John’s Bio

John Mitchell 1974

When John Hardie Mitchell started work as a timekeeper on Vancouver’s waterfront in the 1920s, he entered a tough, competitive environment. Railway lines encircled the shore, virtually cutting off the docks from the growing city. Gangs of stevedores worked long hours stowing lumber, grain and cans of Pacific salmon onto ships bound for Europe and Australia. They unloaded dry goods. cloth and other products that were either stored in the warehouse district along Water Street or conveyed by truck to depots around British Columbia’s Lower Mainland. As they worked hard to maintain shipping schedules, the harbour police force watched for evidence of smuggling and rumblings of labour unrest, which became more prevalent as the worldwide economic crisis turned into the Great Depression.

But John’s determination to succeed was dampened by none of this. By the 1930s he had become owner of Pacific Lighterage, which provided stevedoring services to companies transferring cargo between ships and the wharves lining Burrard Inlet.

John was born in Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant neighbourhood on March 13, 1903. After graduating from King Edward High School, he enrolled at UBC and marched with the Great Trekkers on the pilgrimage to Point Grey to convince the provincial government to resume construction of the university campus there. John graduated from UBC in 1924 with a BA in history and economics. Active in the Phi Gamma Delta Fraternity, he formed many lasting friendships during his student years.

In 1935, John merged Pacific Lighterage with Canadian Stevedoring, the oldest stevedoring company on Canada’s west coast. By 1938, John and his partner, Captain WM Crawford, had secured fifty percent of the company, and in 1942, John became sole owner. He then expanded to provide stevedoring services to every port in British Columbia.

John went on to form the North Shore Dock and Warehouse Company in 1954, to acquire Louis Wolfe & Sons (Vancouver) in 1966, and to create the subsidiary, Casco Terminals, in 1968. The young timekeeper had morphed into one of the most influential employers in Vancouver.

To give back to the community that helped him prosper, John and his wife Billie established the John Hardie Mitchell Family Foundation in 1985. Since that time, the foundation has assisted numerous projects, focusing on youth, people with disabilities, education and health. The foundation has also supported areas that influenced John in his life, such as The Mission to Seafarers and UBC. Initiatives at UBC include the John H. Mitchell Memorial Scholarship, which is awarded to students entering the penultimate or final year of a Bachelor’s program, the first year of graduate studies, or the Faculties of Medicine or Dentistry.

Thanks to his immense concern for people — those who worked for him and with him and the generation that followed — John Hardie Mitchell was the first employer to be honoured with a membership in the Longshoremen’s Union Pensioners’ Club. As an innovative businessman — his was the first company on Vancouver’s waterfront to adopt electronic accounting systems and to use lift-trucks — he believed in caring for his employees. In another first, he established company pension plans, medical plans, and an earnings continuation plan, and he made job safety a priority. He kept in touch with former employees long after they retired, and he assisted young entrepreneurs in their quest to begin businesses of their own. When he passed away on July 27, 1987, he left a legacy of honesty, respect and generosity.



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