May 3, 2018

A mentor remembered

Paul Olsen of Brookdale Treeland Nurseries in Schomberg, Ont., passed away suddenly in March. This column breaks format to interview his associates across Canada; everyone contacted appreciated Paul’s leadership, and had a story to tell.

Paul was a visionary and a mentor to me,” said Warren Patterson of Barrie’s Garden Centre in Barrie, Ont. “When I told him 17 years ago I was thinking about opening a garden centre, Paul barked, ‘Just do it.’”

John Langendoen of Willowbrook Nurseries, Fenwick, Ont., remembered, “I was competing against Paul on a very large quote for a landscaper and he called me up to come and see him regarding this customer. He warned me to be very careful with this customer. This customer had a history of not paying his bills. So knowing that, we approached this customer cautiously. We ended up getting the job and made sure we got paid in monthly installments. This landscaper did go broke. Had Paul not warned us, we might have been burned and we would have lost our business. Thank you Paul! We were competitors and we were comrades.”

“Paul was a progressive businessman who liked new ideas, innovation and looked for opportunities to grow Brookdale Treeland Nurseries into an industry powerhouse,” said Michael Murray of Murray’s Horticultural Services, Portugal Cove, Nfld. “I remember well the day Cle Newhook and I suggested the CNLA and its affiliated provincial members spearhead a more aggressive stance of political lobbying and government engagement. Paul recommended in his statement to the Board of Directors, ‘You know these Newfoundlanders are right, we need to be more deliberate and consistent in putting our concerns forward to government.’ Paul Olsen and Cle Newhook were great industry leaders. They helped provide a great vision for the CNLA and its provincial affiliated members to engage ourselves, the communities around us and our elected political representatives.”

From Joan Johnston of Peter Knippel Garden Centre in Gloucester, Ont.: “I always appreciated Paul for being a dedicated volunteer, a forward thinker and a good businessman. He always understood issues with maturity and a broad perspective. He could be concerned about problems but still see the bright side. But what impressed me most was his kindness — not always a strong point of the successful.”

“Paul was a visionary who saw the big picture. He was always pushing for the advancement of the industry and associations, always pushing professionalism,” said Tom Intven of Canadale Nurseries, St. Thomas, Ont. 

Vic Krahn of Lakeshore Tree Farms in Saskatoon, Sask., mused on the P. ramorum crisis, when nurseries were being quarantined, stock ordered destroyed, and nobody was receiving a dime of compensation. Meanwhile, a quarantine pest was plaguing potato farmers in a small area of Quebec; compensation appeared within three months. Krahn reflected on a meeting with a CFIA official, a lifelong bureaucrat in a wonderful suit, coincidentally from Quebec. He remembers Paul Olsen taking control of that meeting: “Paul folded his hands, and said, ‘While there has been a lot of talk, I would never say that Quebec farmers were receiving favoured status. I understand that CFIA is above reproach. However, appearances could certainly be construed that way.’” According to Krahn, the official became quite agitated and it was after this meeting that positive action was initiated towards compensation and eradication of positive P. ramorum plants.

CNLA growers’ manager Rita Weerdenburg considered Paul Olsen a good friend and an industry mentor; she was in the same tense meeting. “Desks were pounded. Literally. Thanks to Paul’s persistence, his earlier relationship-building skills with policy advisors, his keen perception to recognize a unique opportunity and his skill to turn that opportunity to advantage, nursery growers in B.C. collectively realized millions of dollars in compensation payments at the height of the P. ramorum crisis.”

If you have a mentor to recommend, please write to editor@landscapetrades.com.