as an iceberg, his eyes are deep and gray, his jaw is square and strong and his aquiline nose is a little off-centre, as if it had been hit by a lucky punch. His
manners are phenomenally inconsistent. With his subordinates and his casual acquaintances he shows the natural, old-fashioned courtesy of a boy who was brought up to be polite and hopes everybody else was brought up the same. He helps people on with their coats and calls everyone Mister, including the people who drive his cars for him, the pilots of his airplanes, his bookkeepers and his cooks and foremen in the bush and the officials of Local 9-691 of the striking Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers International Union who, before they called off an abortive six - month strike against his refinery last March, burned him in effigy in the main square of Saint John. But with those who are in a position to fight back — company presidents and chairmen of the board — he sometimes abandons his politeness and pounds tables and stalks out “just like Khrushchov.”
Usually Irving shrouds this London-prize-ring figure in a conventional business suit but sometimes he wears a checked jacket or a hound's-tooth as sporty as a bookmaker’s. When he is in Saint John he presides over his empire from the five-story Golden Ball building halfway down the hill between the top of the business district and the restless tides of Fundy. One of the legends that have grown from his secretive nature is that his seldom-entered war-room is really a kind of hole in the wall over a filling station. The truth is that Irving inhabits an office a third of a block long, loaded with Madison Avenue broadloom and paneling. Ahead of him, away down the room, is a round board-room table. Over to the left is the only painting in the room, a reproduction of one of the Graham Sutherland portraits of Lord Beaverbrook. The one other decoration is a small three-cornered pennant saying Irving Oil. Behind the desk is the master set of a private radio network that is connected to all his plants and stores and ships and the homes of his senior employees. His four private planes and his three automobiles are on the network too, so that no Irving man, no matter how far up the St. John river or the St. Lawrence or how deep in the Irving woods, is ever far out of reach. Irving swivels around constantly when he is working in his office. “Golden Ball to refinery. Golden Ball to pulp mill. Golden Ball to Buctouche store. How arc you Mr. Smathers? It’s nice to hear from you.”
In one of his studies at home — a big white house with Roman pillars in front and a widow's walk on top, built above the sea to find out if the ships come in — there is another array of phones and microphones. Hard as it is to believe, the first book you sec is by Horatio Alger, Jr., the one entitled Helping Himself or Grant Thornton s Rapid Rise in New York. On the left is a novel by Kathleen Norris and on the right a science text by Millikan. The complete works of Walter Scott are arranged above. “I have very little time to read,” Irving says.
Though he maintains close contact with his inner world, he usually communicates with the outside world through his secretary, an efficient and charming woman named Winnifred Johnston whom he hired away from
one of his many law firms. His heirs and heirs apparent are, in order, his sons Jim and Art and Jack and a top executive he hired from Standard Oil of California, John D. Park. At school the sons had to bear the nicknames of Gassy, Oily and Greasy. They bore them very well. There is no record that any of them ever smoked or drank or swore or drove Stutz Bearcats off the end of the Market Slip.
K. c. IRVING can only be explained in
the context and against the background of his province. New Brunswick and the Maritimes really did get the worst of Confederation. The age of the sailing ship ran out — the age of “wood, wind and water” — about the time the trading lines were changed from north to south and made to try the longer, tariff-shielded path from east to west. Simultaneously the American Civil War came to an end, drying up a rich and easy market for contraband to the north. Sev-
eral local dignitaries disappeared with private trust funds. Then half Saint John was swept by fire, leaving the city stunned and beaten, with vast pockets of wooden slums that it could not afford to replace and has not replaced to this day.
Saint John, New Brunswick and the Maritimes have been trying hard and valiantly for the last hundred years to rise above these defeats and disasters and despairs of history. Irving, to many, is the one guarantee that
rising above them is really possible. He creates jobs, jobs by the thousand, in a place that's starved for jobs and in return for this he drives hard bargains. He almost never pays his labor more than anyone else and he frequently pays less. His tax agreements with the province and the municipalities in which he does business, his contracts for water and other utilities and the private legislation that gives him special rights, all reflect the fact that in nearly all matters pertaining to the
public affairs of New Brunswick, what K. C. wants K. C. gets.
