James Brown takes workers’ safety seriously and mandates on Oct. 20, that proper safety equipment keeps workers safe. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)

James Brown takes workers’ safety seriously and mandates on Oct. 20, that proper safety equipment keeps workers safe. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)

Heart of our City – James Brown has a heart for safety

The Port Edward councillor says he is the guardian of the district keeping it tidy

James Brown is a man with many hats — hard hats. As a safety officer, first aid instructor, and advocate for workers’ protection, he said he was mentored into the field early in his career when he learned about policy, procedures and safety. He realized teaching safety was a way to protect people and workers.

After a job loss when the pulp mill closed, he fell back on his health and safety experience to move forward.

“A lot of job opportunities opened up in the Northeast in the oil and gas sector where I ended up getting more experience,” he said.

As well as being part of the fireteam and emergency rescue team when the pulp mill was open, he was also a volunteer firefighter at the Port Edward station.

“I like being part of a team, learning the policies and saving people,” he said.

Saving people started when he was just a young man, around the age of 20. He and his brother, Jason, came across a house fire, where a senior lady and physically challenged girl were trapped on the balcony.

With time being of the essence, waiting for a volunteer fire department to arrive, the lads ran to find a ladder. Putting the lives of the victims ahead of themselves, they waded through thick smoke to assist the two females down the ladder to safety.

A while later, when James and his friends were out playing soccer in the Port Edward field, the fire chief recognized him and called him over.

“He said, you guys did pretty good. How about joining the fire department? From there on, I was trained, and I joined the fire department”.

“I knew I would be O.K. at it. I knew I could be a first aider because I wasn’t queazy,” he said.

Growing up in Port Edward, he said he spent his early days hanging around the canneries and working on fishing boats. He said that’s where he became used to blood and gore from gutting and prepping fish.

He donned his firefighter’s hat for 12 years before having to hang it up when he became a municipal councillor for the district of Port Ed. Due to a conflict of interest, he was no longer at arm’s length as a councillor dealing with the municipal budgets. He adorned his head with a politician’s hat instead.

When asked which job he feels benefit the community more, James said being a councillor.

“We’ve made a lot of decisions over time. We went to lobby all levels of government about a lot of issues. We have been able to speak to the ministers and the premier about issues in Port Edward. I feel like we’ve accomplished a lot over time.”

It’s been a 22-year council career for James, with just one term away when his employment took him away from the North Coast. During that time, his most proud moment as a councillor was assisting in silencing the CN trains running through the town, blasting horns and whistles.

“We [councillors and the district] did everything they asked us to do. We invested so much into the railway crossing and the fencing, but it wasn’t good enough for them because they decided to twin the rail lines into the community.”

He said that the issue ran like a roller coaster with CN and the district for more than 10 years. It was “pretty satisfying” when the noise was finally remedied.

However, wearing his councillor hat, crowned with a safety hat on top, he is concerned about the district’s future and rail safety issues.

“That’s another thing that really worries me about the future — the safety of our community with that rail line is going to get busier with all the hazardous material that is going to be going through our community. This is why you got to keep asking these questions about the emergency response plans.”

Togetherness and closeness of community are essential to Brown, who was raised by his grandmother.

“I’m the son of a survivor. My mother is a residential school survivor. I’ve seen the hurt that she went through. I’m proud to be a Nisga’a on Port Edward council. I love my job as a councillor. I like to protect my community because Port Edward is an impactful community.”

Housing is also an area of concern for James, who realizes that more affordable housing is needed in the community.

“I’d like to see people move to Port Edward. It is unfortunate how things are right now,” he said, which is a contrast to his growing up when the population and businesses of Prince Rupert were booming.

Port Edward was at a population peak of near 1,200, he said. He and a whole gang of his friends would congregate playing sports or ride the bus from Port Ed. to Rupert to hang out.

“After the cannery shut down and all the other canneries moved, the decline started … I think it was the early 80s. I miss those days,” he said, adding that he had relatives who worked in all of the canneries, and he would go and visit them while they worked.

In the 1990s, he was very active with the Port Edward youth, wearing a sports hat, supervising drop-in activities at the local gymnasium facilities.

“The kids would drop in, and I would teach the basics of soccer, hockey, basketball, whatever they wanted to play. There is nothing like that now,” he said. “There was such a decline. We could bring it back if we had affordable housing and families came back.”

He sees himself as the guardian of the district, often driving around ensuring there is no illegal dumping, if there is, he said he stops to clean it up to make sure things are as they should be.

“I listen to the community. I like to listen to people, and I always have an open-door policy … I do try to keep in contact with people and try my best to answer or address concerns,” he said.

Of the Wilps Gwisk’aayn house and White Grizzly Bear clan from Git Gingolx, James said, “My Nisga’a name is Sayut Luu Hilt. It means ‘gathering of the people’. I was given that name because they know the role I play,” explaining that he was given the name later in life and is being groomed by his uncles and cousins in Ayuuk law — the culture and traditions of the Nisga’a because he was raised “off reserve.”

Ayuuk traditions have helped James and his family most recently with the profound loss of one of his brothers.

“Losing my brother was the hardest thing to ever experience,” he said. The Ayuuk culture has given him comfort, healing, and the support of community, which he is deeply thankful for.

READ MORE: Heart of our City: Tiffany Hutchings

READ MORE: Heart of our city: Chad Cooper


James Brown, Oct. 20, is an advocate of health and safety, as well as a municipal councillor keeping an eye out on the environmental state of Port Edward. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)

James Brown, Oct. 20, is an advocate of health and safety, as well as a municipal councillor keeping an eye out on the environmental state of Port Edward. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)