Canada's Lumber Giantby PETER RUSLAND
Family, friends and employees meant the world to Duncan (British Columbia, Canada) timber baron, Harban Singh Doman - more commonly known as Herb Doman - who died after a long illness on July 26, 2007, in Cowichan District Hospital, on Vancouver Island.
He was seventy-five years old.
"My father's contribution to coastal British Columbia (B.C.), and particularly Vancouver Island, was that he created over four thousand jobs for people and their families, and built the business from scratch from the age of twelve", son Rick Doman said. "The basic ingredients came from my dad's foresight and ingenuity".
Doman started his forest-based company in 1955, took it public in 1968, and grew it into a multi-billion-dollar firm.
Surjit Singh Prihar filled one of many jobs created at Doman Industries by the enterprising Duncanite and grandfather.
Prihar began working for Doman Lumber in the Saltair Ladysmith sawmill in the late 1990s.
"Herb was a great boss. He was no-nonsense and liked good communication with the union, so there were no strikes, because strikes don't help workers".
Prihar said Doman - who detested log exports - kept his operations low-tech to keep costs down and workers on the job.
"Herb led a simple life and was no show-off and was truly Canadian".
Marion Maguire, Doman's secretary for thirty-one years, also called him a good boss who always helped his staff.
"He did lots of yelling but he never yelled at me", she smiled. "If anything was ever wrong with a staffer, he wanted to know; nothing was too much trouble to help them. He was a good man".
Owen Gloster, Doman's doctor and friend for some forty years, agrees.
"He was a simple man, a generous man and an honourable man. His main concern through all his illness was his employees".
Gloster's stories about his generous pal include a nurse helped with her education costs by Doman, and many mill workers Doman remembered by name.
"Herb astonished me so many times", said Gloster, praising Doman's giving to the Cowichan District Hospital (CDH) Foundation.
"We are probably the best-equipped community hospital in B.C. and it's mainly due to Herb Doman", he said.
"Herb's given CDH hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years; we're not sure how much".
Rick Doman tells how his dad quit school to care for his siblings after his father, Doman Singh, died.
Doman peddled newspapers and sold eggs, then hatched a firewood business and bought his first truck.
"He started buying and selling lumber, then built a sawmill at Ladysmith".
Doman's queen was Helen, his wife of fifty-two years.
His empire eventually included nine sawmills, two pulp mills, about two million acres of timberland and close to $1 billion a year in sales.
Doman Industries also owned local trucking firms Trans-Isle Freightways and Marpole Transport, that Pudge Bawa bought in 1991, after working for Doman since 1956.
"We always felt we were part of his family and Herb's always been a great mentor to me.
"His word was his bond.
"With his Grade 7 education, whether he was dealing with a mill worker, a truck driver or the premier of B.C., he was comfortable".
The Sikh community is also feeling Doman's loss.
"Lots of them attribute their own successes from working with Herb Doman", Bawa said.
Weak lumber prices in the late ‘90s, plus harsh U.S. softwood lumber tariffs cost Doman's firm about $100 million, starting around 2002.
Rick Doman assumed the president's seat after his dad's major stroke in 2001.
Doman faced 1989 insider trading charges from the B.C. Securities Commission and was later acquitted.
His firm was eventually restructured, taken over by Brascan in 2004 and later renamed Western Forest Products.
"My dad can be proud he carried the company until July 2004 and kept all the jobs intact until the torch was passed on", Rick Doman said.
WFP president Reynold Hert remembers Doman as a gracious man, who kept business simple and bureaucracy-free.
"He accomplished what very few people accomplish in a lifetime".
MLA Doug Routley says Doman had a strong commitment to community.
"He, to many people, represented the fulfillment of a Canadian dream", Routley said.
Many in the logging industry, such as United Steelworkers' Local 1-80 president Bill Routley, had lots of respect for Doman.
Even when business was slow during winter, Doman kept his workers employed, allowing stock to accumulate, while hoping business would pick up in spring.
"He did a lot to create employment for workers in the Cowichan Valley", Routley said. "He did a lot of things that were extraordinary".
When Doman brought a value-added plant to Chemainus, there was pressure to open it across the border instead, but he opted to keep it in Cowichan.
"He believed in creating jobs for people close to home", Routley said. "While he was a tough and shrewd businessman, he was also compassionate.
"I'm not saying he gave us everything we wanted, because he didn't, but I have a lot of respect for Herb".
Former Duncan mayor Jim Quaife worked with Doman on numerous projects and called him a visionary. "He was an eternal optimist. His loss to the community is monumental".
[Courtesy: Cowichan Valley News Leader]
Conversation about this article
1: Manjit Kaur (North Potomac, Maryland, U.S.A.), August 07, 2007, 8:54 AM.
Once again, we come across a great pioneer who was a visionary and held on to the basic Sikh principles of serving the community, despite heavy odds and challenges.
2: Amrik Singh (New Delhi, India), August 07, 2007, 9:52 AM.
The story of the extreme hardships that early Sikh pioneers encountered in Canada and the U.S. has yet to be done justice. It would be trite to say that all the current-day successes enjoyed by Sikh-Canadians, Sikh-Americans, Sikh-Britons, as well as others across the diaspora - and they are by no means less than phenomenal - were achieved standing on the shoulders of these extraordinary men and women. Let's not delay telling their stories, expressing our gratitude to them, and honouring them, too much longer ...
3: Tejwant (U.S.A.), August 08, 2007, 1:01 PM.
It seems Harban Singh was a trailblazer, taming the Canadian West with true Punjabi grit.
4: Mahinder Kaur Doman (British Columbia, Canada), October 28, 2007, 9:22 PM.
The person in this article is my brother, Harbanse Singh. Most of the article is correct. Presently, I am completing an anthology of the first daughters of the first wave of Indian immigrants to Canada, 1920-1950. My next project is a book about my brother. Sat Sri Akal.
5: Jennece (Canada), November 21, 2007, 8:05 PM.
I love Herb. He was the nicest person you could ever know.
6: Mahinder Kaur Doman (Victoria, B.C., Canada), December 02, 2007, 1:41 PM.
Jennece, I agree - he was the best brother. As you know, his death was untimely.
7: Lorrie Gottschalk (Calgary, Canada), January 08, 2008, 6:27 PM.
I had the pleasure of working for Mr. Herb Doman through his illness. It was a lifetime of experience. Never again will I ever get the chance to meet a self made, "Lumber Baron" like Herb. Herb was a humble man, but definately a "King" in many people's eyes. He was a builder in this life, and he went about to do what he did best. He did build an empire as big as his personality. God Bless you, Herb!
8: Mahinder K.. Doman (Victoria, British Columbia, Canada), February 02, 2008, 11:41 PM.
Lorrie, as I recall, in your caregiver role, you left my brother's home well before he died - due (?) to some sort of concern, misunderstanding, etc. He suffered terribly and was reduced to a mere shadow of himself at the end...
9: Jennece Doman (British Columbia, Canada), March 01, 2008, 4:11 PM.
My grandpa was everything to me. Lorrie was with my Dada for five years; she was so good to dada and nana and me, she lost someone and got sick, otherwise she would never have left us. How come you never visited dada? He was so sick for the last two years. He was our hero and it is so sad without him. My mommie still cries as she looked after him so good. We all love Herb Doman. I love him so much ...