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The Toronto Steamship Association Celebrates
Its 50th Anniversary Gala Dinner "Steamship Night"

A conversation with Scott Pichette, President, Toronto Steamship Association, and
Line Manager Canada, Montship Inc., as agents for Hamburg Süd.

LQ: Who was the original president of the Toronto Steamship Association at the time of its inception?

Scott Pichette: Brian McDonald, Executive Vice President, Montship Inc., started the Toronto Steamship Association (TSA) in 1994 as its founding president. He had initiated an invitation to those executives whose businesses were from the steamship side of the business, at a time when our group existed informally as an industry sector within the Toronto Transportation Club (TTC). Brian and several steamship executives within the TTC who had participated on that club’s steamship committees, decided that it would be a good idea if the steamship lines ran their own events to afford a greater opportunity for these events to be more focused on the steamship side of the business.

In fact, the TSA’s 50th anniversary dinner this year commemorates the first dinner 50 years ago — which then was the TTC’s Steamship Night Gala dinner. It is important for us to recognize at this juncture the Toronto Transportation Club, which was founded in 1913. After all, this 50th anniversary dinner has had everything to do with the TTC and their original Steamship Night event. Of the 50 years we’ve been meeting, we’ve enjoyed some 35 of those years associated with the TTC and their Steamship Night.

However, at the time of the TSA’s founding, the Transportation Club was more closely affiliated with the rail, truck and other interests in the business. The founding of the TSA allowed the steamship oriented companies and the liner services to represent themselves and have a greater voice in an association. Under Brian’s stewardship, the TSA was established, with the leadership of others in the field, such as Hugh McMaster (1996 TSA President), Jim Surphlis (1997 President), Ron Wilford (1998 President) and Ron Bannon (1998 President), as well as several other gentleman who participated in the TSA’s first meeting in 1993.

We’ve since established other events, which have become something of a tradition, such as the annual Golf Tournament held at Cedar Brae Golf and Country Club, which is exclusive to the TSA. The establishment of an executive committee and a president, which is the customary model of governance we have maintained, has also helped to chart the TSA’s path as an effective organization that provides good value for its membership.

LQ: Where was the first TSA Steamship Night held?

Scott Pichette: The first Steamship Night was held at the Royal York in downtown Toronto, which is where this year’s annual dinner was held. This has been the primary venue for the TSA most of the years since its founding in 1993.

LQ: How many members attended the first TSA dinner in 1993?

Scott Pichette: Today, the TSA has approximately 43 members and associate members and we are fortunate to have as many as 850 to 1,000 people attending our Annual Steamship Night. We must highlight an important distinction between the TTC and the TSA;the transportation club has individual members, which means the executives and employees of each and every company. The TSA, however, considers the company that’s represented as one member, even if that membership includes many employees from that company. We also started an associate membership several years ago, which allows non-steamship companies to join the association as associates. Canadian Tire, which was one of our first companies to join as an associate member, is a good example of this type of membership. We also have companies like Dimerco Express (Canada) Corp., Hunt Refrigeration Canada Inc. and Gusco Transport LP.

An associate membership gives these organizations access to the TSA newsletter and it enables them to participate in annual events, as well as keeping them in touch with the association and current events in our industry. We are looking at expanding our associate memberships further in the years to come.

The only comparable organization in Canada would be the Montreal Traffic Club and the Grunt Club, which is equivalent in many ways to the TSA;these are the two major associations or clubs in Montreal. I was involved with the Traffic Club in Montreal and it is similar in the way it’s run, the way the executive works, and the way the different committees function. Clearly, there is a close parallel to what they do in Montreal and our work in Toronto.

Fundamentally, these associations and the TSA have a tradition of being a fraternity that allows the membership — the key members of the TSA — to get together to plan events that unite them. These events really help to unite the liner services and the steamship community. In today’s world, few of us have free time or time to get together other than taking care of our families and working on our respective businesses, and the TSA enables us to get together several times a year. The constitution of the TSA, and its bylaws are similar but distinct from the TTC’s: “The purpose of this association shall be to increase the knowledge and education of its members in the transportation field and the advancement of personal acquaintance and good fellowship among members and the trade.”

The TSA’s Steamship Night, which is its most successful event with the most participation, has up to a thousand people who come to enjoy this evening. We’ve also created, for example, the Gerald J. Laurendeau Memorial Bursary, which was set up in the early 1990s for the children or relatives of people who are members of TSA as a bursary to assist students who have shown the interest and ability to pursue a university education. The bursary is awarded through a competitive process based on a specific set of criteria. (In 2007, Nicole Marie Surphlis, Stacey Janet Feggans and Alana Zamrij were bursary winners.) In 2008, we are very proud to have established a full four year scholarship valued at $4,000. This scholarship will be awarded over a period of four years to four lucky winners within our industry. This is all thanks to the generosity of our membership and their full support of the Toronto Steamship Association.

The TSA also has a tradition of being a strong supporter of Father David Mulholland, who oversees the Toronto Mission to Seafarers Centre, located at the Toronto Port, offering an estimated 4,000 seamen a place to unwind after work. We have also been discussing support for additional causes — such as breast cancer research and prevention, and the Canadian Cancer Society. We have already dedicated a considerable amount of time to examining new ways to garner financial contributions for these causes and we will continue to work on this.

LQ: What is the biggest change that you would identify over the past 50 years?

Scott Pichette: I’ve only been in this industry for 14 years. However, there’s no question in my mind that the most dominant forces in the industry today would be the incredible trade to and from Asia and the north Atlantic, which includes Europe and the United Kingdom. These two markets definitely dominate our side of the industry. In Canada, for example, the intermodal congestion at the Port of Vancouver has been a key factor for our industry in the last couple of years. Generally, however, the overall convergence of congestion and the need for developments in infrastructure, particularly intermodal, continues to impact all of our trades. Not surprisingly, since 9/11, our world has also been transformed with regard to security, customs, inspections, and delays due to these new processes.

LQ: What’s your vision regarding future initiatives for the TSA?

Scott Pichette: Education. There are many associations, such as the Canadian International Freight Forwarders Association (CIFFA), who have excellent education programs developed within their associations. Another excellent example in our field is the Shipping Federation of Montreal, which works in liaison with Montreal-based Concordia University, and provides a course that ties into the steamship association and shipping, liner shipping, ocean shipping. We would need more resources to develop additional initiatives in regard to education for our field. As a result we will continue to focus our efforts on providing our membership with a scholarship fund that will assist young people with additional resources they require to help them succeed in their postsecondary education.

However, we continue to hold day courses, focused on geographical programs within our industry. We had approximately 30 to 40 participants attend a one-day session recently. Another recent initiative was a one-day trip to CN Rail, really to allow the general population, the people that are behind the desks, to get out and appreciate first hand how a rail terminal works. We’re looking at a similar one-day program for a Canadian port. In the years to come, our scholarship fund and our work with charities will be the key focus for the TSA.

LQ: Thank you for taking time at this important milestone for the TSA to share your thoughts on the founding of TSA and your vision for its future.

Questions for this interview have been prepared by LQ’s Maritime Executive Editor, Ed Kearns.