Port de Grave har­bour su­per­vi­sor lands na­tional award


Bill Ralph, the Port de Grave har­bour su­per­vi­sor, has a spec­tac­u­lar view from his of­fice in the cor­ner of the Har­bour Au­thor­ity build­ing, on a hill in the port over­look­ing the har­bour.

Through large win­dows on ad­join­ing walls in his cor­ner of­fice of the build­ing, he can see the har­bour on his left-hand side and Con­cep­tion Bay on his right.

And on a shelf across from his desk, he has a view of his Na­tional Har­bour Au­thor­ity achieve­ment award, an award given by na­tional gov­ern­ing body Small Craft Har­bours, a na­tional pro­gram op­er­ated by the fed­eral Depart­ment of Fisheries and Oceans, to some­one in each of five re­gions across Canada. The recog­ni­tion pro­gram is in only its sec­ond year of ex­is­tence.

And af­ter next week, he’ll have a view of an even big­ger award: the Prix d’Ex­cel­lence, awarded to one of the five re­gional win­ners. Ralph is head­ing to Ottawa for an awards’ cer­e­mony next week.

Ralph said he was pleased by the re­gional in­di­vid­ual award and sur­prised by the Prix d’Ex­cel­lence,

be­cause a har­bour su­per­vi­sor from New­found­land won the Prix d’Ex­cel­lence last year and he didn’t think there’d be win­ners from the same re­gion two years in a row.

“ No one ever thought that New­found­land would take the sec­ond con­sec­u­tive year with this par­tic­u­lar award, na­tion­ally,” he said. “So it speaks good of the pro­gram and that for New­found­land and Labrador.”

Ralph said he was one of seven nom­i­nees for the re­gional award, which was given out late last month at a cer­e­mony in Gan­der, which is where he also learned that he was the win­ner of the na­tional award.

Ralph said he was pleased by the award.

“ That’s one of the most im­por­tant awards that any­one could get as far as I’m con­cerned at this par­tic­u­lar po­si­tion,” he said.

As the su­per­vi­sor, Ralph is re­spon­si­ble for main­tain­ing the Port de Grave Har­bour, which en­tails ev­ery­thing from rou­tine reg­is­tra­tions to har­bour emer­gen­cies. As such, he’s es­sen­tially on call 24 hours a day - his home phone num­ber is on his busi­ness card, which makes sense, given that for his first two years on the job, he worked out of the laun­dry room in his home.

Ralph said his job re­quires a lot of work­ing with the pub­lic, a skill he picked up work­ing at a garage in St. John’s sev­eral years ago.

“ The way the har­bour au­thor­ity sys­tem is set up, is al­most like a sep­a­rate busi­ness in it­self,” he said. “A lot of peo­ple think I’m a fed­eral gov­ern­ment em­ployee, but I’m not. The har­bour au­thor­ity com­mit­tee here is a seven-man vol­un­teer com­mit­tee. They get noth­ing out of it what­ever, only the sat­is­fac­tion of try­ing to get things done, and they hired me to rep­re­sent them and do the work of har­bour su­per­vi­sor in Port de Grave.”

Every­one who uses the har­bour - boat own­ers, com­pa­nies com­ing in to do work - pays a fee, ex­plains Ralph.

“ Th­ese fees, by the way, is what helps pay my salary,” he said. “If I don’t col­lect, I don’t get paid. But I’d be out of a job then any­way,” he adds, laugh­ing. The more boats come in to do their of­fload­ing, he says, the more fund­ing for the har­bour.

Ralph has of­fice hours, but he’s as likely to be out­side as not - this past week he was work­ing to shut down the fresh-wa­ter sys­tem in ad­vance of the com­ing win­ter. “In the run of a day, you could be clean­ing wash­rooms, an­swer­ing the phone, talk­ing to tourists, do­ing fi­nan­cial state­ments, or be­ing in a meet­ing with Small Crafts Har­bours,” he said. “It keeps me busy, there’s no doubt about that.”

Lucky for him, he en­joys it, he said - al­though he had to lay down some ground rules early on that phone calls in the mid­dle of the night had bet­ter be for emer­gen­cies only.

“First when I started, I used to get calls two, three, four o’clock in the morn­ing to get a boat moved,” he said. “Some­one was com­ing in out there and wanted a boat moved, but I had to put an end to that right away be­cause that wasn’t fair game to the peo­ple that as tied up. Wasn’t fair game to me.”

