THE ART OF WIELDING POWER
The richest man in the Maritimes is as polite and softspoken in person as he is ruthless in business. This is a report on the battles he has won on the way to the top — and on the enormous impact he has had on the people, institutions and even legislation in his province
A FEW WEEKS AGO, when 1 was assigned to go to New Brunswick to do a story on the fabled and — according to one school of thought — the fearsome K. C. Irving. I felt the same twinge of apprehension with which I had embarked in 1961 to do stories on Moise Tshombe in Katanga and Hendrik Verwoerd in South Africa and, in
1962, on Fidel Castro in Cuba. The few things that have heen written about Irving the individual as contrasted with Irving the corporation offered little reassurance. Irving dominates his province, its economy, its news sources and news media and — somewhat less directly — its politics to a degree unknown in Canada since the long-
vanished days of Lord Selkirk in Red River and Sir George Simpson in Rupert's Land. I was assured by several inhabitants and former inhabitants of his vast Atlantic fief that it would be a total waste of time to try to see him in person. To seek any candid observations or insights from his employees and his neighbors would be equally futile. I was warned; even his enemies are loath to discuss him except in privacy. among themselves, like Maquisards hiding out in cellars.
When I did get to see Irving, briefly, on the day after my arrival, he told me politely but firmly that he would not be interviewed that day or any other. Before I left Saint John two weeks later I had four lengthy
talks with him — although there was no explanation or hint of an explanation for his change of mind. It is true that he told me almost nothing (virtually all the information in this and two previous articles came from other sources) but even in his most guarded moments he fell far short of the advertised figure of the icy, arrogant feudal lord or even of the more conventional tough-guy boss of a tough, hard-driving business juggernaut. Throughout our conversations, even when I brought up matters which he clearly believes are nobody’s business but his own. he was as polite and cordial as though I were an elder of his church. In addition he arranged for me to see as
much of his industrial operations as there was time to see, including his oil refinery, his two pulp mills, two of his four sawmills and some of his two million acres of pulp and timber land. Later, when Don Newlands, the photo editor of Maclean’s, went to Saint John to get pictures, Irving and his three sons spent a u'hole day freely and agreeably moving around their holdings so that Newlands could take the photographs that have illustrated these articles.
All this supported my growing conviction that Irving is far from an easy man to simplify. It is almost never safe to guess what he is thinking or is apt to do about the events, circumstances and peo-
ple around him. It is not even wholly safe to guess what the people around him are really thinking about him. That he inspires a great deal of admiration and respect in his native province is a fact beyond mistaking. This admiration, however, is frequently tempered by a sort of yes-hut syndrome. “Yes, but if he weren't so bloody big!’’ There’s another semi-stock saying, particularly among politicians who know by experience that if you get the reputation of being against K. C. Irving you can easily get the reputation of being against Progress; among business rivals who don’t care to tangle with him head-on if it can possibly be avoided; and among the hundreds of continued on page 42
continued from page 19
One reason for more men like Irving: to cut him down to size
thousands of ordinary workers, consumers, newspaper readers, television viewers and bus riders to whom Irving is not merely a symbol but a constant living presence, the man who signs the paycheck, the man who sells the oil for the furnace and the gas for the car, the man who owns the papers and the TV station, the man who runs the bus lines. “K. C. Irving is the greatest thing that ever happened to New Brunswick,” the aphorism goes. "It’s too bad we haven’t got four or live (or six or seven) more like him.” I heard almost those exact words spoken at various times by the premier of the province, Louis Robichaud, by the leader of the opposition, C. B. Sherwood, by the mayor of Saint John, Eric Teed, and by the presidents or other high officials of at least half a dozen of the big pulp and paper companies and the mining, development and investment concerns who are sometimes his direct competitors and sometimes his close associates. In the special atmosphere of Saint John and through the special blend of halo and Bay of Fundy fog that wreathes the gleaming, bald Roman senator's head of K. C. Irving it is pointless to try discerning what all of these people truly mean. They do not, certainly, all mean exactly the same thing; Teed, the mayor, for example, has had some bad times with Irving over taxes and water rates whereas Robichaud, the premier, and Sherwood, the leader of the opposition, have always got along fine with him and have rallied to his support from time to time with helpful loans and legislation. But even a primary-grade student of New Brunswick and its nuances would have no trouble sensing that at least half the people who use the standard phrase actually intend something a little more than meets the ear. “K. C. Irving is the greatest thing that ever happened to New Brunswick,” the accents of some of them and the supplementary remarks on which they refuse to be quoted quite clearly imply, “and it would be much greater for everybody if there were a few other Irvings to cut him down to size.”
