Passed peacefully in Kenny’s Pond Retirement Residence, St. John’s, NL on Friday, January 28, 2022. Harry was born in Musgrave Harbour, NL, the son of the late Stanley and Kathleen (Power) Steele. He was immensely proud of his NL roots and that pride never wavered. Roots and values that were well established as a lad in Musgrave Harbour ultimately led to his strong sense of responsibility, ambition, hard work, compassion and “not being afraid to hire someone smarter than you”. Regardless of his success and where business took him, Newfoundland and Labrador would always be home.
He is survived by his beloved wife of almost 68 years, Catherine (nee Thornhill), his sons Peter (Brenda), Rob and John (Darlene); grandchildren Kate (Geoff Robb), Diana, Laura (Colin Kaiser), Hayley, Eric, Wyatt and Sofia, and great-grandchildren, Charlotte and Lauchlan Kaiser. Also survived by his sister-in-law Florence (Thornhill) Dobson and brother-in-law Roland J. Thornhill (Bonnie); nephews Geoff Tulk, Barry and David Dobson, Christopher and Jeff Thornhill, Paul and Andrew Thornhill. He was predeceased by his sister Audrey Tulk, brothers-in-law, Kenneth Tulk, Cyril Thornhill and George Dobson, sister-in-law, Sylvia (Mercer)Thornhill and niece, Marguerite (Tulk) Leyte.
While attending Memorial University of Newfoundland he joined the University Naval Training Division. Although he graduated with his Bachelor of Education, he chose not to teach, and instead joined the Royal Canadian Navy as a junior officer. Harry served the RCN from 1950-1974, serving on numerous ships over the years; a posting in Portsmouth, England for specialized training in communications; HMCS Cornwallis the center for training new recruits where his communications training was put to good use; a posting to Washington, attached to the Canadian Embassy, and his final posting as Base Commander, Gander, NL. from which he retired. The navy training prepared Harry for his life in business – “If there was a problem, it had to be fixed, no excuses”.
Harry’s business life began with the purchase of the Albatross Motel in Gander, NL, leading to the acquisition and incorporation, over the years, of Sinbad’s Limited, Irving West Limited, and Hotel Gander Limited (now the Quality Inn) as well as The Glynmill Inn in Corner Brook. His business forays continued with his appointment to the Board of Directors of Eastern Provincial Airways and, years later, appointed VP Traffic and Sales. In 1978 he became the principal shareholder of EPA. In 1980 Harry formed Newfoundland Capital Corporation Limited, a holding company, which included Eastern Provincial Airways, Air Maritime and Atlantic Inns Limited. In 1981 NCC bought Clarke Transport which included trucks, ships, and a ferry service, including a 50% interest in Halterm container operation in Halifax. A difficult decision was made as a result of rising airline costs, and in 1984 EPA was sold to CP Air. NCC continued its growth with the purchase of Robinson-Blackmore Printing & Publishing and other printing and publication interests in Nova Scotia and Ontario, along with radio stations in PEI, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador. In the late nineties, the decision was made to divest of the transportation and printing and publishing sectors, remaining solely as a radio broadcasting company. NCC continued to grow as a successful broadcasting company, growing to 101 radio stations across Canada, until it’s sale in 2018.
In 1981, Harry made a personal acquisition of 51% becoming controlling shareholder of Universal Helicopters. In 1987, along with partners Norm Noseworthy and the late Paul Williams, the remaining shares were purchased. As with any business Harry was involved in, Universal Helicopters Newfoundland Limited eventually grew from an operation of nine helicopters to twenty-one when it was sold in 2013.
Business was Harry Steele’s hobby; he never considered something he loved to be work. The only other hobby in Harry’s life was fishing in Labrador. Being on the rivers of Labrador were times well spent with business acquaintances and long-time friends, both old and new. In Harry’s words, some of his best thinking took place on the riverbanks of Labrador.
He adored his wife Catherine, who was his anchor and often credited her for his success. He also cherished all the time spent with his family. He thoroughly enjoyed his road trips across the province where he met so many great friends along the way. One of his favorite things to do was to talk to people and hear their stories. He loved getting up early, a good feed of salt fish, watching the evening news, spending time with friends in Florida in the winter, and in recent years, his drives with Terry Hart.
Harry was a valued, highly respected Board member of various Canadian companies: Fishery Products International, Canadian Airlines International, CHC Helicopter Corporation, Dundee Bancorp Corporation, Southam Inc./Hollinger Canadian Newspapers GP, Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation, Major Drilling Group, Canada 3000 Inc., and Inmet Mining Corporation.
He received the Order of Canada, an honor he was delighted to receive; however, it was humbling to Harry as he was, by nature, never one to expect recognition; in fact, he was content to do what he loved, doing business, and making it a success. He experienced joy and satisfaction in doing what he could for others, without fanfare.
Deservedly, but reluctantly, he accepted tributes: Honorary Doctorate from Saint Mary’s University, Halifax, NS; induction into the Newfoundland & Labrador Business Hall of Fame, and the Nova Scotia Business Hall of Fame; received the Ernst & Young Atlantic Lifetime Achievement Award; Dalhousie Ocean Sciences building named the Steele Ocean Sciences Building on behalf of the Steele family and, lastly, the Gander Community Centre renamed the Steele Community Centre recognizing Mr. Steele, in particular, and the Steele family’s contributions to the community.
Special thanks are extended to the many people who provided care and friendship over the past five years while resident at Kenny’s Pond Retirement Community. Special thanks as well to Veronica Brown, Harry’s Executive Assistant of 42 years, and good friend and support to the entire family.
Services to honor the life of Harry Steele to be held at a later date.
Donations in lieu of flowers may be made to The Salvation Army Red Shield Appeal or to a charity of your choice.