Fonds MC299 - J. Leonard O'Brien

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J. Leonard O'Brien

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Physical description

3.5 m of textual records, lithographs, and other records

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Biographical history

Of Irish descent, businessman, lumber merchant, and public servant, Joseph Leonard O'Brien was born 10 November 1895, at South Nelson, Northumberland County, New Brunswick, to Bridget Lavinia McPeake (1862-1948), the daughter Hannah Donnelly and Patrick McPeake, and John O'Brien (1846-1917), a Member of the Legislative Assembly for Northumberland County. His father, the son of Irish immigrants, was employed, initially, by lumber merchant George Burchill. In 1867, John O'Brien began operating his open lumbering business, and, in 1870, he open a general store at Nelson. J. Leonard O'Brien was educated at Nelson Public School and St. Thomas College, Chatham. He married Kathleen O'Leary (1895-1971), the daughter of Elizabeth Buckley and Richard O'Leary of Richibucto, N.B., in 1947.

After his father's death, on 20 October 1917, J. Leonard O'Brien became manager of O'Brien Limited, the family's lumber business based at South Nelson, which had been incorporated by letters patent in 1916. His brother, John McPeake O'Brien (known as Mac) worked with him. The plant was destroyed by fire; in 1940 it was relocated to Chatham where J. Leonard O'Brien had purchased the W. & R. Walsh Company Ltd. wooden box and shook mill. In 1942, he purchased the mills and timberland of the South Nelson Lumber Company from J. C. Colgate, of New York City, and formed a new company, Chatham Industries Limited. The company was incorporated in 1943 to operate his lumber business. It employed upwards of 1000 men and manufactured dressed lumber, much of it being sold to the United Kingdom Timber Control. In early 1944, the box shook division was formed. Chatham Industries Limited also included a cement and brick plant -- Miramichi Concrete Products Co., founded in 1974 -- and a general store.

O'Brien expanded his enterprises, in 1949, when he opened Canada's first synthetic lumber mill at South Nelson. The Plaswood Corporation of Canada Ltd., a pressed-board mill or chipboard factory, was operated by Trafalgar Mills Ltd., which was owned by J. Leonard O'Brien. A fire in 1959 destroyed some of O'Brien's holdings. In 1961 he sold Chatham Industries Limited and Trafalgar Mills Ltd. to the South Nelson Forest Products Company, Ltd., a subsidiary of Cartiere-del-Timano of Trieste, Italy. However, he remained connected to New Brunswick industry, serving as director of Atlantic Sugar Refineries Ltd. and Acadia Pulp and Paper Ltd. from 1961-1968.

In addition to his business career, J. Leonard O'Brien was active in politics at both the provincial and federal levels. In 1925, he was elected to the provincial legislature as a Conservative member for Northumberland County, and sat in the House from 1925-1931. For most of that time, from 1926-1931, he served as Speaker. Elected to the House of Commons as a Conservative member for Northumberland County, he served, in Ottawa, from 1940-1945. He was also president of the New Brunswick Progressive Conservative Association from 1956-1957. On 22 May 1958, he was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of New Brunswick, and held that post until 1965. J. Leonard O'Brien died on 18 June 1973; his wife, Kathleen, predeceased him in 1971. The Leonard and Kathleen O'Brien Humanitarian Trust, established by J. Leonard O'Brien in 1971 and administered by the O'Brien Foundation Committee, continues to award fellowships to deserving students to pursue graduate work.

Sources: RS141 Vital Statistics from Government Records; Censuses of Canada; Daniel F. Johnson, Vital Statistics from New Brunswick Newspapers; and MC299.

Custodial history

Information about the custody of some of these records prior to acquisition is incomplete.

A very few restrictions apply. See restrictions note.

Scope and content

This fonds documents the business activities, political career, and personal life of Joseph Leonard O'Brien.

Records relating to his years in provincial politics include correspondence, notes from his diaries, political scrapbooks, and materials relating to election campaigns and his position as Speaker of the House of Assembly. Federal political records include correspondence, copies of speeches, scrapbooks, photo albums, and materials pertaining to election campaigns and the Progressive-Conservative Association (letters, memos, minutes, briefs). A few of the political records pertain to his father, John O'Brien, who was a member of the House of Assembly for New Brunswick.

Records from J. Leonard O'Brien's years as Lieutenant-Governor of New Brunswick include official and private correspondence, speeches, invitations to various events, thank-you and congratulatory cards, scrapbooks, photo albums, guest books from Government House (1858-1965), an honorary degree, and materials pertaining to royal visits (1950s), the Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, and the Order of Malta.

Business records include correspondence, financial records, account books, day books, ledgers, agreements, court records, and other material pertaining to O'Brien Limited; correspondence, minutes of board of directors meetings, financial records, agreements, inventories, reports, payroll records, purchase records, account books, ledgers, cash books, sales books, vouchers, invoices, and receipts pertaining to Chatham Industries Limited; correspondence, financial papers, inventories, purchase invoices, sale invoices, and loading orders for Trafalgar Mills Ltd.; and correspondence, financial records, agreements, a copy of the letters patent, a ledger, and reports regarding Plaswood Corporation of Canada. Business records dating to the years prior to 1917 relate to John O'Brien's business activities.

Also included are financial records, correspondence, invoices, account books, general ledgers, and inventories relating to the O'Brien Store; correspondence financial records, and an agreement pertaining to Miramichi Concrete Products Co.; and correspondence, financial records, and guests lists for the Big Hole Salmon Fishing Club, Limited, which was incorporated in 1907 with its heading office in Hillsborough, Albert County; New Brunswick. J. Leonard O'Brien was probably a director or a shareholder or both of this company.

Lastly, the fonds contains his personal records including general and family correspondence; documents pertaining to the O'Brien and McPeake family histories; financial records and photographs; a few records relating to the North West Boom Co., the South West Boom Co., Atlantic Sugar Refineries Ltd., Acadia Pulp and Paper Ltd., Bank of Nova Scotia, and J. McPeake O'Brien Store; documents pertain to the estate of Kathleen O'Brien; and documents and printed material pertaining to a number of associations, clubs, and universities including Canadian Red Cross Society, Boy Scouts of Canada, University of New Brunswick, Université de Moncton, St. Thomas University, and Mount Allison University.

A number of maps showing mineral occurrences, mining claims, the location and extent of Chatham Industries Limited lands, various hydro electric projects, and other areas of the province have been moved to the Map Section. Oversized records also have been moved to the Map Section. Loose photographs have been transferred to the Photograph Section. There are also several lithographs of Fredericton and area dating to the 1830s.

Physical condition

Immediate source of acquisition

Most of these records were donated to the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick by the executors of the estate of J. Leonard O'Brien in 1974. Three boxes of records were donated by the Historic Sites Branch of the Tourism, Recreation & Heritage Department in 1991.


Language of material

  • English

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Restrictions on access

Records relating to the estate of Kathleen O'Brien are restricted.

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Finding aids

An inventory is available.

Associated materials

Researchers interested in Bridget Lavinia (McPeake) O'Brien may wish to view what is believed to have been her scrapbook or one kept by members of the McPeake family. See MC1235.

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