Irving shows no inclination to be cut down to size by anyone. His sporadic duel with Canada's largest oil company has been recalled in an earlier article of this series as has his latest labor dispute. In neither of these passages could he possibly be considered the loser. Some of his other brushes and direct clashes with industry, labor, governments and. now and then, with the general public seem picayune and indecisive but they all reinforce the picture of a man who is unshakably certain that he knows what's best for his province and is never embarrassed by the discovery that what's best for it is also frequently best for him.
A few of Irving's encounters with those who do not see eye to eye with him have had a peculiarly intimate.
almost neighborly character. One of these involved a skirmish outside his Siint John oil yard, away back in 1948 when Irving was still in his forties. He had refused to accept a unanimous conciliation-board recommendation for wage-and-hours adjustments, and nearly fifty of his men went on strike. The same day Irving walked up to the massed picket line outside the plant, pulled off his topcoat and yelled: "You may be tough but I'm tougher.” Then he mounted the cab of one of his stranded trucks and drove it through the picket line himself. (Years later Irving told an interviewer that he hadn't been looking for trouble, but only obeying a principle that “it never pays to talk with your coat on.”)
For years a citizens' committee largely made up of home owners from Saint John's smaller sister city of Lancaster have been urging him do more about checking the odors that erupt from his pulp mill in haymaker gusts several times each day. (Irving claims he has already spent half a million dollars on the problem; one change he tried actually made the smell worse, he later told a legislative committee.) When Irving was opening his Ocean Steel plant a few years ago, Saint John Common Council received and filed a complaint that he was being allowed to set up a heavy industry in an area zoned for light industry. The firm was accused of blocking an essential residential right-of-way and of parking its cars and trucks on the sidewalks and thereby subjecting school children to undue traffic hazards. A distraught fishmonger reported that when Ocean Steel, without notice, sealed off a road — and with it, his customers — for a five-day stretch he had been forced to throw away two thousand pounds of cooked lobster and fresh salmon because of spoilage. (Council referred the question of sidewalk parking to its safety committee; ruled the blocking of roadways was not in its jurisdiction; but decreed that “in future” any company making such moves as those entailed in the birth of the steel plant would have to come before the municipal body “so merchants in the area can arrange their business, and fire and water departments can prepare for emergencies.”)
In simple accuracy it must be reported that Irving seems to be more at home against tougher opposition. When, in July 1961, before the company was taken over by Shell, an official of Canadian Oil made the careless boast that his firm was the only Canadian-owned oil company operating in the Maritimes, Irving issued an outraged statement pointing out that his own big oil company was not only Canadian-owned but Maritimes-owned. “Let's not forget," he reminded the Atlantic provinces — and for once they were united and unanimous behind him from Shag Harbor at the southeast tip of Nova Scotia to Flowers Cove at the northwest corner of Newfoundland — “that in some cases Upper Canadians are the worst type of foreigners.”
Though it is dormant now, Irving's vendetta with Canadian National Railways has never been far from his thoughts since it began in the 1930s. Irving, fighting high freight rates, bought a tanker and began transport-
ing his own oil products by water. The railway s Maritimes manager threatened to cut rates for the benefit of Irving’s competitors and, in effect, run him out of business. Irving bought more tankers and enlarged his fleet of oil trucks. Although that particular battle is long since won he still has to grapple with his temper when federal and CNR transportation policies in general are mentioned in his hearing. In my last interview with him I asked if he had modified his views about the CNR. “I'll give you a statement, he said. “Yes I will indeed.” He was rushing to catch a plane for Fredericton but promised to put his statement in the mail. A few' days after my arrival back in Toronto I did receive a set of promised figures, but the letter made no reference to the railway. I called his secretary to ask it there had been an oversight. “No,” she said. “Mr. Irving has reconsidered and decided not to say anything about the CNR at present.”
