O'Brien, Joseph Leonard

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O'Brien, Joseph Leonard

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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; http://www.pixelera.com/demoweb/beaubear/nelsonPortal/1.2%20Nelson%20Community%20Portal.swf. and MC299.


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