In their acts of incorporation practically all the big natural - resources firms operating in New Brunswick have been granted, on paper at least, powers that would curl the hair of any expert on property rights and civil liberties.
An act recently passed by the legislature on behalf of the East Coast Smelting and Chemical Company, the latest major enterprise in which Irv-
ing has interested himself, specifies that: "The Company, with the approval of the Lieutenant-Governor in Council may, without the consent of the owner thereof or of any person interested therein, enter upon, take possession of. expropriate and use such lands and privileges, easements, servitudes, rights and interests in such and appertaining to such lands, including riparian rights, but excluding mineral rights, as the Company shall deem necessary or useful."
The company may also, with the approval of the Lieutenant-Governor ir. Council, “without the consent of any person interested therein, divert the flow of any watercourse, to such extent as it shall seem necessary or useful for in connection with any operation of the Company ... If any resistance or opposition is made by any person to the Company, or any person acting for it, entering upon or taking possession of any land, a Judge of the Supreme Court . . . may issue his warrant to the sheriff . . . directing him to put down such resistance and opposition and putting the Company, or some person acting for it. in possession thereof.“
Another special act of 1951 confers almost the same sweeping privileges on Irving’s pulp and paper company. Irving has come so much to usurp the ken of his province that many New Brunswickers have clean forgotten that almost identical laws were passed away back in the 1920s for the particular benefit of each of the three other pulp-and-papcr giants of New Brunswick — Fraser, International and Bathurst.
But Irving has been granted, both in his woods and mining operations, one legal shield — or weapon — that none of the other industrial giants even thought of asking for. Both his pulp and paper company and the new smelter have been specifically exempted by law — except by special government permission — from injunctions and suits “for nuisance”: e.g. polluting public waters, creating unseemly noises and smells, blocking roads and rivers and the like. Without such arbitrary legislation, its defenders argue, the Irvings, the Frasers, the Internationals and the Bathursts would be at the mercy of the enemies of progress, including pathological cranks and barefaced holdup men.
Can politics ascend to Irving?
Whatever moral problems this proposition raises, there are no political difficulties. Irving's command of his domain is so sure and even that the question, in New Brunswick, is not whether he descends to politics but whether politics can ascend to him. He gives money to both the two main parties, to the Liberals more than to the Conservatives. Many years ago Irving came to ask for a minor favor of a Conservative premier named Baxter. "But you’re a Liberal,” the premier said. "Well, Mr. Baxter,” Irving is supposed to have said, “I didn’t imagine it until now, but I believe you’re correct.”
Not long ago he complained to a group of pulp producers that “one member of the government has said my interests are too vast.” It did not seem to matter, he went on, how vast the interests of outsiders were. “Too much of this thinking,” he added, “can cause New Brunswickers to become outsiders.” Sensing a possible advantage, the leader of the opposition, C. B. Sherwood, rose to the floor of the legislature and demanded to know who had said K. C. Irving was too vast. The premier, Louis Robichaud, replied, “No government member, to my knowledge, ever entertained such language.” The leader of the opposition pressed on and then the
premier said, ‘The comment could have come from a member of the opposition as well.” At last the speaker of the legislature intervened and the leader of the opposition said he assumed the original statement was inaccurate anyway. Nobody had said Mr. Irving was too vast after all and everyone breathed much easier.
On a more recent occasion the premier and the leader of the opposition got into a noisy shouting match about a twenty-million-dollar loan the province was making to Irving and a group of his partners in a new mining complex on the north shore. The loan was highly advantageous to Irving and his associates and the premier, by his own admission, had got badly mixed up on the security for it. “This is a fantastic and unbelievable incident,” the leader of the opposition said . . . “a slipshod and irresponsible way of conducting the public affairs of our province.”
“Vote against it if you dare.” the premier challenged him. "I double dare you to vote against it.”
From the synoptic reports of the legislature:
Mr. Robichaud: Mr. chairman, does the leader of the opposition oppose in principle that particular section?
Mr. Sherwood: No, no, no!
The vote for Irving and the East Coast Smelting and Chemical Company Act was unanimously in favor.
