Every day, Jack Perry woke up and went down to the Port.
He started early or late, depending, and ended his shift covered in dust – the mark of a grain elevator operator.
He spent his entire career at the Port – all 50 years of it.
Perry, now 98, is still not far from our city’s industrial core. He lives at the Carleton-Kirk Lodge, the Port visible from the front step. His small room is packed with memories – a Toronto Maple Leafs blanket on the bed, a skating figurine on the shelf and whole albums of hunting and fishing photos in the closet.
He is one of eleven siblings, with three children of his own. One of his grandchildren looks after his port memorabilia – which Jack eagerly dropped off at the Port.
He talked for more than an hour, offering piles of old photographs and news clippings about the Port.
Perry’s history borders the Port. He grew up on Tower Street, just blocks from where he now resides. He went to the old New Albert School and Saint John Vocational School before leaving to work at the Port.
A grain elevator is true to its name. Tall towers used for receiving and storing grain, the mechanisms inside scoop grain up, bringing it to another level for storage.
In the late 1800s, grain shipments to the Port increased after the development of rail links with western Canada. The port’s need for a grain elevator was met, first with one on the west side in 1893 and a second elevator on the east side.
It was a time of transition for the Port, changing from a regional port handling local goods to an international port shipping products from across Canada to the world.
The grain elevator was demolished over the course of several months in 2002, making room for new revenue streams for the Port. Now, piers 10 through 12 are used for the American Iron and Metal Facility, liquid bulk from the fish oil and Crosby’s Molasses tanks and Atlantic Towing’s modern tugboat facility.
Now, things are looking up. Container cargo rose by 60 per cent in 2013 and numbers continue to grow. Saint John is now a cruise port, attracting the world’s biggest cruise lines. We’re also an energy hub, home to Irving Oil and Canaport LNG. Port Saint John is the largest port in Atlantic Canada by volume.
Perry was happy to share his stories. He was worried the history of the grain elevators and hundreds of men and women who operated them would be lost.
“It’s so anyone could see that this is one of the best ports in Canada,” he said.