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Want to know about Brian Martin? Look at what he helped build

Vince Versace
Want to know about Brian Martin? Look at what he helped build

“Someone has to get up every morning and breathe life into a newspaper,” said Brian Martin in the opening sentence to his column for the Journal of Commerce’s (JOC) special 100th anniversary edition eight years ago.

That sentence there might not tell the average reader much about the author but for most of us in the business of journalism it does give you a tiny glimpse into who Brian Martin was…simply put, he was a gifted “newspaperman.”

Martin passed away on Aug. 30 and the legacy he left for our newspaper, the JOC, is one we can tangibly still see in B.C.’s construction industry. For 30 years Martin was synonymous with the JOC, he started his career with our publication as a reporter and moved up its ranks to editor and then publisher.

I never got to know Martin personally during my current tenure as the national editor of the JOC and The Daily Commercial News but over these last four years, with the JOC as my responsibility, I sure did learn a lot about Martin. If you’ve noticed that thus far, I have not referred to Martin by his first name of Brian, I do not want to give the impression that I personally knew him, I did not. I am leaving the first-person references to the people who knew him best, his past co-workers and friends. I think, given what I’ve learned about him, he would appreciate that. We have pulled together a collection of retrospective pieces about him written by some of our writers who worked with him, considered him a friend or interviewed him.

From my chair, here is what I can say about Martin’s legacy and what he helped build with the JOC, from the heyday of print media to the transitional shift of the early days of digital. I learned he once wrote a scathing editorial about a B.C. transportation minister which prompted the ministry to take out a full-page ad in the JOC announcing it would not advertise in it anymore. I chuckled when I learned about this because as most journalists will tell you, especially from an era I was lucky enough to begin honing my craft in, if everybody likes you then you might not be doing your job right. The fact he had the courage and wherewithal to see such an editorial through is telling of the professional he was because sometimes the truth can be messy.

Martin’s connection with the industry through the thousands of words he wrote while covering it has one particular hallmark achievement in Vancouver which is celebrated every year – the Vancouver Regional Construction Association (VRCA) Awards of Excellence. The awards celebrated their 30th year last year and they all started when Martin and the JOC noticed that general contractors in B.C. did not have any awards to recognize their achievements.

“The architectural people had their awards and the engineers had their awards. There was nothing for general contractors,” said Martin eight years ago. The awards started as a single award for a general contractor and its first winner was Dominion Construction for the MacDonald Dettwiler building in Richmond, B.C.

So, no, I cannot tell you more about Martin other than to outline some of his achievements which are ones that left an imprint on B.C. construction, particularly in the Lower Mainland. What I can tell you is this, the JOC benefitted from his stewardship and his nuanced understanding of how construction and journalism are quite similar. In his JOC 100th anniversary column he wrote the following:

“Somebody must take a blank piece of paper or a blank computer screen and turn it into a physical, living product. In that sense the Journal of Commerce is very similar to the construction industry it has served for a century. Construction takes empty, often blank pieces of land and creates working, living structures… Publishing and construction: two very different industries completely bound together for a century. If that’s not a record, nothing is.”

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