Irving has an active contempt for public-relations men and a deep suspicion of journalists. He does not want his name in the paper and if he did he would own the paper anyway
— four of the five English-language dailies in New Brunswick belong to him although he refuses to admit it. As a result his public image is as confused and cluttered as the Reversing Falls itself. People who think well of him are as unwilling to declare themselves as people who think badly. One morning a taxi driver told me he had once been stalled in the street in the blinding dark of a winter blizzard and Irving, on the way to the theatre, had come along, pushed him to the nearest Irving gas station and filled his gas tank and paid the bill himself. Because anonymous cab drivers are a notorious temptation to lazy reporters I asked this one if he would care to give me his name. “Nobody gets my name,” he said nervously. “The union is mad at me already because I’ve run their picket line.”
In my research on K. C. Irving I suppose I spoke at some length to at least two hundred people, including many very prominent businessmen both in Irving’s native New Brunswick and in the financial capitals of Toronto and Montreal. With monotonous — and after a while frightening
— regularity, the same phrase kept coming up. “I’ll have to ask you not to quote me, but —.” One of the few men who not only was willing but wanted to stand up and be counted was, curiously, another cab driver, Raymond Gallant of Moncton. “There’s only one thing I know about Mr. Irving and that’s that he’s very kind. Fifteen years ago I was broke and my wife was sick and I couldn't find a job anywhere. A man I knew gave me a note and told me to take it down to the old building where Mr. Irving worked, and Mr. Irving gave me
twenty-five dollars and told me to get on the train and see a construction man he knew here. It was as good as saving my life.” A man who can in theory talk to Irving as an equal said to me in what I'm sure was all earnestness: “If K. C. Irving walked in here and told me to start running I don’t think 1 would. But 1 couldn’t be sure because it’s never come up. Maybe I’d start running after all. He just spreads all over and it doesn’t matter who you are or how
much you've got, if he told you to start running you’d have no way of knowing, until it happened, what you’d do.”
Another of Irving's unquotable acquaintances, a civil servant, met Irving for the first time when they shared seats on a TCA plane coming into Fredericton in the dead of a late-spring snowstorm at three a.m. “When we landed Mr. Irving said he had a car waiting at the airport and would be glad to drive me home. 1 said
1 lived nine miles away and it would be better if I called a cab. 'Why 1 know
where you live Mr.-,’ he said. He
seemed to be hurt by the suggestion that he didn't. When we crossed the bridge over the St. John he stopped his car and looked down through the snowstorm. His spring log drive was
on the way through. ‘Mr. -!’ he shouted, looking down at the moving logs. He was as excited as a boy. 'This is a great drive. It will be over
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in nine days.’ We were parked in the middle of the bridge and a few other late cars from the airport were behind us. ‘Mr. Irving,’ I said, ‘I think we’re holding up the traffic.’ ‘Well now,’ he said, i believe that’s so,’ and we hurried back in and got started again. When we got to my house I took two of my bags to the door and Mr. Irving carried the third. He wouldn’t stay for coffee because he wanted to get up the river to check the log drive again. In the cold and darkness I never did introduce him to my wife. After he was gone, my wife said, ‘Who was that?' ‘That, my dear,' 1 said, ‘was K. C. Irving.' ‘What in heaven's name is K. C. Irving doing carrying your luggage?’ ‘You don't realize, my dear.' I said, ‘that your husband is a very important man.' ”
What Irving is doing doing various things is a matter that baffles not only King Street in Saint John but Queen Street in Fredericton, St. James Street in Montreal, Bay Street in Toronto and occasionally the financial thoroughfares of Paris and Brussels, Berlin, London, New York, and Rome. The essential paradoxes, particularly the mixtures of personal kindness and courtesy with ruthless arrogance, of simple bashful shyness with the glinting bite of a two-bladed logger’s axe, of sparing personal habits with the accumulation of one of the world's great fortunes, make Irving vulnerable to the kind of secondguessing that afflicted a famous medieval cardinal. The cardinal dropped dead and an emissary hastened with the glad news to his closest rival. “Dropped dead, eh?” the second cardinal said, thoughtfully stroking his beard. “I wonder what his motive could have been?”
