The Americans who took risks trucking produce to Canada

Canadians counted on imported fresh fruit and vegetables, and in 1983 some American truckers risked their personal safety to bring that produce north.  "There's a violent truck strike in the United States," said host Knowlton Nash on CBC's The National for Feb.

7, 1983, introducing an item about those truckers.

"But there's no shortage of fruits and vegetables in Canadian supermarkets." As reporter Michael McIvor would explain to viewers, those U.S. truckers who were taking a risk by defying the strike had a financial incentive for doing so.

Business as usual

A worker at the Ontario Food Terminal unloads a pallet of fruit from the U.S. (The National/CBC Archives)

At the Ontario Food Terminal, trucks started pulling in before dawn with loads of oranges, lettuce, and all types of produce that was grown in points south and sold in Canada.

"For the drivers that haul produce through the U.S., it was a tense journey," said McIvor. As the Associated Press reported four days earlier, a truckers' strike had "erupted into violence on the [U.S.] highways with more than 300 trucks damaged, one driver killed and 27 people injured." The strike had been called by the Independent Truckers Association in the U.S. as a protest against looming fuel tax increases and highway user fees that were still two years away.

Some of the independent truckers who were still working told CBC what they had experienced.

Anxious driving

Trucker Bill Cady said that whenever possible, he'd tried to drive without stopping on his way from Florida to Toronto. (The National/CBC Archives)

"Every time a car passes you, you're worried someone's going to shoot you or run you off the road," said Bill Cady, who was described as a "Florida trucker."  Another, Sid Schubert, said he had witnessed a fellow trucker have a brick thrown at him. But the produce kept coming, as evidenced by scenes of workers unloading colourful boxes of fruit.

And that may have been because the drivers were being paid "extra," said McIvor.

Weather effect

Harold Brown of the Wholesale Merchants Association said weather might have something to do with higher produce prices, not the strike. (The National/CBC Archives)

Produce wholesaler Sonny Goldfarb described the truckers' incentive as "nominal."  "As far as price increases right now, it's pertaining to weather," he said. His colleague Harold Brown agreed, saying any price increases in produce were mostly due to unfavourable weather in both Florida and California "over the last week or so." 

But McIvor said there was another reason the fresh fruit would keep coming, "no matter how ugly it gets on U.S. highways."

"Some of these truckers have no choice," he summed up. "They owe so much money on their rigs, they've got to keep hauling freight, no matter how great the risks."

A box of Anjou pears from Washington State is seen at the Ontario Food Terminal after coming off a truck. (The National/CBC Archives)

You may also like...