Although a I.ibcral in provincial politics, Irving is known to be at least a part-time admirer of John Diefenbaker in federal affairs. This did not prevent him, three years ago, from drawing Diefenbaker into one of the most intricate of all Irving's collisions with the public office-holders and the public agencies For more than half his lifetime, Irving has been the strongest single champion of a Maritimes vision at least as old as Confederation — the dream of a deepwater navigation canal across the narrow neck of land separating the three-quarters landlocked Bay of Fundy from the open waters of Northumberland Strait and the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. The canal, to be called the C hignecto, would shorten the shipping distance between Saint John and the ports of Upper Canada by six or seven hundred miles and go at least part way toward erasing one of the basic handicaps of Maritimes manufacturers and producers of raw materials — the heavy cost of getting goods to market.
Exactly what the canal would cost is and always has been as much a subject of debate as how much additional wealth it would bring the Maritimes in return (one cost estimate frequently used is one hundred million dollars). Seeking to answer the argument that the canal would never pay for itself, Irving some years ago promised that when the canal was built he himself would build one hundred million dollars’ worth of new industry in and around Saint John. The announcement created great excitement all along the Fundy shore: now, the optimists assured each other. Ottawa could not possibly go on stalling on the canal.
Then, in August 1961, the Saint John Common Council announced that Irving was two months in default on the rent tor one of his sources of water and canceled his lease to the Little River. This precipitated a swift series of threats, ultimatums, denunciations. withdrawals and (on Diefenbaker s part) bewildered harrumphs that kept Irving's home town on tenterhooks for almost a week. Irving announced angrily that his promise to
Irving’s collision with Diefenbaker
follow the building of Chignecto with a whole golden tide of new development was absolutely and finally off. It was impossible, he said, “to obtain co-operation and fair business dealings in respect to agreements with the city of Saint John . . . You can’t do business with people who only oppose and attack you. Under existing conditions it would be ridiculous to consider new' agreements with a city which apparently is more anxious to break contracts than to see progress.” Premier Robichaud quickly and nervously announced from Fredericton that he w'as “deeply concerned.” Mayor Teed, who had at first supported the cancellation of the water lease, did an immediate about-face. “I am certain that the common council fully recognizes the importance to the community of the prosperity of individual enterprises and will always do everything possible to meet the requirements of these industries. I am also sure that council joins me in recognizing in Mr. K. C. Irving an outstanding citizen of our community and one who has made a notable contribution to the well-being of all. He is entitled to allthe assistance and encouragement which can be provided and it is in the community interest to support his endeavors to the highest practical degree.”
Irving already had a stern letter in the mail to Prime Minister Diefenbaker reiterating the withdrawal of his Chignecto offer. On receipt of the letter, the prime minister replied, in effect: what offer? The government had twice written Irving, Diefenbaker said, asking for the specific plans he had in mind. Irving’s reply was another implied rcbrike to the puzzled prime minister. “In the competitive atmosphere existing today such a disclosure would be unwise and could be disastrous.”
The onset of heavy breathing ended as abruptly as it had begun. Irving got back his water rights and agreed to reconsider his plans if Chignecto went through. The two premiers retired to the sidelines. The canal remains where it was — a vision in a pigeonhole.
If Irving holds any government in awe he has never betrayed the fact.
