Thursday, February 05, 2009

Family stuff

Last summer was tough for my family, as my Dad died (age 92) in July, then one of his younger brothers (my uncle Tom) died in August. Tom's funeral was held in the patriarchal family town of Bowmanville, Ont., where the family had founded and run the Bowmanville Foundry from 1901 to 1988.

My brother Mike and I drove down in his Honda Del Sol (not really a sports car, but just a cute little two-seat Honda Civic), and before heading back home I wanted to get a photo of Rehder Avenue.

Our great-grandfather Christian Rehder started the foundry business, and it remains one of the town's major employers. Christian later bought some land to create a little subdivision as an investment, and why not name a street after the family?

Footnote: the current owners of the foundry commissioned a book about our family, the business and the town, and it was published in 2002. While I knew many of the facts and figures, I was heartened to read some very positive things I had not known about.

One being that during the Great Depression business of course dropped off significantly, and Christian showed all the employees the order book and told them how bad things were. But he was not going to lay anyone off and would give work as it came in. And to help them out he said he'd cover any basic purchases at the local grocer, so that no one had to go hungry while waiting. He had always intended to keep the company small to maintain quailty control, and doing so also allowed him to give back like this.

The second was when the union came calling. My grandfather Ernie had taken over by then, and was incensed over the implication that a union was needed. As noted above, the company had always looked after its employees, granted in a old-fashioned patriarchal way. My Dad was summoned to deal with the negotiations, and once the union was in everything went well, with company management dealing directly with the union reps in all future contract talks. There were no work stoppages or grievancs filed in all the years the family owned the business.

It's nice to know that I did not come from a line of greedy corporate types, and perhaps that's where my community-minded ethic comes from.

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