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Health scare leads to new business for Collingwood couple

People of Collingwood: George Irwin, businessman and co-proprietor of Trebor RX
2020-10-30 POCIrwin JO-001
George Irwin, co-owner of Trebor RX in Collingwood. Contributed image

After a Collingwood couple contracted COVID-19 back in March, the duo were inspired to start a new business to aid in the fight against the global pandemic.

For this week’s edition of People of Collingwood we sat down with George Irwin, 70, businessman and co-proprietor of Trebor RX.

Q: For how long have you lived in Collingwood?

A: I started coming up to Collingwood when I was 12 years old on the ski train. It’s been a long time.

My wife and I started coming up regularly to Collingwood in 2010; we started on weekends.

We moved up here full-time two and a half years ago from Toronto.

Q: What about Collingwood made you want to move up and build a life here?

A: Collingwood is one of these places that provides everyone who lives here with an incredible quality of life. You don’t have the traffic, noise or crime and the stuff you see in big cities across North America.

More importantly, you get full four seasons. When you live in a city like Toronto, you have two seasons: winter and summer. It’s so great to see white snow. My wife Brenda and I are very active and we both love the outdoors. We ski, golf and ride our bikes, and what better place to do that than Collingwood?

Q: You own Irwin Toy. When did you start that business and how did you get into toys as a business?

A: The company was started in 1926 by my father and my grandfather. I started working there when I was in my early 20s.

It was in my blood.

I’m still in the business, although the toy business has taken a bit of a backseat over the past six months with COVID.

Q: From my understanding, you and Brenda came down with COVID back at the beginning of the pandemic. Can you tell me about your experience?

A: Brenda was on her way home from a toy show in Melbourne, Australia and flew through Vancouver. She arrived back in Collingwood on March 6.

She has elderly parents living in Collingwood so as a precaution, we opted to self-isolate. We were well aware of what has happened in China and Hong Kong because we have two kids who live over there.

We didn’t have any clue how quickly it was going to develop in North America, just like everybody else.

She got sick about two or three days after she got back. She was bed-ridden and had trouble breathing. I got it about three days after her, and I felt like I got run over by a truck. I couldn’t get out of bed.

We were told by Health Canada, who we immediately contacted, that we had very mild symptoms.

If we had mild symptoms, we just were really concerned about people who had more severe symptoms and full-blown COVID.

While we were recovering, we both got an email from a friend we’d known for more than 20 years. He also made toys and had converted one of his factories into making PPE back in November.

He offered to send masks if we needed.

Brenda said she thought we should do something about this, and I agreed.

I called up Norah Holder at the Collingwood General and Marine Hospital and she said yes. She put me in touch with other area hospitals who might be in need.

By the end of that day, we’d sold 440,000 masks. By the end of that week, it was more than a million and now, we’ve shipped more than 10 million all over Canada, the U.S. and internationally.

Q: This week, you’ve opened a facility in Collingwood for your business, Trebor RX. How did the business come to fruition?

A: Back in late May, the Ontario government bought masks from us for the pandemic. They asked us if we would consider opening a factory in Collingwood for PPE because the Premier had said they didn’t want to be put in that position ever again.

We said yes, we would look at it.

Brenda’s nephew, who lives in South Africa, had invented this mask called Pro+.

It’s a medical-grade recyclable mask; the equivalent of an N95 mask. It has replaceable filters, and those filters can be level 1-3. It’s reusable for 300 hours, or approximately 30 days. It cuts the cost of PPE from dollars to pennies.

We thought it was a game-changer.

We acquired the rights to make it in Canada as a joint venture on a world-wide basis.

Q: How many masks have you sold overall?

A: The masks we were selling from China, well over 10 million.

These new masks we’re manufacturing, we’re just starting to sell those now but we have orders to ship all over Canada, the U.S. and Australia for starters.

We will be ramping up to manufacture about 12,000 of the Pro Plus over the next two weeks.

When we get into later in November we’ll be making 50,000 masks per day at our temporary plant on Raglan Street.

When our full plant is finished in January 2021 – it’s in the middle of construction, but it’s on the same property as our temporary plant – that’s when we’ll get into full production of about 100,000 units per day.

Q: How many jobs has that brought to Collingwood?

A: We are currently at 15 employees. We believe when we’re fully up and running in January, we’ll be closer to 80 or 100 jobs.

Q: Seventy might be the time in life when some may be considering retirement, but now you’ve started a whole new business. Do you have any plans to slow down?

A: I say this for both Brenda and myself, we have a bunch of really great people working for us who are much younger. (laughs) They are taking over more and more of the responsibility, which is great because then Brenda and I can step back.

We’re very lucky, and we’ve got some great people.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like people in Collingwood to know about you?

A: When we went into this business, we never thought we’d be making product in Collingwood. The reason we did it was, we wanted to get product to the front-line workers here to prevent them from going through what we went through.

We’re making it in Collingwood and we’re very proud that it’s Canadian-made.

We want to make sure that those who need PPE are able to afford it, and get it on a timely basis.

For our feature People of Collingwood, we’ll be speaking with interesting people who are either from or are contributing to the Collingwood community in some way, letting them tell their own stories in their own words. This feature will run on CollingwoodToday every Saturday. If you’d like to nominate or suggest someone to be featured in People of Collingwood, email [email protected].

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Jessica Owen

About the Author: Jessica Owen

Jessica Owen brings 14 years of experience to her role as reporter for Village Media, primarily covering Collingwood and education.
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