Now it’s only emer­gen­cies that he gets late-night or early-morn­ing phone calls. At the har­bour, an emer­gency could be a fire.

“ We’ve had three boat fires. Two sixty-five-foot­ers and a thirty-footer that burned,” he said. “ That’s a bad scene, there’s no doubt about that. When you get boats tied up in the win­ter­time and you get one, two, three tied to­gether, you have to take charge.”

Lessons learned from the first har­bour fire he dealt with led to the cre­ation of an emer­gency re­sponse plan.

“ We were the first har­bour au­thor­ity in New­found­land and Labrador to cre­ate our own fire emer­gency plan as a re­sult of that first fire,” he said, one that helps co­or­di­nate every­one needed to re­spond to a fire, in­clud­ing RCMP and fire­fight­ers, to whom Ralph can pro­vide his ex­per­tise of the wa­ter and the har­bour and its boats.

“ When you work in a sit­u­a­tion, you get all of this, you’re the one with first-hand knowl­edge, day in and day out, and this pro­vides more pos­i­tive in­for­ma­tion and more cor- rect in­for­ma­tion to them to make de­ci­sions,” he said. “If you’ve got a boat burn­ing, is it 10 gal­lons of fuel on it or 20,000 gal­lons? This kind of stuff.”

Ralph says when he’s away from the har­bour, it usu­ally takes him a lit­tle while to re­lax and get used to the idea that he’s not on call.

“It takes a while to un­wind and get used to know the phone’s not go­ing to ring,” he said. “It takes a few days to set­tle down. That’s one thing I find with this par­tic­u­lar job: even if I’m home on a week­end or I’m home on va­ca­tion. There’s peo­ple who are so used to know­ing where I live, if they don’t find me here at the of­fice, they’ll come to the door any­way. The only va­ca­tion time you get is, you get in the car and you head out and you go to the west coast some­where, or cen­tral New­found­land or away from it.”

But there are other perks of the job, too. The beauty of the re­gion and the view from the har­bour au­thor­ity build­ing - with a deck that wraps around on the har­bour side — draws vis­i­tors from around the world, he says.

“ We en­cour­age peo­ple to come up around here and take pic­tures from the deck there or come in and have a chat and ask ques­tions,” he said. “I’ve ended up talk­ing to peo­ple from ev­ery prov­ince in Canada, all parts of the United States. The Mid­dle East, Aus­tralia, Viet­nam, Thai­land... it’s sur­pris­ing the peo­ple that show up here and where they’re from. That’s one of the big­gest sur­prises.”

Ralph said he’s try­ing to get the prov­ince to rec­og­nize the build­ing as a tourist in­for­ma­tion cen­tre, which would pro­vide for more in­for­ma­tion pam­phlets as well as a sum­mer stu­dent to help with the tourism as­pect of the job.

“A lot of cou­ples have come to New­found­land for the first time, and I al­ways ask their ob­ser­va­tions. Is it the way you ex­pected it to be? I had one lady from Al­berta and she started to blush and said, ‘I got to be hon­est with you. I’ve talked to a lot of New­found­lan­ders, and I’ve heard New­found­land re­ferred to as ‘the Rock.’ I wasn’t ex­pect­ing any veg­e­ta­tion or any trees or any grass or any­thing like that,’” he said. “ She said, ‘ That’s why I haven’t been here be­fore.’” But now that she’s been here once, she’s go­ing to be com­ing back, he said. “And that’s the most com­mon com­ment that I get from peo­ple.”

As for the award it­self, Ralph says he’s hon­oured to be re­ceiv­ing it. “I know there’s a lot of good har­bour su­per­vi­sors across this is­land that I’m deal­ing with on a reg­u­lar ba­sis type thing,” he said. “Know­ing th­ese peo­ple, I just feel pretty hon­oured and priv­i­leged to win both awards.”

Ralph will be pre­sented with the Prix d’Ex­cel­lence in Ottawa on Nov. 24.

Bill Ralph says he’s “priv­i­leged and hon­oured” to be awarded the Prix d’Ex­cel­lence from Small Craft Har­bours, which main­tains a na­tional sys­tem of har­bours.

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