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Vol 38  No 15
June 8, 2006


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Oration honouring Gary Bruce

Dr. Gary Bruce (L) with university orator Dr. Donald McKay.

Canada’s oil industry began in Newfoundland and Labrador, where, in the 16th century, oil was pulled from the sea in whales that were flensed for their blubber. In coastal Labrador, the blubber was “refined,” stored and shipped away in what were then the largest vessels crossing the Atlantic Ocean. Unwittingly, the Basque whalers presaged by 500 years today’s offshore industry where oil is extracted from the sea floor, processed, stored and then shipped away in enormous tankers. Notwithstanding this historic link to oil, the entire modern petroleum industry traces it roots to Eastern Canada, too. In the mid-1800’s, the Nova Scotian, Abraham Gesner, extracted kerosene from oil-bearing shale thus spawning an industry that has transformed the way we live.

Like Gesner, another Nova Scotian has earned a place in the annals of petroleum history. In 1968, oil enticed young Gary Bruce to exchange his east coast home for the muskeg of northern Alberta. There he flourished in the oil industry, acquiring major responsibilities for the management of mineable oil sands, the development of frontier resources and overseeing his company’s research and development programme. Some years later and through the vagaries of corporate divestments and acquisitions, Mr. Bruce joined Petro-Canada. In 1997 he was transferred to St. John’s. As vice-president for Offshore Development and Operations, Gary Bruce had major responsibilities managing Petro-Canada’s interests in the start-up of Hibernia, but it was the emerging Terra Nova oil project that demanded much of his time and leadership.

The North Atlantic can be a cruel host; serving up “perfect storms” with towering waves and gale force winds or at other times providing a nasty drink topped with impenetrable fog or chilled by gargantuan icebergs. Gary Bruce and his team were determined to overcome the challenges of the inhospitable North Atlantic. They developed new technologies and devised ingenious strategies to enable the deployment of the first harsh environment floating production storage and offloading (FPSO) vessel in North America. The Terra Nova FPSO started oil production in January of 2002. In 2003, the Engineering Institute of Canada recognized his career achievements in the oil industry and awarded Gary Bruce the Julian C. Smith Medal for outstanding contribution to Canada’s development.

Gary Bruce’s open business approach and ability to speak to the issues did much to build the credibility and success of the oil industry in our province. His hard work, however, was not restricted to the “oil patch.” Mr. Bruce was committed to the community. He immersed himself in numerous volunteer boards and worked to ensure that the oil industry contributed to many local organizations devoted to the spirit and health of our people.

For such a dedicated person, finding time for the enormous responsibilities of work and his many civic obligations posed a challenge. One solution was to extend the working day. As board chairperson for the Centre for Cold Ocean Resource Engineering, now C-CORE, he started meetings early. To this day, their standard breakfast fare of ham and eggs is known as the “Gary Bruce Breakfast.”

Added to local demands was the need for regular air travel. Gary Bruce was often “on the go” and his mind could be a bit preoccupied. Once, he was running very late to catch a plane. Fearful of missing the flight, he stopped his car in front of the departure door and ran inside to the check-in. Fortunately he made it on time; went through security, onto the aircraft and into his seat. When the flight was underway he remembered that his car was still running in front of the airport. He immediately telephoned his son and told him not to ask any questions, just go to the airport, pick up the car and take it home.

Vice-Chancellor, standing before you today is a man who, though retired, continues to serve on corporate boards here and in his native Nova Scotia. Although still busy, quick jaunts to the golf course and favourite fishing holes have replaced some of his harried trips to the airport. In recognition of the executive who led the Terra Nova team and the man who contributed so much to the development of this province, I present for the degree of doctor of laws, honoris causa, Gary C. Bruce.

Dr. Donald W. McKay
University orator

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