Irving has never denied that he likes making money but his basic motive, he has frequently insisted, is to help the Maritimes escape their perpetual state of depression. He almost never says anything in public and when he does his pronouncements have a special impact. His last public statement, when Claude Jodoin, the president of the Canadian Labor Congress, came to Saint John to intervene in the spectacularly futile strike at the Irving gas refinery, had more the flavor of an edict than an argument, and Jodoin did not reply, at least for the time being.
"With all the experience Mr. Jodoin gained as he won the highest and most respected labor post in Canada there is one thing he has not done,” Irving said.
“He has never — to the best of my knowledge — lived in New Brunswick.
“Mr. Jodoin, therefore, has never had that feeling of frustrating despair which most of the people of this province have experienced for so many years.
“It is a feeling I have lived with ever since I came to Saint John thirty-nine years ago — yes, and long before that.
"In New Brunswick, we have known this feeling of despair as long as we can remember. It is associated with our inability to rise to national levels.
“We do not stay at this level because we like to live several steps below the national economy.
"The choice — the decision — has not been ours.
"We have been handicapped by a national monetary policy with its periods of a premium dollar, tight money, high interest rates, by a national shipping act which has been detrimental to New Brunswick, and by a national energy program which has in the last three years created prosperity in the west and chaos in the east.
"Over the years the federal gov-
ernment — regardless of party — has been responsible for policies which have resulted in New Brunswick being a forgotten section of Canada.
"When these national — or federal — policies are changed, then the economy of the province of New Brunswick will change.
“But the economic facts of life cannot be changed by words of labor leaders or the words of management.
"Words alone do not create jobs.
"Words alone do not give experience to unqualified and untrained workers.
"Words alone do not keep a business successful.
“Words alone do not meet a weekly payroll.
"We all agree that the highest rates of pay possible are desirable.
“Irving Refinery is pleased and happy to pay industry rates to all qualified workers who are experi-
cnced and competent at their work.
“But those who are inexperienced and untrained should not expect those rates.
“In short we cannot afford to pay top rates to an inexperienced employee simply because he holds a union membership card.”
Irving went on. as relentless as he can be when he is challenged on his home grounds. “I do not hesitate to say that I have more interest in local labor and advancement of local labor than any of these people who come to Saint John determined to force their will on the people of Saint John — men, who to date, succeeded only in keeping one hundred and fortyfive men from drawing pay cheques . . . This time a month ago (author’s note: this would fix the period at just before Christmas last) I was about ready to stop worrying about the future of business in New Brunswick. 1 had just about convinced myself it wasn't worth the effort.
“It seems now,” he went on, “when I try to bring new employment to Saint John — employment which would help lift the economy a step higher — I find myself in combat with someone who has all the answers for operating the business we have established — or the business we would establish.”
Irving repeated the threat that if they didn't stop bothering him he might pull out and leave the province to its fate. “About a month ago, I decided it was not worth the effort. But then 1 came to the conclusion that we will not be moved from our objective by talking machines who never created very much but trouble.”
Irving’s decision to stay — the whole province of course took the threat that he might leave as an outright bluff — reminded many people not only of his place in the economy but of his place in the regional folklore and mystique. There are an undeterminable number of New Brunswickcrs who don't resent his vast success hut who see in him the local hoy who made good and so immensely good that there's a lot of hope and glory left over for every other local boy. A few years ago, arranging for his new oil refinery and for a new paper-products mill, Irving was in simultaneous consultation and struggle with Standard of California and Kimberly-Clark, the makers of Kleenex, Kotex and other tissue products. They had sent up their best executives and highest-priced corporation lawyers, and each firm had taken a suite in the Admiral Beatty Hotel. “Every day,” a witness to the procedure recalls, “Mr. Irving met the Standard men until six o'clock and every night he was back meeting the Kimberly-Clark people until two or three a.m. And then every morning, sharp at nine a.m., he was the first in the lobby. It was a great thing to see a man from around here taking on those .300 hitters from Los Angeles and Wisconsin.”
Even if they were .400 hitters. Irving would be able to play in their league. “There's nothing mean or dirty about him,” one of his U. S. managers said, “but he knows the rules and expects you to know them too. and if you don't you'll get bruised. With him it's
a contact sport.” His efforts to block the entry to his demesne of the Rothesay Paper Company, a subsidiary of the combine that owns much of the wealth of the Congo and a great deal of the world’s wealth elsewhere, was contact at its hardest. So were the political and business arrangements that led to the financing of a new mining and smelting complex on his province's north shore.
