As the story goes, my dad always wanted to operate a plant.
“I remember riding in the family car through the Chemical Valley,” he tells me. “When I was about 10, this octagon building appeared just off Vidal Street. I was told that from that building, they ran an entire plant. From then on, that’s what I wanted to do – I wanted to run a plant.”
It was Imperial Oil’s new control room, circa 1960.
A decade later, he graduated from Lambton College’s Chemical Technology program at age 21. That same year, a brand new fractionation plant was being built at the old Milliken Farm at Plank and McGregor Roads in Sarnia. The site was a first-time experiment in shipping NGLs (Natural Gas Liquids) through a crude oil pipeline – something that had never been tried before.
Dome Petroleum Ltd. went on stream in 1970 and my dad was hired on as a lead operator that same year.
He’s been there ever since.
Growing up, my sisters and I took turns hopping in the truck after supper, joining dad for a few hours on his night shift at ‘the propane factory’ as we called it. We’d swing around in the giant control room chairs and ride bicycles through the refinery (absurdly impossible by today’s security standards). He was also a first responder to rail, tank car and transport emergencies involving LPGs (Liquefied Petroleum Gas) across southern Ontario, as part of the LPG Emergency Response Corp. Most of these calls came in the wee hours of the night.
The plant has changed ownership over the years from Dome, Amoco, and BP to present-day Plains Midstream Canada. My dad is the last remaining employee who was there when it was built 45 years ago.
“I know the place pretty good,” he says. “I’m the old guy with all the experience.”
He’s finally retiring this month at age 66.
“People have always asked why I’m still working,” he says, pointing to 45 years of 12-hour shifts, both days and nights, and the unending support of his wife – a lab technologist-turned-stay-at-home-mom to four kids.
“I’ve always loved my job; it never seemed like ‘work’ for me.”
The men and women at the helm of Sarnia-Lambton’s plants and refineries are among the hardest workers you’ll find anywhere. Not to mention the supportive families who too endure the long hours, the shutdowns, and the emergencies.
Do what you love, for as long as you can. And come home safe.
Congratulations, Owen Hagan, on your retirement.
From your biggest fan.
Tara Jeffrey is a contributing writer at The Journal, a full-time mom, and the youngest daughter of Owen and Carol Hagan of Corunna.