John Frederick Simonds was born in Saint John in 1930. He was the son of Frederick and Peggy Breen. His ancestry can be traced back to James Simonds, a businessman who arrived from Massachusetts in 1762 and, in partnership with William Hazen, set-up a business at Portland Point, trading in fish, fur, lime and lumber.
Simonds was educated in the Saint John public school system, where he was an active member of the City Coronet Band. He also participated in the Naval Reserve. He went to work at the local sugar refinery and soon became involved in the Sugar Refinery Workers Union No. 20 (TLC). Before long he was being recognized for his organizational skills and as a tireless and committed union officer. He was elected the Business Agent of the Sugar Workers and in 1955 led the union through a difficult three week strike. In 1957, he was hired by the Bakery and Confectionery Workers, International Union, as their Atlantic representative. In 1960, he was elected a vice-president of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), representing the Atlantic Provinces.
Simonds’ position as the Atlantic Representative for the Bakery and Confectionery Workers and his responsibilities as the vice-president of the CLC required extensive travelling throughout the Atlantic Provinces. However, he still found time to do volunteer work within the community. For example, he was the Chairman of the committee that organized the 1960 and 1961 Labour Day parades in the city.
In 1967, he was recruited by the CLC and moved to Ottawa to become their National Director of Organization. In 1969, he was assigned to the job of Director of International Affairs, which required a considerable amount of international travel. In 1972, he became the executive secretary to the CLC president and continued in that position until 1980, serving three different CLC presidents.
Simonds was known for his organizational skills and preferred to work in the background. However, he was a good communicator and when he found himself in the public eye he could compete with the best of them. In 1976, the CLC decided to organize a one-day national strike on October 14th, to protest the Trudeau government’s wage control program. The CLC appointed Simonds as the national co-ordinator for the event. This propelled him into the spotlight, as he was required to travel coast to coast on a speaking tour. The threat of a national strike became so newsworthy that he was a guest on the popular CBC television program, “Front Page Challenge.”
When October 14th came around, over one million workers stayed off the job, making it the largest organized labour protest in the history of the Canadian labour movement. This remarkable achievement was in no small part a result of the tireless effort and excellent organizing skills of John Simonds.
In 1980, Simonds left the CLC to take a position with the International Labour Organization (ILO) in Geneva, Switzerland. His talents were soon recognized and he was moved into a number of leadership positions, culminating with his appointment as the Director of the Workers Relations Branch (ILO).
Upon his retirement, in 1991, Simonds and his wife Barbara chose Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, as their new home. It wasn’t long before he was immersed in the community, using his unique talents to serve others. He became a director of the South Shore Drug Dependency Program, holding several positions, including chairman of the Lighthouse Fall Classic Golf Tournament in support of the “Foundation for Youth Program.” He, also, sat on the board of Harbour View Haven.
In 1994, Simonds got involved in municipal politics, but not before spending a year attending council meetings as a means of bringing himself up to date on town affairs. As a councillor he served on numerous boards and commissions, including the Lunenburg Police Commission, which he headed, leading the negotiations to a successful amalgamation with the Mahone Bay force. He was serving his second term as a councillor at the time of his death. Although he had lived in Lunenburg for less than ten years, he had made a permanent mark on the town.
When he passed away on March 4, 2000, Lunenburg Mayor Laurence Mawhinney stated, “At a time in life when many could easily have chosen to take things easier he opted to become more fully involved. His dedication to the causes in which he believed and to which he devoted so much of his time and energy has touched many lives.”
Deputy Mayor, David Dauphinee, said that the councillor would be sorely missed. “He was a man who didn’t want any glory,” stated Dauphinee, and “he always wanted to do good for people, but he didn’t want a pat on the back for it. He was someone who could look at both sides of the page and though he might hold a strong opinion on a subject, he would always listen to the other side. When he spoke, I listened, because you always got something out of it.”
John Simonds was survived by his wife, the former Barbara Cooke, three daughters and two sons. His remains rest in St. Joseph’s Cemetery, in East Saint John.