Remembering Francis Gale

Brodie Thomas
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Late entrepreneur believed in local business

To hear Corinne Samms talk about her father, one gets the impression Francis Gale would not have retired even if he had lived to be 100.

Mr. Gale, a well-known Codroy Valley entrepreneur, died in August at the age of 69.

Mr. Gale was a staunch believer in supporting local business, according to Mrs. Samms. She said it didn't matter what she, her brother or her sister wanted, her father insisted they purchase it locally.

Terry Anderson presents the Business of the Year award to Francis Gale in 2007. Mr. Anderson presented the award on behalf of the Port aux Basques and Area Chamber of Commerce.

To hear Corinne Samms talk about her father, one gets the impression Francis Gale would not have retired even if he had lived to be 100.

Mr. Gale, a well-known Codroy Valley entrepreneur, died in August at the age of 69.

Mr. Gale was a staunch believer in supporting local business, according to Mrs. Samms. She said it didn't matter what she, her brother or her sister wanted, her father insisted they purchase it locally.

"He believed that if you take care of the locals, the locals will take care of you," said Mrs. Samms.

His business attitude won him many friends and admirers locally.

When the Port aux Basques and Area Chamber of Commerce held their annual Small Business Week gala dinner this year, it paid tribute to the man who had done so much for business on the southwest coast.

Gerard Cormier delivered the tribute. Mr. Cormier's business, West Valley Farm, owes its existence to the Gale family. Mr. Gale's father, Walter, sold the Cormier's two large lots of land for their dairy business in the 1960s.

According to Mr. Cormier, the lots were sold to his family at half their value. He said the Gales just wanted to see a local business prosper. West Valley Farm is now the largest dairy operation on the island.

When Walter Gale sold the lots of land, he did it to get out of beef farming. He started a small construction business, Walter J. Gale and Sons, which Mr. Gale eventually took over.

The business was a success. They began with several pieces of heavy equipment used for snow clearing and road construction.

Always an innovator, Mr. Gale looked for a way to expand his business and he found it in well drilling. It led to the creation of his most successful business, Clearwater Drilling Ltd, now known as Atlantic Drilling and Blasting Ltd.

Mr. Gale's wife of 49 years, Mamie (Mary) Gale said few people had heard of artesian wells when Mr. Gale bought his drilling rig in the mid-1970s.

They found a huge demand for artesian wells on the coast of Labrador in the 1970s and 1980s. At the time, the fishery was still booming.

Mrs. Gale went to work with her husband, cooking for him and the other employees. They lived in a camping trailer while they were away. She remembers waking early and cracking the ice off a tub of water to make tea and coffee for the workers.

The conditions were harsh on the coast, but nobody complained. Mrs. Samms ended up working for the company as well, living through the same harsh conditions for months at a time while they worked.

The innovation did not stop with well drilling. Mr. Gale's business expanded into geothermal heating. The practice involves burying pipes several feet underground. A fluid is then circulated through the pipes, which allows for the transfer of heat from the ground to a building.

Mr. Gale installed the first geothermal heating unit in Atlantic Canada at a Memorial University building in St. John's, according to his wife.

Trailblazer

According to Mr. Cormier, Mr. Gale was a trailblazer rather than a dreamer. He saw potential in new technologies before anyone else.

"You could never tell Francis it couldn't be done because he would prove you wrong in time," he said.

His business kept him busy, but when Mr. Gale did find free time, he wasn't one to sit around. Mrs. Samms said her dad liked fast sports - snowmobiling and water skiing were his two favorites.

He also enjoyed hunting geese. Mrs. Gale said her husband loved that his valley home was near the water so he could hear geese squawking in the evenings.

Even with the time he spent running his business, Mr. Gale found time to serve on local boards such as the Credit Union. HE was active with the Chambers of Commerce in Port aux Basques and Stephenville.

He also helped develop a drilling and geothermal heating course at college of the North Atlantic, which is helping train the next generation of experts in his trade.

He was a champion for causes such as the removal of development of the Laurentian Basin and the removal of Vardy's island. In a letter to the editor from September 2008, he called for to a new power route through Nova Scotia to get Labrador hydroelectric power to larger markets.

Mrs. Samms said she, her husband and her parents were planning to take a cruise to celebrate their wedding anniversaries next year. It would have been 50 years of marriage for Mr. and Mrs. Gale. Unfortunately, it wasn't meant to be. Mr. Gale succumbed to cancer before they could take the trip.

Since his death, he has been recognized by numerous trade publications. Mr. Gale was well known in the drilling industry, having served as president of the Newfoundland Groundwater Association, the Atlantic Groundwater Association, and the Canadian Groundwater Association.

His work continues. Corner Brook's new town hall will be heated by a geothermal unit currently being installed by Mr. Gale's company.

His family members can't help but smile as they recount the story of his life. They know his legacy won't soon be forgotten on this coast or across the island.

reporter@gulfnews.ca

Organizations: Area Chamber of Commerce, Clearwater Drilling, Atlantic Drilling and Blasting Credit Union Newfoundland Groundwater Association Atlantic Groundwater Association Canadian Groundwater Association

Geographic location: Port aux Basques, Codroy Valley, Labrador West Valley Atlantic Canada St. John's Stephenville North Atlantic Nova Scotia Corner Brook

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Recent comments

  • Colin Crane
    August 14, 2011 - 02:38

    To the Gale family I would like to express my deepest sympathy, I only learned this year about Francis passing, he was always a friend to me & gave me nothing only good advice from the bottom of his heart expecting nothing in return. I was the owner of East Coast Drilling Company Limited based out of Stephenville in from 1996 to 2000 & Francis was always quick to offer a helping hand. May he RIP & may God give you his family the strength to carry on. Best Regards, Colin Crane

  • Alice
    June 28, 2010 - 14:29

    Natalie, Brodie & Gulf News Staff,
    As I am now in Calgary I just finished reading this weeks news on line. I want you to compliment you on the wonderful job you did on the Tribute to Francis Gale - he was so deserving of it. I could only imagine how proud he would be. A job well done indeed! :)