In the 1951 hearings of the Irving Pulp and Paper Bill one of his lawyers announced casually to a commit-
tee of the provincial legislature that the Irving mill was pumping several million gallons of waste-contaminated water into the St. John River every day. The lawyer submitted that in the circumstances “it would be well to have authority.” One witness to the hearings read a section of the fisheries act forbidding the throwing of debris or “mill rubbish" into any salmon river (which the St. John unquestionably and, in its good years, magnificently, is). The then premier, John B. McNair, sidestepped the question of pollution on the ground that it was a federal affair. The rest of the Irving Pulp and Paper Bill w'ent through unanimously, including clauses giving the company exemption from suits for creating a nuisance as well as the right to divert any watercourse needed for its operations.
Ten years later, during the hearings on the East Coast Smelting and Chemical Company Bill, Irving w;as an interested spectator in his capacity as one of the chief owners of the company and its affiliated base-metal mines. There must have been moments when he imagined he w'as listening to a tape recording. The president of the Miramachi Salmon Association said the pending bill presented “a great danger to water and fisheries resources" and another brief went further to warn that “if every company is to be exempt in the matter of pollution the province might as well say goodbye to the salmon-fishing industry.” Representing the Canadian Metal Mining Association, the eminent North Shore lawyer, E. G. Byrne, submitted: “This is a fifty-million-dollar corporation and should be responsible for every damage that they do. If there is not going to be any damage, the argument then is not sound for freedom-from-damage actions. We all know that there is a great deal of damage being caused. We trust the company will take all reasonable precautions but they are not God.” A Progressive Conservative member charged that “many farmers have been unable to put in crops this year on an island north of Fredericton because of pulpwood lying on their property as a result of the Irving log drive down the St. John.” (Irving himself appeared as a witness long enough to reaffirm the Magna Carta of big industry in New Brunswick: its special rights and immunities, he argued, are designed only to protect it from “petty interference.” “Some people might have the opinion that the industry was of no value and might be prepared to cause us a lot of trouble," he said. “The industry just feels we should not be annoyed without good reason.” The East Coast Bill passed unanimously.)
Perhaps the most exacting legislative fight of Irving's career was waged partly in support of a non-Irving firm. In 1935 he sold thirty-five percent of his pulp and paper company to Kimberly-Clark, the U. S. tissue manufacturer. At the same time he prepared to build a new Kraft mill himself and undertook to negotiate water and tax agreements which would help Kimberly-Clark to build and operate an adjoining tissue mill. In due course Kimberly-Clark would become the biggest single customer for Irving pulp.
Irving personally steered a thirty-
year tax and a twenty-five-year water agreement through the Lancaster and Saint John city councils. These preliminaries involved little more than the normal horse-trading that accompanies such negotiations anywhere. But when the tax agreement went before the legislature’s municipalities committee for approval, a strong rearguard action was mounted by, of all people, the mayor of Lancaster. Although his council had approved the agreement, the late Parker D. Mitchell
hadn t ever liked it and he went to Fredericton to say so one final time; it wasn't the amount of the taxes that he opposed, it was the length of the fixed-rate term and the lack of protection against further depreciation in the value of the dollar and further increases in the rate of the city's spending. Who could tell in 1958 what Kimberly-Clark's and Irving's 1988 dollars would be worth? Who could guess in 1958 what the city's budget would be in 1988?
Irving had intended to let his battery of lawyers do any talking necessary, but again he intervened in person. In so doing he supplied a textbook summary of the take - it - or - leave - it basis on which all big industries — not Irving industries alone — have always hammered out their initial tax and utilities contracts with New Brunswick and its industry-hungry towns and cities. The Saint John area, he pointed out. is not an ideal location for a paper mill. It just wasn't true
that Kimberly-Clark would settle its new mill there regardless of the inducements offered. "Anybody who thinks this is a pushover is wrong. We need the assistance of this tax bill ... I don’t see why we should have so much concern about the future. The future will take care of itself.” The next day Irving's Saint John papers — in one of their rare combat missions in direct and unmistakable support of the owner — fired a massive whiff of grape square across the bow of the difficult Mayor Mitchell. The Morning TelegraphJournal led off with a front-page editorial calling the mayor’s protest against the tax bill "a sorry spectacle . . . obstructionism.” The newspapers — the editorial was repeated in the Times-Globe the next evening — went on to a more generalized lecture: "When outside interests are privately and without fanfare to consider establishing a major plant here, the first thought that seems to arise is not how to welcome development but how to block and frustrate it . . . Every encouragement should be given to real opportunities for new industries, so that the further progress of the area will match strides with the rest of Canada.”
