Bill Burnett is a retired Fraser River pilot, whose main duties were to ensure that ships were kept from running around. The official river pilot station he worked at was called Sand Hedge, a lighthouse at the mouth of the Fraser River. River pilots help navigate a ship to and from the dock from a point c. 3 miles beyond the lighthouse. At 8 years old, Burnett knew he wanted to be a pilot after meeting a Dungeness pilot at a family wedding. (Dungeness is a port near Dover, England.) Burnett received his pilot training in France and Poland. In 1969, while in the process of getting his masters ticket (certification as a captain), he became enamored with the idea of working on tugs in British Columbia. During this time he was working on a Shell Canada tanker (which never went to Canada) sailing from the east coast to Venezuela. Since Burnett was employed by Shell he had Canadian employment and immigrated to Canada. Once on the west coast he first worked for Northland Navigation delivering groceries, then Vancouver Tugs (which became Seaspan) until things “went sour” in 1971 and he was cut from his job.
Born in 1935, Geoff Clayton completed a five-year apprenticeship as a machinist at Webb & Gifford Ltd.. As part of this training, he took classes at Vancouver Vocational School and spent time blacksmithing. After he left Webb & Gifford, Clayton returned to school for marine engineering and power engineering, working on a few ships before settling into a 25-year career with BC Hydro. Clayton considers himself an environmentalist and discusses the environmental damage to the Fraser River he witnessed during his time with Webb & Gifford. He also discusses zoot suiters, hobos, and religious holy rollers in New Westminster and Port Coquitlam in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s.
Frank Cobbaert is a retired International Longshoremen Warehousemen Union (ILWU) Local 502 and 514 longshoreman. He worked as a longshoreman from the age of nineteen in January 1968, and retired at the age of sixty-one in November 2009, making his longshore career just short of forty-two years. It took him six and a half years to gain membership into the union. He worked along the waterfronts of New Westminster and Surrey until November of 1988, when he joined Local 514 and took a foreman job at Roberts Bank, which he kept until his retirement. Prior to 1988, he fulfilled various positions for Local 502, as an executive, assistant business agent, dispatcher, and picket captain. Throughout this interview, Cobbaert often mentions the effects mechanization had on longshoring, changes in work attitudes and safety, “toughing out” the hard times when longshore work was slack, and the camaraderie amongst longshoremen. Cobbaert frequently expresses his gratitude and thankfulness for the experiences and friendships he gained as a longshoreman.
Russ Cooper is a retired tugboat captain who worked on the waterfront for over 40 years. His family started and ran Westminster Tugboats, and he knew early that he wanted to work on the water. He tells the story of how his grade 1 workbook asked the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and how he knew that the answer was “tugboat captain.” He shares his story of being a tugboat captain, and the various changes to the fleet of his company in the face of an evolving industry. He discusses the volatile business environment among the competitors on the water, and the various companies that made and make up the industry throughout his time. In his career he worked for Marpole Towing, Gilley Brothers, Western Tug and Barge and Vancouver Tug before he returned to Westminster Tugs for the remainder of his career.
This recording is an interview with sex worker and former New Westminster resident, Susan Davis. The major themes discussed are sex work, activism, safety, transgender, clients, the Internet, New Westminster, and Vancouver.
Brian Debeck worked on and off the water in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia since the 1960s. His work experiences involve mills, fisheries, ships, warehouses and docks and he ultimately became the union representative of the Retail and Warehouse Union in BC. He tells stories from his first work at the Canada Rice Mill in Richmond to his time as a union representative at the international convention in Miami. The BC union eventually broke away from the international union and formed separately in BC. Debeck discusses the changes to the transportation sector in BC, and links various historical changes to changes he has observed in his work. Companies mentioned in the interview are Burrard Trucking, Burlington Northern Railway, Safeway, Labatt Breweries and Georgia Straight.
Interviews conducted 20 Januaary and 14 April 2014
Allen Domaas, a New Westminster native, got his first job with the New Westminster Harbour Commission in 1973 after a conversation with the harbour master at the local grocery store. At the time, he was a student at University of British Columbia, but he dropped out and started work the following Monday. Domaas worked his way up and eventually became the President & CEO (harbour master) of the Fraser River Harbour Commission (Port Authority). In this second interview he shares his insights on the developments of the various ports, the fluctuations in port activity, technological changes and stakeholder interactions.
The Fraser River Harbour Commission became a Port Authority in 1998. In the interviews, Domaas uses Harbour Commission and Port Authority interchangeably.
Eugene Dutour is a retired French-Canadian International Longshore & Warehouse Union(ILWU) local 502 longshoreman. At 18 years old, while hitchhiking with his brother-in-law from Cloverdale to New Westminster, a longshoreman picked them up and asked them if they were looking for work, and they said “yes”. On January 7th 1961, the next day, they went to the dispatch hall and got their first jobs. It took Dutour approx. 4.5 years to become an ILWU member in 1965. During his career he received his locomotive ticket, which was only good for the waterfront. He often worked at Neptune Terminals, Vancouver wharfs, and at Fraser Surrey Docks. During the last 28 years of his career he worked at Westshore Terminals. He enjoyed the variety of jobs longshoring, which he explains is why he worked as a longshoreman for 45 years. He is proud to be a longshoreman because the job gave him the means to take care of his family.
Eggert Eggertson worked on the Fraser River waterfront from 1962 to 2000, experiencing the changing waterfront and longshoring occupation. He tells the story about how he one day had a quota of 24,000 sacks of flour, and could go home early if he finished the quota. Having worked on multiple docks along the New Westminster waterfront, he has handled almost all kinds of goods and knows the ways of a longshoreman “gang.” He hated handling animal hides, as they would leave a smell on your skin for multiple days, but enjoyed the high salary that the job gave him. He reports that he was such an eager worker he was once turned in by his foreman for working too hard.
Nick Feld, originally Dutch, is a retired longshoreman, who has lived and worked in NewWestminster since the 1950s. In 1957, Feld was working for a sawmill, but had a neighbour, Johnny Kruger, who was a foreman for Empire Stevedoring Longshore Company. Johnny got Feld interested in becoming a longshoreman. Despite a rough start, he eventually became a registered as a longshoreman and worked on the docks, boats and in the sheds. When work was slow in New Westminster, Feld worked in Vancouver and Squamish and he eventually became a forklift driver. The companies that Feld mentions that he has worked at are Overseas Transport, Pacific Coast Terminals, Fraser Surrey Docks and Brackman-Ker Milling.