A working life story
Photo by Lauren Baron, Brant News
Brantford’s Joseph C. Rider documents Canadian canning history in new autobiography, The Way It Was.
Born on the cusp of the Great Depression and abandoned by his parents, Joseph C. Rider never let life get him down.
“Most people under those circumstances always have a feeling of abandonment,” Rider said. “You don’t really get away from it. I was very shy for many, many years. I was afraid of authority. However, being a Leo, I was ambitious. I wanted to make something of myself.”
Despite his hardships, which included the death of his guardian grandfather when he was 12 years old and living in a Hamilton orphanage, Rider made a life for himself, working his way up in the Canadian canning industry with Canadian Canners Ltd.
Now, the 85-year-old Brantford resident is giving back through his autobiography, The Way It Was: My Life Story Including a 40-year Cannery Career.
The 236-page autobiography details Rider’s life “the way it was” growing up in the Simcoe area in the 1930s and 1940s, his time working with Canadian Steamship Lines on the Great Lakes and how he met and married his wife, Marian.
The majority of the book outlines his 40-year-career, which saw him rise from assistant soup room foreman in Simcoe to travelling across Canada in management working at canneries in Dresden, Vancouver, Penticton, Hamilton, St. Catharines, Toronto and Exeter.
Over the years, Rider was responsible for canning plants that produced three to four million cases of canned goods, including fruits, vegetables and soups, each year.
“It was an exciting career, similar to a farmer waiting to plant his spring crops or a fisherman waiting to go fishing,” Rider said. “It was the anticipation of taking agricultural growers’ crops and preparing it and putting it in the cans.”
In his management position, Rider had the unfortunate task of closing down many canneries across the country, earning him the nickname “Closin’ Joe” from his employees.
In the 1900s, Canada was home to 150 canning factories, but Rider’s tenure with Canadian Canners coincided with the decline of a once-thriving industry that was slashed due to reduced sales of canned fruits and vegetables and the transition to ownership by large U.S. conglomerates.
“When I started in Simcoe in 1951, they had 50 canneries,” Rider said. “When I left 40 years later, they only had five.”
Today, none remain.
Rider’s book stands as a record of one man’s experience in the canning industry, but also offers a glimpse into how important the industry was to Canada’s agriculture and manufacturing sectors.
“Canadian Canners at one time had 1,000 growers under contract in Niagara,” Rider said. “We employed 1,500 ladies in the summer months and those jobs are now all gone. The (grape wine industry) has taken over and the peaches are now coming from China.”
With all the industry gave him, Rider said he owed it to his company and its employees to tell their story.
“It’s a sense of loyalty to the company, which to me was a great Canadian company that disappeared because of world trade and world economics and Wall Street investors,” he said.
In addition to his life story, Rider’s book is filled with photographs, maps, images of old can labels and appendices detailing the history of many Canadian canning plants.
Copies of the book cost $20 and can be purchased at Gospel Lighthouse on King George Road in Brantford, the Burford Bakery in Burford and Jo Ro Flowers in St. George.