Saint John loses a law suit
The legislature approved the bill, but it did grant Mayor Mitchell the semblance of a victory — the reality of which can only be decided by the legislature of 1973. It cut the period of the tax agreement from thirty years to fifteen, with the option of renewal “if approved by legislation.”
As it turned out, Mitchell’s misgivings took a good deal less than thirty years to impress themselves on a number of other municipal politicians. Under the water agreement, twentyfive million gallons a day were to be supplied from nearby Spruce Lake and Loch Lomond at a graduated gallonage fee plus a flat thirty-five thousand dollars a year to help meet the cost of the necessary new pipelines, 't became apparent almost at once that the city of Saint John, which handles water supply for Lancaster as well as for itself, had badly underestimated the pipeline costs. Soon, in an effort to retrieve the error, the city had to start raising water rates to householders and other non-protectcd consumers. This was far from palatable, even in an area fully aware of its dependence on industry in general and on K. C. Irving in particular. When a new Saint John council came into office it hit on still another solution. It set out on a politically popular but, in terms of law, idiotic attempt to break the contract in the courts. Its argument was that only the city's assessors, not the city itself, had had the power to sign in the first place. The council carried its case, unsuccessfully, to the Supreme Court of New Brunswick: thence, also unsuccessfully, to the Appeal Court of New Brunswick; and finally to the Supreme Court of Canada. Here too it lost, the decision being handed down in March 1963.
Ruminating on the whole tortuous episode a while ago, a prominent but slightly bruised Saint John politician ended up on the standard yes-but: "It's
too bad we haven't got half-a-dozen more K. C. Irvings.” What, for the sake of argument, I asked him, would happen if a candidate for public office decided to campaign on a straight platform of down-with-K. C. Irving? "He’d get clobbered,” the politician said glumly. "And 1 guess” — he said this glumly too — “he’d deserve to get clobbered.”
Industrial history has no control groups. The ceaseless debate of the Maritimes — “suppose there had never even one K. C. Irving?” — is as far from resolution today as it was fiftyfive years ago when as a small boy in the village of Buctouche Irving was looking for a market for his first ball of saved-up binder twine. But impossible as it is to guess what might have happened without him, it is easy enough to demonstrate what’s happened with him. Except for one brief shutdown caused by fire, the pulp mill — or now the two mills working in tandem — hasn’t had an idle day since Irving took over in 1946 and its output has increased from around ninety tons a day to five hundred tons a day. (Charles Lynch, a bleach-plant operator who also happens to be a steward of Local 30 of the Pulp, Sulphite and Paper Mill Workers Union, was getting sixty-five cents an hour for a forty-eight-hour week when Irving bought the plant eighteen years ago. Now he gets $2.16 an hour for a forty-two-hour week. "No, I'm not satisfied. I hope I’ll never see the day when we're satisfied. But taking everything, Irving has been a good man to work for. We had two losing strikes before he bought the plant. We got union recognition from him and we haven't had a strike since. One winter there was no sale for pulp. But he wouldn't close down. He hired warehouses all over town and began stockpiling and kept the plant going.”)
Although a scarcity of orders brought some midwinter layoffs at the Saint John shipyard and dry dock, even abstainers from the larger debates about Irving are impressed by the life he’s pumped into a plant that five years ago was dying on its feet. (The pre-Irving work force at the dry dock hit a low of 186; the postIrving force has peaked as high as twenty-six hundred. In January 1959, just before Irving took possession, the monthly payroll was $76,566; in January 1964, it was $608,918.) The Brunswick - East Coast base - metals complex has already meant, in the estimate of The Financial Post, that hundreds of residents of “one of the continued on page 48
most hard-pressed areas in Canada . . . have traded the subsistence of localassistance payments and marginal industries for steady employment and weekly paychecks.” Irving spells jobs in a dozen other major plants and areas, and in New Brunswick jobs spell life itself.
