Heart of our City: Joe Paolinelli marches to his own drum
Joe Paolinelli’s life would have taken a much different path were it not for a family tragedy that put the young man in position of increased responsibility.
Although most will recognize Joe as a life-long Rupertite, he was actually born in Italy and came to the North Coast at the age of four.
“My father came over here looking for a job to build a house in Italy and he realized it was going to take a while so he brought the rest of the family over. Four more kids were born here and there were four from Italy so he had the whole family here with eight kids,” Joe said.
“With eight kids you’re not going to save a lot of money, especially with our family as we were always involved in baseball, soccer, other sports and cubs and scouts.”
Unlike some pending graduates, Joe had some concrete plans for his post-high school life. But fate had different plans that would put those of his own to rest and affect the young family forever.
“I had already put an application in to join the RCMP or into the army because I wanted to leave Rupert. I had three plans, those were two of them, and the other was to leave with my older brother. He was going to go to Saskatchewan to work and I was going to go with him,” recalls Joe.
“When I was just finishing school my older brother passed away in a hunting accident ... when he died, everything changed. I was the oldest kid at home at that time so I stayed home and I was helping raise the family. I was helping my mom and dad with finances, not the disciplinary stuff, that was their job. I just helped bring in the cash.”
With six siblings to help care for, Joe turned to the high-paying pulp mill jobs to be found on Watson Island. With no trades training or post-secondary he was hired for manual labour, but one day Joe realized this work was simply not for him.
“I was sweating like crazy doing my job this one time and one of my best friends came up to me and was watching me work while he was having coffee. I was thinking, something is definitely wrong here. We’re the same age, he has a trade and I don’t have anything and I am sweating while he’s not, so it was time to get a trade,” he said.
“I decided ‘I don’t want to be a pulp mill worker’. I decided I would rather do something else. After the accident I decided that if I was going to be living in Prince Rupert I wanted a hand in my own destiny.”
Joe now had a goal: to be his own boss and run his own business. With that in mind, he quit the pulp mill, finished his pre-apprenticeship training for auto body work and completed four years working with the Ford dealership.
“At the end of four years I quit and my brother, who was a foreman at the mill at the time, quit and we opened A&G Autobody,” he said.
“1975 was a big year. I got married and opened up A&G Autobody with my brothers.”
Opening a new business in Prince Rupert was an experience unto itself as the Paolinellis found through their work with City Hall.
“They opened up this new subdivision and marketed it as serviced lots ... when we went and hired the contractor to build the building, he comes and asks where the electricity is. I went to city hall and asked where the electricity is. He said, ‘we sold you a serviced lot. All we service is water and sewer, we don’t service hydro’,” Joe said.
“So we had to bring power into the Yellowhead section and that cost us $11,000 to bring it in.”
The autobody business was a solid source of income for the brothers, so much so that in 1986 they purchased Rainbow Chrysler.
“That partnership lasted until 2002 by which time the pulp mill had gone down, the fishing had gone down, the logging had gone down and it was really tough times,” recalls Joe.
After selling the business, Joe spent time working as a medic up north and working for Mackenzie Furniture, but he once again was bitten by the entrepreneurial bug.
“I decided, again, I wasn’t going to go work for someone else. I was going to work for myself,” said the owner of Skeena Kayaking.
“I bought 16 kayaks and started renting them because the company before me had folded and the partners went their separate ways. I changed the business plan, we’re very relaxed and follow a good-neighbour policy I have always believed in. There is no percentage in fighting with people at all, so you try to get along with everyone and have fun.”
Regardless of which business he was running, Joe has never shied away from giving back to the community. He is a former president and youth exchange officer of the defunct Hecate Strait Rotary Club and spent three decades involved in youth soccer in Prince Rupert.
“The highlight of that was the Mexican exchange program we did. We brought youth teams from Mexico up to Canada and toured them throughout British Columbia. From that I ended up hosting a young girl from Mexico and today her family is like family to us,” he said.
“We kept that bridge open both ways. Now her brother is getting married in February and our family is going down for that wedding.”
But of all his work giving back to the community, there is perhaps none as special to Joe as the by-donation kayaking during the Seafest weekend.
“The kayaking at Seafest is donated to the B.C. Children’s Hospital and that is because of my grandson, who was born with cerebral palsy. The work the Shriners have done for him, I could never pay it back so if I could pay back a little community work with the Shriners and Seafest then I am all for it,” he said.
While others may be looking to warmer climates for retierment, Joe Paolinelli says Prince Rupert is in his blood for good.
“I can go downtown and drop into a restaurant or coffee shop and have coffee with anybody because I know so many people ... That social structure is very important to me,” he said.
“Rupert is my home. I’m going to die here.”