After more than 65 years of helping customers move goods, the O’Dowd brothers are moving on from the family-run customs brokerage business.
On April 22, Daniel, Neil and Ronald O’Dowd locked for the last time the doors to the company office on Boulevard Wilfrid-Hamel their father Frank had founded in 1956.
The company, which claimed to be the oldest business of its kind in Quebec City, specialized in providing services to companies and individuals who import or export goods into and from Canada, acting as the go-between with the government of Canada.
Some of Frank M. O’Dowd Inc.’s clients over the years included prominent local companies such as what is now White Birch Paper, Transport Desgagnés and SNC Technologies.
Dan O’Dowd said, “to be honest (the decision to close the business) was not that tough.” In a telephone interview, he said the pandemic situation was a factor, but most importantly, he and his brothers had reached normal retirement age and there was no relief on the horizon from younger members of the family.
Also moving on with the brothers O’Dowd are the two other employees in the company, Danielle, who started in 1977 and Marilyn, who Dan O’Dowd said worked in the office for about 25 years.
Dan O’Dowd started at the family firm in 1978 when he was 17 years old, right after graduating from Katimavik High School.
He explained that his father created the company after working for CN Rail for several years and observing how the customs business operated in a company warehouse. “The ‘gophers,’ as we called them, of various brokers that were already established in Quebec City, would show up every day to pick up the documents that they needed for customs. So eventually at some point, my father … decided well, if so- and-so can do it, so can I.”
Frank O’Dowd’s father lent him money to get started, though Dan said his grandfather had 11 children and was far from rich. He said his dad “worked very, very hard and things worked out well.”
According to the company website, “In an era when market globalization is the norm, it’s not astonishing to see a company expand its target market to the entire planet. However, what surprises some is to learn that Frank O’Dowd had already foreseen this trend.”
Frank O’Dowd retired from the company he founded in 1998, at the age of 75. He died in 2006.
Satisfied that “65 and a half years in the business is definitely something to be proud of,” Dan O’Dowd now says he looks forward to pursuing various interests in his retirement as well as addressing some health issues.
He said he will have more time, for example, to devote to working with the Irish Heritage Quebec group which promotes awareness of the Irish presence in Quebec City. O’Dowd has been involved in the St. Patrick’s parade in the city from its revival in 2009, and in 2015 was honoured as grand marshal of the parade.
O’Dowd, who turned 61 last week, said he’d also like to spend a little time at his favourite Irish watering hole, Pub Galway on Avenue Cartier.
Even though his family’s company will no longer be a player, Dan O’Dowd sees “definitely a bright future” for the shipping business in Quebec City, in that it is a very deep water port and can handle bigger ships.