New Leadership

Senator Norman McLeod Paterson

Senator Norman McLeod Paterson,
D.C.L., LL.D., K.G St. J.

On August 11, 1983, eight days after his 100th birthday, Senator Paterson died peacefully in Ottawa. (His son John fell ill with cancer and predeceased him in 1981.) Norman’s passing was a great loss to the Canadian business world, and the Mayor of Thunder Bay expressed the thoughts of many in describing him as one of “the great captains of industry in this country.” Norman Paterson was also a devoted philanthropist, and one of his most important gifts was the Paterson Foundation, a private charity he established in 1970 to support worthwhile community projects in health care, social welfare, and education. When Senator Paterson died he left his entire estate to the Paterson Foundation, so he still contributes to the wellbeing of communities in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Northwestern Ontario.

In the spring of 1985 the pride of the fleet was launched. Fittingly, it was named after him. The M.V. Paterson had an overall length of over 736 feet, a beam of almost 76 feet, and a maximum capacity of 32,350 tons. It was the largest ship navigating the full seaway, and it carried record-sized shipments of grain to St. Lawrence River ports such as Montreal and Baie Comeau.

But more upsets were brewing in the market. In the late 1980s the Soviet Union defaulted on its loans and collapsed, taking down a large part of the foreign grain market. In Canada, the flow of export grain shifted from east to west, and the Port of Vancouver became more important than Thunder Bay. In Winnipeg, Don Paterson dealt with the changing international grain market by emphasizing western operations — increasing the capacity of strategic elevators throughout the western network and installing new equipment to handle larger and more diverse crops. One of the more radical innovations in the grain industry was the futuristic-looking “double-legged high throughput elevator,” which enabled handlers to receive and load grain simultaneously at high speed.

His son Andrew B. Paterson had by now joined the family firm, and he was proving to be an aggressive innovator. Grain on its way to foreign markets had always been cleaned at the seaport, and the farmers had been charged for the service. Andrew saw the opportunity to further integrate the company and provide higher profits to farmers by building cleaning facilities right on the prairies. The first “inland export terminal” opened in 1992 in Indian Head, Saskatchewan, with all the celebration associated with Paterson grand openings. In almost every year that followed, new Paterson export terminals opened across the west, and these ultra-modern structures soon became part of the new prairie landscape.

Next: Into the Future