Although my misgivings about venturing into Irving's empire without, so to speak, a visa or a sponsor, proved largely unfounded, the adventure was not without its hazards. Interviewing Irving can be a frustrating task, though not for the reasons I had been led to expect. The difficulty is not that he is rude hut that he is polite. His personal manners bear so little resemblance to his corporate manners that some of the people who have seen him lose his temper or heard him hurl his clipped insults toward his permanent or temporary foes have put it down to business tactics rather than blood pressure. During my four meetings with him I saw the polite Irving only: the same Irving his loggers, his clerks and his foremen see, the Irving in whom old-fashioned courtesy appears to he as deeply imbedded as his Presbyterian code of morals. Although, in the course of duty, I felt 1 had to ask him two or three rude questions, he never offered a rude answer:
Q: It has been said, by people who think they know, that you are worth between three and four hundred million dollars. Have you any comment?
A: “I have no comment whatsoever.”
Q: Many people believe you are the power, financially and otherwise, behind the Liberal Party in New Brunswick and the party repays your favor in kind.
A: “Nothing could be further from the truth.”
Q: It is often charged that you drive harder bargains than anyone else in taxes, special legislation, expropriation rights, exemptions from lawsuits and the like.
A: “Any tax agreements or other concessions that we have received have not been out of line with those extended to other large industrial employers when they established their plants.”
Sometimes, on a difficult question, it took — what with the constant interruptions of the telephone and his private radio network, complicated by what I believe was a kindly desire on his part not to hurt a stranger's feelings by being unduly curt with him — as long as ten or fifteen minutes even to arrive at a no comment.
On a few points that came up near the end of our last interview he asked me to read my notes back to him in case of any danger of misquotation.
Q: There is a widespread impression that you maintain such close personal control of your enterprise and delegate so little authority that they couldn’t possibly carry on without you and no one can possibly ever succeed you. What do you say to this?
A: "We have good organizations. Each company has its own organization and it’s a good one. In my absence the senior men in the over-all organization are my sons in the order of their ages, Jim. Arthur and Jack.“
Q: How many union contracts have your companies altogether?
A: "We have quite a number. Some companies have two or three unions. We are not opposed to unions. A union can be an asset to an employer as well as to its own members; that depends on its officers and their policies. We're not against organized labor at all.”
Q; It has been suggested that you are opposed, by nature, to third-party solutions, that is, anything like arbitration. Is this right?
A: “That depends on the individual situation. There are special conditions in New Brunswick, as there are special conditions everywhere. The textbook answer can often be very wrong. You may be wiser from reading a book, but you won't necessarily be any more able to solve the particular situation that faces you.”
Q: How many companies do you own, including subsidiaries?
A; "That gets to be something that doesn't mean anything. It sometimes gets to be kind of silly. I think sometimes the more foolish you are the more companies you have. But that's not necessarily so. However, the number of companies you have is no measuring stick for anything.”
Q: How' many employees do you have?
A: "That figure will take a few days to obtain. " (In due course I received a letter from Irving's secretary saying. “Our employees are estimated to number between tw-elve thousand and thirteen thousand.”)
Q: Everyone who has had dealings with you. from inside your firms and from outside, says you have a phenomenal memory. How have you trained it?
A: “If I do have an extraordinary memory it's a gift. I've never consciously trained it. With industries .that you build from scratch you just naturally know certain facts that you can always use as check-points.”
Q: What is the future for employment and for labor in New Brunswick?
A: “I think it should improve greatly with the new' trade and technical schools coming into operation. They’re going to make a wonderful difference — along with the possibility of industrial expansion. The Atlantic Development Board can be important throughout the Maritimes. What they do or don't do can greatly affect our future employment. I don't believe in government subsidies except as a shortterm stopgap or in very special cases. Where I believe governments can be most helpful is in adjusting policies to create a climate in which business can make its own way.”
Q: What is the future of New Brunswick generally?
