Irving Group of Companies celebrates 140 years in business

Posted on October 18, 2022 | By Alexander Chafe | 0 Comments


Irving’s pulp and paper mill in Saint John in 2009 (photo credit: JJ Hikka/flickr CC)


The Irving name is certainly recognizable amongst Atlantic Canadians. With almost one and a half centuries of history, the Irving Group of Companies has stakes in several industries and operations throughout Canada, the United States and beyond. And to think, it all started with a sawmill in the 1880s.


A timeline of milestones for J.D. Irving Ltd. (photo credit: J.D. Irving Ltd.)


First, timber

The beginning of Irving dates back to 1882. Founder James Dergavel (J.D.) Irving was a grandson of entrepreneurs from Scotland and purchased a sawmill in Bouctouche, New Brunswick. Irving later opened a general store and expanded business holdings to include investments in farming, flour milling, wool carding and lumber. This was the foundation of J.D. Irving Ltd.

J.D.’s son Kenneth Colin (K.C.) Irving eventually joined the family business and helped it grow exponentially. K.C. diversified J.D. Irving Ltd.’s portfolio to include shipbuilding, transportation, construction and retail. He was also responsible for founding Irving Oil.


An early Irving Oil gas station (photo credit: J.D. Irving)


Striking oil

In 1924, K.C. Irving opened a garage and gas station in Bouctouche, N.B. Originally called Primrose Oil, the business was renamed Irving Oil in 1928. Around the same time, K.C. moved to Fredericton where he opened Golden Ball garage, a Ford dealership and continued to grow Irving Oil. The oil business expanded throughout the Maritimes in the 1930s and to Quebec and Newfoundland in the 1940s. In the ‘50s, Golden Ball garage became Irving Oil’s headquarters and K.C.’s sons joined the family business.

Irving partnered with Standard Oil Company of California (now Chevron) in 1960 to construct Irving Oil Refinery in Saint John. Initial daily production was 40,000 barrels of oil a day.

In 1972, Irving Oil expanded operations to the U.S., with a marine terminal and retail locations in Maine. Irving also bought Chevron’s interest in their refinery in the 1980s and made improvements to expand daily production. Today, Irving Oil Refinery is the largest in Canada with daily production of over 300,000 barrels of oil.


Irving’s Golden Ball garage that became headquarters for Irving Oil from the 1950s until 2019 (photo credit: J.D. Irving Ltd.)


More growth

The Irving Group of Companies continued to diversify and expand over the years. In 1998, Brunswick News was created to consolidate Irving’s media investments (it was sold to Postmedia earlier this year). And Ocean Capital Holdings was formed in 2004 to organize Irving’s investments in real estate, construction, radio and industrial services.

Irving Oil expanded operations into Europe in 2014 and later made acquisitions in Ireland. In 2016, it acquired Whitegate refinery (which supplies 40 per cent of Ireland’s power), and recently purchased Top Oil in 2019.


An Irving Big Stop restaurant, convenience store and gas station located in Salisbury, N.B. in 2007 (photo credit: JJ Hikka/flickr CC)


Going Strong

The Irving Group of Companies continues to operate today as a collection of private, family-owned enterprises. With a team of over 19,000 employees at J.D. Irving Ltd. alone, it’s estimated that one of every 12 people in New Brunswick is employed by an Irving company. The Irving family is one of the wealthiest in Canada.

Celebrating 140 years and counting.

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