Richard Oland was a prominent entrepreneur, a world-class sailor and a passionate philanthropist. But more than that, he was an Oland – the scion of a family dynasty whose name has been synonymous with beer in the Maritimes since the days of Confederation.
On Tuesday, just a few days after Mr. Oland died under what police describe as suspicious circumstances, hundreds of people gathered to attend his funeral outside Saint John.
Compounding the grief were disturbing suggestions that Mr. Oland had not only been murdered – but killed, according to one report, in his office with an axe.
The speculation bewildered and angered members of the community.
Mayor Ivan Court, who knew Mr. Oland personally and attended the service, said he had not spoken to police about the investigation and could not comment on it. But he added that it was distressing to imagine someone perpetrating such violence.
“That makes it worse,” he said. “What would drive somebody to do that to another human being?”
Mr. Court said the city lowered the flags on municipal buildings in honour of Mr. Oland, who was known by his nickname, Dick. Outside the office where the 69-year-old was found Thursday, a small shrine was established, with flowers and a sign for people to record their remembrances. And another business nearby had a simple notice saying that they would be closed Tuesday to attend the funeral.
“He wanted to give back to the community, and he got that from his father,” long-time friend Pat Darrah, who gave the eulogy at Mr. Oland’s funeral, said Tuesday afternoon.
Locals already stunned by the slaying, about which police have said little, were aghast at the grisly report of Mr. Oland’s death.
“I was shocked,” said resident Will Hart. “Usually they use guns. You don’t see any axe victims in the city.”
Saint John Police and a lawyer for the Oland family would not comment on the report, which was published by the Toronto Star.
Mr. Darrah said it was beneath consideration.
“I don’t think anybody knows,” he said. “It’s just gossip and I don’t think it’s worth commenting on.”
Mr. Oland, who left Moosehead in the early 1980s, played a number of key roles in the Saint John area, including as director of the local United Way and president of the Canada Games hosted here in 1985. He was lauded as a local driving force and residents showed their grief in ways official and unofficial.
Mr. Oland was found Thursday morning at the office of his investment firm in the historic centre of the city. Police quickly called the death suspicious, which fuelled speculation in the community. On Monday, police revealed that they were investigating the case as a homicide.
“It’s not bad enough that he passed away suddenly but under such circumstances. The family is just devastated,” said a cousin, John Oland. “There’s all kinds of rumours flying around and none of us know any more than anybody else, to tell you the truth. … I can’t even speculate who would do something like they’ve done.”
John Risley, co-founder of Clearwater Fine Foods, served with Mr. Oland on the board of directors at the Ganong Bros. chocolate company in the 1990s.
“He was a very honourable kind of guy,” Mr. Risley said, adding that he couldn’t imagine Mr. Oland would be associated with nefarious people or have enemies who would kill him.
Hundreds attended the midday funeral, held at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Roman Catholic Church in Rothesay, N.B., just 200 metres from Mr. Oland’s home.
They came to pay tribute to a philanthropist, yachtsman, entrepreneur and officer of the Order of Canada.
Mr. Oland left the family empire in 1981 and went into the trucking and shipbuilding industries. He sat on corporate boards and became a world-class sailing competitor with his boat, Vela Veloce.
“He’s a very driven man. He had a great sense of humour, he had a tremendous zest for life. He was the hardest-working guy I know,” said his cousin, John Oland.
Mr. Oland’s more recent ventures were as chairman of Kingshurst Estates Ltd., a woodlot and property-rental company, and Far End Corp., an investment holding company.
It was at the Far End office, the investment firm over which he presided, that his body was discovered early Thursday. He had been at the office the day before. It wasn’t a random slaying, said Police Chief Bill Reid, who has 15 investigators working on the case.
“I would suggest to you that at the end of this investigation we’ll find that the perpetrator and the victim knew each other,” Chief Reid told reporters Monday. “There was an acquaintance there.”
With reports from Paul Waldie and Tu Thanh Ha in Toronto
To contact the author of this article, e-mail omoore[at]globeandmail.com