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Andrew Oland presents to a packed house at Delta Saint John on Jan. 17, 2023. Image: Alex Graham

Oland Says Saint John Could Challenge Halifax On East-Coast Port Supremacy

By Scott Pettigrew Jan 18, 2023 | 12:30 PM

“Export or die” was one of the key messages Moosehead Brewery CEO Andrew Oland delivered to a packed house at the Delta Hotel on Tuesday. His address, entitled “Turning Obstacles into Opportunities.” was the first of the year in the speaker series hosted by the Saint John Region Chamber of Commerce.

The “export or die” credo came from a speech delivered by Minister of Trade and Commerce George Hees at a business event Oland’s father, Derek, attended in the 1960s.

That call to action resulted in Moosehead exporting its lager into the United States, starting in the late 1970s. That set the stage for a successful expansion of the brewery into the rest of Canada, and beyond.

Oland used it as a rallying cry to show how making bold decisions for the long-term strategic growth of a company, or a city, can pay off.

Standing at the helm of a six-generation business, Oland has some perspective on how to achieve those long-term goals.

“I like to focus on a key event or key decision that a particular generation made,” Oland said of the history of Moosehead.

He harkened back to the beginning of the brewery under the leadership of Susannah Oland, and her decision to leave the business in her youngest son who navigated the aftermath of the Halifax explosion, the city which housed the brewery in the early days.

That event precipitated the move to Saint John and set the stage for where the brewery is today.

“At that time, the idea of a brewery in Saint John competing with a brewery in Halifax…was just not feasible,” Oland said. Yet under his guidance, and that of future generations, the brewery has thrived.

“The younger generation will always have to be pushing things. There has to be calculated risk. You always have to be challenging the previous generation,” Oland said.

The history lesson provided an analogy for Oland’s view of the city of Saint John.

“What do you think is the top economic growth opportunity in all of Atlantic Canada?” Oland challenged the audience. “In my opinion, the top economic growth opportunity in all of Atlantic Canada is right here in Saint John with Port Saint John.”

Citing the rail lines going to the port, Oland noted the increase in container capacity hitting record levels of TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent unit) at 150,000 in 2022, with the potential to double that in 2023 with the work that’s been done at the port.

“I just want to point out the fact that Halifax is currently at 600,000 TEUs,” Oland said. He said that if Port Saint John continues on its trajectory it will be punching well above its weight in terms of container capacity.

In his year-end interview with Huddle, Port Saint John CEO Craig Estabrooks said the second container berth that has been under construction for the past year will be finished in the first quarter of 2023. That will help the port significantly increase its container capacity.

That, along with strengthened relationships with CP rail and a new rail deal, will help the port level up in the years ahead.

“This year was also the year that we constructed our intermodal rail facility that’s been extremely busy here in Saint John, with the growth we’ve had already. And our truck gate, of course, is a modern piece of infrastructure that is going to be very key for the fluidity of that terminal.  So 2022 was a major year of construction for us, and getting all the right pieces in place,” Estabrooks said.

“We’ve got a great shortline that connects into the class one railways, that’s NB Southern Rail. They’re a huge, tremendous partner at the Port of Saint John, and they connect to the two other class one railways, CN, and soon-to-be CSX, which purchased the Pan Am [Railway] in the United States. CSX is a large US platform rail operator that will soon have connectivity through NB Southern, the short line, into the port of Saint John.”

That CSX line will have connectivity into the US, opening up even more possibilities for the port as a strategic hub in Eastern Canada.

“It’s been interesting for me to see this as a customer of the railway,” Oland said noting that CP Rail has been interested in expanding its relationship with Moosehead.

“Right now there are only two ports that have class one rail lines coming to them: Vancouver BC and Saint John New Brunswick.”

“The opportunities to create a logistics centre here in Saint John for all of Eastern North America are immense. We have 500-plus acres in Lorneville, that land is owned by the provincial government. It would be relatively straightforward to put a spur line from the port through to Lorneville.”

He says governments and other actors in the region need to understand the opportunity and work together to make it happen.

“Just immense opportunities.”

Alex Graham is a reporter with Huddle, an Acadia Broadcasting content partner.


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