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Published June 22, 2024

Billionaire businessman James K. Irving dead at 96

By Canadian Press Staff
James Irving - CP
The Irving brothers, from left, John, James and Arthur are seen Nov. 7, 1987. Businessman James K. Irving has died at the age of 96. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Scott Perry

The family of Canadian billionaire businessman James K. Irving has announced his death at the age of 96, just over a month after the death of his younger brother, Arthur.

Along with late brother John, they were sons of New Brunswick industrialist K.C. Irving and were among Canada's richest people. John Irving, known as Jack, died in 2010.

James Irving was the chairman of the privately owned J.D. Irving, based in Saint John, N.B., a conglomerate with interests spanning manufacturing, infrastructure, shipbuilding and agriculture. Its website says it was founded in 1882 and operates in Canada and the United States.

The Irving family said in a statement that James Irving, who was known as J.K., died peacefully on Friday in Saint John. 

He is survived by his four children with wife Jean Irving, who died in 2019. He also had 14 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren. 

The statement, which was posted to his company's website, said funeral arrangements will be announced at a later time.

Forbes Magazine this year listed James Irving as being worth $5.9 billion, while Arthur Irving was said to have been worth $6.3 billion, making him Canada's 10th richest person.

In the 1980s and '90s, the three Irving brothers' business life and interests were tightly wound as they took primary responsibility for different segments of the interwoven business empire their father had created. 

The trucking firms ran on the companies' refined gasoline, the forestry and shipping interests used the Irvings' construction subsidiaries, and a chain of newspapers purchased the newsprint from a nearby factory.

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In late 2009, the three Irving brothers separated their business interests.

The J.D. Irving website says James Irving pioneered its reforestation and tree improvement programs in 1957 and, since then, the company has planted more than a billion trees.

In 1996, his contributions as a business and community leader in New Brunswick were recognized when he was inducted as an Officer of the Order of Canada.

In 2008, he became a Member of the Order of New Brunswick and the Canadian Business Hall of Fame.

In 2015, he was inducted as a Member of the Order of Canada. A post to the Governor General of Canada's website called him an "outstanding business and community leader." 

It said his company had strengthened the economy in the Maritimes "by creating opportunities for sustainable employment," and recognized his philanthropy in various business, nature conservation, health care and educational organizations.

Saint John Mayor Donna Noade Reardon took to social media platform X on Friday to issue condolences to the family.

"Throughout his life, J.K. made substantial contributions to the City of Saint John," she said in her post. "His efforts touched many lives, from his leadership in the business community to his environmental initiatives and dedication to youth."

The city's former mayor, Don Darling, also issued a statement on X, saying Irving's legacy would be remembered.

"Few words can capture the immense contribution his family has made," said Darling, who was mayor from 2016 to 2021. "My heartfelt condolences to the Irving family, employees, and friends during this difficult time."

Premier Blaine Higgs says Irving left "an indelible mark" on New Brunswick and leaves behind an enduring legacy.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is also paying tribute to Irving, saying he was a "symbol of Canadian entrepreneurship and philanthropy."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 21, 2024.

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