A: “New Brunswick is the best province in Canada. I just plain think it has a wonderful future. Up to now w'e've had more or less rigid national policies for the whole of Canada. If we're going to prosper in New Brunswick. Ottawa must to some extent modify its thinking and adopt more regional policies. We have been handicapped. as I said in my radio speech in January, by a national monetary policy with its periods of a premium dollar, tight money and high-interest rates, by a national shipping act which has been detrimental to New Brunswick and by a national energy pro-
gram which has in the last three years created prosperity in the west and chaos in the east.
"We should have the Chignecto canal. Those that oppose it do so because they cannot envision the great change it would bring to our economy. We must have it unless the people of the Bay of Fundy are to give up hope of heavy industrial expansion.”
Behind this podium-like stance I caught just one glimpse — or thought I did — of the hidden streak of ro-
mance and quiet humor that Irving keeps locked up for himself, his family and. at most, two or three particular friends.
One afternoon, by some electronic freak the telephones and the radio were silent for a stretch of almost five minutes. Irving started talking about the time he almost left Canada, away back after the first war.
"Addic McNairn, another fellow from Buctouche, and I had been in the Royal Flying Corps together. We
never got into action but we met a lot ot people from faraway places, Australia and New' Zealand and South Africa. A couple of years after the war Addie and I went west on a harvest excursion hut our real destination was Australia. Western Canada was an eye opener in itself. We shocked 160 acres of oats and another 160 acres ot wheat tor a Mr. Simpson near Milestone, Saskatchewan, and we did well enough that Mr. Simpson sent us on to a Mr. Thompson near
Wcyburn. We started spike-pitching, real hard work for I think it was four dollars a day, but one of the lady cooks looking after the harvest gang got sick and 1 took over in the cookwagon. If I’m not mistaken I got ten dollars a day for that. What struck Addie and me was how different farming in western Canada was from farming back home. Mr. Simpson, the Milestone man who gave us our first job, was originally from Virginia and he told us he spent one winter out of every two in Virginia and the other one in California. In all the time it took us to shock his 320 acres he spent not more than half a day with us in the fields. What an eye opener that was to me and Addie. Farming to us -— even if you owned the farm
— meant getting up personally at four o’clock in the morning to feed the stock and milk the cows and then looking after the crops or working all day in the woodlot when the weather was right for it. This unbelievable look at life in the wide-open spaces made us all the more determined to go on to Australia, and as soon as the harvest was over we went to Vancouver and started looking for a boat.”
There was a long-distance interruption from Montreal but in a minute or two Irving was back in Vancouver in 1920. “While we were waiting to find the right boat we stayed with a friend of my father’s, Uncle Bob Brown. I never did find out for certain but I have a feeling Uncle Bob might have gotten in touch with my father about this Australian thing because suddenly Addie — who was four or five years older than I was and the unchallenged leader of the expedition
— began putting it off and putting it off. After a while it was November and Addie was still saying we’d get a better boat and a better fare if we waited just another few more days. And then one day he said: ‘Well, here it is winter. Let's go up logging in northern B. C. Then we can go to Australia in the spring.’
“ ‘Addie,’ I said, ‘if I’m going logging I can go logging in New Brunswick,' and I got on the next train and went home to Buctouche.”
Irving smiled. “I often wondered why Addie McNairn changed his mind.”
“Then you never saw him again?” 1 asked.
“Oh, yes. 1 saw him all the time. An average of at least once a week for the next forty years or more. He came back to Buctouche too. I often thought of asking why he suddenly decided we weren’t going to go on across the Pacific but I never did; we were the best of friends and I suppose I thought if I asked him it might embarrass him or give him the idea I was mad at him. Addie died three years ago and so now I'll never know.”
I asked Irving another question. Looking back after that long gap of years — as he obviously must have done more than once in the time that intervened — had he ever regretted missing the boat to Australia?
“Oh no." he said. “You never regret the things you don’t do. If the things you've done turn out to be mistakes, you try to correct them or at least learn from them. But no. you don't regret the things you haven’t done. There just isn't time for that." ★