Douglas Barwick celebrates 50 years in Brockville; honours longest-serving employee

A manufacturing company in Brockville hit a milestone on California Avenue on Thursday, and it includes one person who has been there since the beginning.

Stainless steel pipe and fitting manufacturer Douglas Barwick celebrated 50 years in the city, opening their doors at 150 California Ave. back in 1971.

"50 years is a big deal for us," said Darko Petrovic, DB Piping Group President. "It's pretty impressive, they have adapted to different kinds of markets and it's a great celebration for us today."

The plant employs around 60 people and they were treated to group games and a catered lunch on the south lawn to celebrate the occasion.

"We have a day off, if we can call it like that," Petrovic smiled. "It's important in a business like this; it's very easy to get into the work every single day. It's really important to get out of that work, not talk about any pipes or fittings during the day but just enjoy the day and have some fun."

Many of the employees have worked at the plant for decades, but only one can say he's been here since the beginning.

"I turned 19 a couple weeks after I started in May of 71," said plant manager John Jonkman, who started in the shipping department and has watched the facility grow over the years.

"It's been a pretty good ride, I've enjoyed myself here," Jonkman said. "We're still doing well, (the) company has changed over the years, we've invested in some new equipment and a lot of expansion, we've probably tripled our size since '71, so we have more floor capacity than we have in the past and we're hoping for a better future."

The company unveiled a special 50-year plaque along the southern wall, with Jonkman doing the honours.

The original building, also received a new name on Thursday, with the company honouring its longest-serving employee. It will now be known as the John Jonkman Pipe Shop.

"It's quite an honour to get a plaque like that, it was very unexpected," said Jonkman, with his family on hand for the surprise.

Petrovic, along with other dignitaries like MPP Steve Clark and Brockville Mayor Jason Baker, also congratulated Jonkman on his achievement

"It's pretty impressive," Petrovic said. "I don't know any other companies that can say they have had someone working for them for 50 years."

Jonkman says the company's success is a result of the great team atmosphere in the plant.

"It's a team. The team makes our success," Jonkman said. "We have a good group of people on the floor and in the office and we all work as a group and we're successful because of that."

"I've been here for only five months but I've been already impressed by the team we have," added Petrovic. "I'm impressed by the experience we have here and the energy I feel every time I come to visit this site, so we're really proud."

Former owner of the plant, Cecil Hawkins was also on hand Thursday. He is now chairman of Canerector Inc., the holding company for Douglas Barwick, and his daughter is the current owner.

"I don't think we appreciate how important family businesses, particularity in manufacturing, are to the Canadian economy," he said.

"Canadians realize now with the advent of COVID how important it is to have manufacturing in Canada," Hawkins said. "I think one of the key features here is the work ethic of the local people and the relative inexpensive infrastructure compared with Toronto and Montreal."

"It's a wonderful town for manufacturing, I'm just so proud of the staff here and everything they've done to create this marvellous business," he added.

Douglas Barwick is the largest stainless steel pipe manufacturer in Canada, and supplies items for the water treatment industry and pulp and paper industry.

The company head office is in Montreal, and it has two other production facilities in Florida and Maine.

The Brockville plant can produce stainless steel pipe up to 96 inches in diameter.

"Fifty, 100, 150 years, there is no ceiling for us, "Petrovic said, "I think we have a great team here, we're at the great location, Brockville has been good for us and we want to stay in this community for a long time."

"Our industry will survive," Jonkman said. "We've had our ups and downs, COVID has definitely impacted our business in some negative reasons but we are coming out of it now, our sales desk is getting a little bit more busy so I believe it will be quite successful over the coming years."

His advice for high schoolers or other people looking for career changes - get into the trades.

"Finding skilled people is definitely difficult, we are somewhat special because we're a mechanical sheer press operation and a lot of welding," Jonkman said. "It's a house taught skill, finding skilled labour is difficult and we're always looking for good people."

"I believe the trades are the way to go today. There's good jobs in the trade industry and lots of work out there for people want it," he added.

Jonkman will retire next may, a day after his 70th birthday, not sure what he'll do next.

"I'm working on that," he said jokingly. "I'll keep myself busy around the house and find something to do for sure."

He said Thursday was all about Douglas Barwick, and celebrating that milestone with his work family.

"Unfortunately, no liqour today, so try and keep the guys as happy as we can without the booze," he said with a laugh.