May 15, 2020 – Canadian vessels lowered their flags to half-mast yesterday to honour John “Jack” D. Leitch, a long-time pillar of the marine transportation community, who passed away Tuesday at the age of 99.
Ships from Algoma Central Corporation, who purchased Upper Lakes Shipping from Mr. Leitch in 2011, along with other Canadian fleets participated in the tribute.
Mr. Leitch and his family had a significant impact on the marine industry in Canada, operating domestic and international fleets, shipbuilding and terminal operations throughout the years.
Mr. Leitch was a founding member and past board director of the Chamber of Marine Commerce, established in 1959, as well as a past board director with the Canadian Shipowners’ Association, which merged with CMC in 2016.
“We offer our deepest condolences to Jack’s family and friends,” says Bruce R. Burrows, President of the Chamber of Marine Commerce. “Jack was a legend in the Great Lakes shipping industry, starting and shaping the careers of many of the leaders who now own and operate Canada’s biggest shipping companies. His innovation and influence is seen in every aspect of our industry from ship design to labour relations to business development. His legacy will never be forgotten.”
After serving in the Royal Canadian Navy during the Second World War, Mr. Leitch joined the Leitch companies which included Upper Lakes, established by his father, Gordon Leitch in 1932. At that time, the Upper Lakes (UL) & St. Lawrence Transportation Company Limited (SLTC – a partnership company started between James Norris and Gordon Leitch) owned 29 ships.
In 1952, following the death of James Norris, Gordon Leitch became chairman of the board, and his son Jack became president.
In 1956, UL & SLTC purchased the Port Weller Dry Docks in St. Catharines, and got into the ship building business. The shipping company’s name was changed to Upper Lakes Shipping Ltd.
Although their main business was marine transportation, the company had two branches, the shipping division, which included Port Weller Dry Docks Ltd., and the grain division, which consisted of various elevators and flour mills.
In 1961, the Leitch grain-related companies were incorporated into Maple Leaf Mills Ltd.
In July, 1974, the Leitch and Norris partnership was dissolved after over 40 years. This gave the Norris Grain Company complete ownership of Maple Leaf Mills Ltd., and gave Leitch Transport Ltd. (Leitch family holding company) complete ownership of Upper Lakes Shipping Ltd., and its subsidiaries, which included the Port Weller Dry Docks, and the Three Rivers Grain Terminal.
According to records, in 1983, Upper Lakes had the largest fleet of ocean-going self-unloader ships in the world.
In 2011, Mr. Leitch sold Upper Lakes Shipping Ltd., which had been in the Leitch family for nearly 80 years, to Algoma Central Corporation. Algoma, continues to operate the John D. Leitch, a self-unloader bulker, to this day.
Photo of Mr. Leitch (middle) when he visited the John D. Leitch in 2019 with Algoma’s Steve Wright, VP Engineering (right) and Former VP, Human Resources for Upper Lakes Group, Ewa Taubenfligel (left).
About the Chamber of Marine Commerce
The Chamber of Marine Commerce is a bi-national association that represents more than 130 marine industry stakeholders including major Canadian and American shippers, ports, terminals and marine service providers, as well as domestic and international ship owners. The Chamber advocates for safe, sustainable, harmonized and competitive policy and regulation that recognizes the marine transportation system’s significant advantages in the Great Lakes, St. Lawrence, Coastal and Arctic regions.