Meet the mavericks

Clarenville has produced more than its share of innovative business leaders

Published on March 29, 2014
Bob Fewer has interests in funeral homes, fishing enterprises and real estate in Clarenville and across eastern Newfoundland. He was inducted into the Clarenville Area Chamber of Commerce Business Hall of Fame in 2012. — Packet file photo

With a population of just under 6,000, Clarenville is a small town by some standards. Still, it’s a rising star among the hub communities that dot the Trans-Canada Highway between Port au Basques and St. John’s.

The population of Clarenville has grown steadily, and those living in smaller towns nearby have come to rely on it as a retail and service centre. Over the decades, several business-minded people have seen the opportunities that were created from this trend and have taken steps to build successful enterprises.

The Clarenville Area Chamber of Commerce recognizes one of these pioneers each year by inducting a new member into its Business Hall of Fame.

In 2010, that man was Dr. Albert O’Mahony, now deceased, a medical doctor who got into the business of health care by purchasing and expanding a medical building to create more space for health-care specialists in Clarenville. Under his supervision, the medical centre added two physicians, a dentist, a pharmacy, a lab and X-ray services.

“Albert was indeed an entrepreneur, and the business he established contributed to the economy of this area,” Dr. Harold Crewe said during the induction ceremony. He worked alongside O’Mahony.

O’Mahony’s business became a successful enterprise, filling a growing need for medical services in the Clarenville area. During his 43-year practice, he gained respect as a businessman, a devoted physician and member of the community.

“To me, Albert was much more than Dr. O’Mahony. He was a mentor, a colleague, a comrade and very trusted friend,” said Dr. Blaine Pearce, another former colleague. “Albert O’Mahony was not just a doctor, but the doctor — the one that all of his colleagues measure ourselves by.”

Both doctors spoke of O’Mahony’s long hours with patients, the house calls he made, his community involvement and his life as a dedicated family man.

“He’d always end by saying, ‘OK, all right, fair enough’ — as if to say, leave it with me, you don’t need to remind me again; it will be done,” said Crewe.


Bob Fewer

While O’Mahony made his business providing medical care, Bob Fewer made his by getting people to it.

After graduating from high school at 15, he started studying accounting, but found it wasn’t for him and took a job with a cement company.

He saved his paycheques, not cashing them, until his company complained that it was causing them problems with bookkeeping. Fewer bought an ambulance with the money and began a company that would eventually be known as Fewer’s Ambulance Service Ltd.

Gradually, Fewer’s became the largest ambulance service in the region, expanding into Lethbridge in 1977, Port Rexton in 1980, Catalina in 1983, Bonavista in 1986 and Terrenceville in 1989.

In 1997, he invested $10,000 in a defibrillator to help take part in a study to evaluate the necessity of the technology. Fewer put up his own money for the study, which showed the need for ambulances to be outfitted with the life-saving device. As a result, the government decided to fund defibrillators for the entire province.

Fewer also got into the funeral business, establishing Fewer’s Funeral Home in 1976. Along with a group of business people, Fewer invested in funeral homes, fishing enterprises and real estate in Clarenville and across eastern Newfoundland.

By 2012, when Fewer was inducted into the hall of fame, he had control of a business empire employing approximately 200 people.

“If you’re willing to put a lot of hard work into it, go for it,” was the advice he gave to young business people at the ceremony.


Ralph Mercer

Recreation in Clarenville is linked to nature, especially the water. The late Ralph Mercer of Mercer’s Marine made success for himself catering to those with a drive to get outdoors and the money to spend on recreational vehicles.

In 1947, Mercer and his wife Ruby came to Clarenville from St. John’s, where they owned a small retail business.

They had no affiliation with Clarenville, but felt it would be a good place to build a future. At that time, Clarenville was a busy railway terminus — the spot where the main rail line branched off towards Bonavista. A lot of goods were loaded and unloaded at the Clarenville depot.

Mercer started a wholesale business with a premises on the waterfront, near what is now the Clarenville Drydock. It had a large wharf with a fully covered shed for offloading schooners.

He became a major employer in the area, operating a fleet of trucks, purchasing lumber and local products as well as supplying many stores in the Trinity and Bonavista Bay areas.

Then in 1955 it all burned to the ground when a truck exploded in his warehouse basement.

A year after the waterfront fire, one of his vessels, the Margaret B Tanner, sprung a leak and sank with a full load of coal.

With no insurance and a bank loan to repay, Mercer found new ways to make money. He became a travelling salesman throughout the province and began raising chickens.

Always an innovator, Mercer imported hens from Peru that laid blue eggs. He raised chicks and also kept Cheviot sheep. Mercer operated the poultry farm until the mid-1960s.

In 1957, Ralph and Ruby decided to build a store connected to their house to sell novelties, souvenirs, groceries and other items. That business, Mercer’s Variety Store, would eventually grow to become Mercer’s Marine.

Today, Mercer’s Marine sells boating accessories, commercial fishing gear, clothing, housewares and camping equipment.

Mercer died in 1995, and was inducted posthumously into the hall of fame in 2011. His son, Phillip, recalled how his father’s sheer determination created his success.

“It took him 11 years to pay off that bank loan, but he paid it back, every penny,” he said. “And he tried his hand at everything.”