Renowned Newfoundland and Labrador businessman Harry Steele died on Friday.
Steele was known for his successful ventures in a variety of sectors including transportation, hotels and radio.
“It’s definitely the death of a great Newfoundland dog,” said Fred Langan, head of Langan Business News and author of the 2019 biography The Commander: The Life and Times of Harry Steele.
Though Steele’s life eventually reached great heights in the business world, Langan said Steele had humble beginnings when he was born in Musgrave Harbor in 1929.
Steele attended Memorial University, Langan said, before joining the Navy and working in military intelligence at Gander.
During Steele’s time in the Navy, he began to turn his attention to business ventures.
“While he was in the Navy, [Steele] invested in the stock market,” Langan said.
Steele’s wife, Catharine, had a similar entrepreneurial spirit in real estate investments, and the couple bought the Albatross Hotel in Gander around the same time.
Gander Mayor Percy Farwell says Steele “helped shape the future and history of Gander.”
He says Steele is “larger than life, […] but he was a very likeable man. And on a much broader level, Steele was an iconic and influential businessman in a number of fields and he lived [in Gander], and still made it his home. The house he lived in was still his and he took care of it here.”
Steele’s impact on the community is remembered at the town’s community center, Farwell said, which is named after him.
According to Langan, Steele’s business success at Gander eventually led to the purchase of Eastern Provincial Airways (EPA) in the 1970s. Langan said after Steele found out the airline was up for sale,” he said [airline owner Chesley] Crosby and on a cocktail napkin they wrote a bill of sale.”
After a controversial pilots’ strike was finally settled, the airline became a success for Steele.
“He made Eastern Provincial Airways successful,” Langan said.
EPA later merged with CP Air and Steele “expanded its business” in several different directions, including radio, according to Langan.
“Harry wasn’t into rock ‘n’ roll,” Langan said, “but his son Rob convinced him.”
Langan said getting into radio was a success and Steele’s holding company has become the owner of over 100 radio licenses.
In 1992, Steele was made an officer of the Order of Canada. His many business interests included a shipping line, a port in Halifax and a series of fishing camps in Labrador.
“His hobby was fishing,” Langan said, describing the camps owned by the Steele family in Labrador. But “as someone once said, Harry didn’t fish for salmon as much as he fished for business.”
Langan said Steele would often bring notable guests to the camps to fish with him, including United States President George HW Bush.
According to Langan, Steele attracted such high-profile guests because he stood behind the public eye.
“Harry was a charming, down-to-earth person, but tough.”
In a tweet on Saturday, Prime Minister Andrew Furey said Steele’s death “is a sad day for our province. Few have shaped the fabric of NL like Harry Steele.”
Furey said his thoughts are with Steele’s family “at this difficult time.”
Langan said Steele “was very close to his family” and will be remembered as “an important business figure in Atlantic Canada.”
“He was a man of the people. He came from very humble beginnings and he made a huge success of himself. And he never forgot who he was. Never. Harry Steele was always a down-to-earth straight shooter,” he said.
Langan said Steele will be remembered as one of the great businessmen of Atlantic Canada and his legacy shows “that people from Atlantic Canada and especially Newfoundland can have no problem being successful.”
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