At a more intimate level, far below the millions and multimillions, Irving remains a man everyone wants to shout about. They want to shout in praise, they want to shout in anger. “Mr. Irving is the most amazing man I've met. I simply can't understand what he does. I’d heard a lot about him before I came up here and I was prepared to fear and dislike him. Almost against my will I began to like and admire him. There are two things that have impressed me most. First his sensitivity to people; it’s absolutely acute. Second, the loyalty that he will return to the other man’s loyalty." J. K. Bell of Halifax, secretary-treasurer of the Marine Workers Union, once said: “This man is gone mental. He is running everything.”
One of the many persons who is enraged by the reek of Irving's new kraft mill was further enraged — another example of the elaborate wheels within wheels that go around and around in Irving’s territory — by a letter to the editor in one of Irving's papers saying the writer remembered the Depression and rather liked the smell of the mill because it was the smell of work. The anti-Irving, antipulp-mill man rose in a terrifying dudgeon and informed the editor that the person who spoke well of Irving and the mill should be “chained by the neck to the Reversing Falls’ bridge for a few days, or have his sleep disrupted night after night because he keeps his bedroom window opened, or have the atmosphere of his home so fouled that one would think a prehistoric homo sapiens dwelt there, not once, but day after day, for four years.”
“It's not the province that’s depressed, it’s the people that are depressed,” a union man insists. “In a depressed area how in the name of God could one man pile up half a billion dollars?”
"We haven’t got a democracy in New Brunswick in the ordinary sense of the word,” a senior politician said.
“It’s not a case of being corrupted in the way of money or favors. When the Conservatives were in power in the late 1950s Mr. Irving got some of his new businesses moving and we all knew the province had begun to move. Then the Liberals got in but if the Conservatives had voted against him or any of his things it would have looked as if they were opposing progress and opposing their own performance.”
At the opening of Irving's new refinery the lieutenant-governor of the province made a poetic comparison between Irving and an earlier arrival, Samuel de Champlain. Irving got somewhat the best of it. There is no real pattern or consistency in the extremes of admiration and contumely he inspires. “Don't quote me,” one of his workers said, “but without him there'd be some hungry people here.” “There’s a saying,” another one remarked, “that New Brunswick is proud, poor and patriotic. Who keeps it that way? Irving.” A prominent financier in what Maritimers still refer to as Upper Canada studied his twenty-dollar cravat for a while and then said: “i like K. C. 1 like and admire him and I like and admire uhat he has done not only for himself but for his part of the world. But when I am in a business transaction with him I find it well to keep my elbows up.” A visiting organizer from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union, hard-driven by his struggle to keep up with Irving in the strike at the refinery, stopped me in the lobby of the Admiral Beatty one morning. “This man is finished,” he shouted. "The whole place is ready for revolt.” Another time he telephoned me in my room and directed my attention to the Loyalist Burial Ground outside, just below King Park Square, a place where the founders of Saint John have been lying quiet for almost two hundred years. “This town is for the birds,” he said. “They got this simmitary there and they haven't got a decent parking lot.”
Just when you begin to be impressed by Irving's adversaries his champions come in as strongly as ever. One of them, a high-priced executive from Standard, has not lost his astonishment at. finding so sinewy and successful a man flourishing and proliferating in so unlikely a portion of the hinterland as New Brunswick, Canada. “I don’t know if he indulges in introspection or self-evaluation. But I know one thing. He’s dedicated to building up this province and his determination has kept him going. The only quarrel a clear-thinking man could have with him would be on the ground that industrialization is bad for this area. If industrialization is wrong, he's wrong. If it’s right, he's right. The wealth is not on the top of the ground here. It takes a very strong man to get it out. He's got it out and found ways to market it and put it to use that no one else would even have dreamed of trying. I'm going back home anyway and so in a sense I'm an outsider to the debate, but I get sick to death about all this talk and arguing about whether he’s good or bad.”
Some of the talk and arguing will be discussed in more detail in the next article of this series. ★