09/06/2015 14:00 EDT | Updated 09/06/2016 01:12 EDT

Wide net cast for jurors in high-profile murder trial of Dennis Oland

The Oland family can trace its business roots in the Maritimes to the 1860s, when Susannah Oland left England and began selling a family recipe for a brown October ale from The Army and Navy Brewery in Halifax.

The family business was touched by disaster in the years that followed. Two fires destroyed the brewery and a year after the Halifax Explosion, George Oland moved the business founded by his mother to New Brunswick after one of his brothers died and another was injured.

At a hockey arena in Saint John, N.B., on Tuesday another chapter of the prominent family's history will be written when jury selection begins in the trial of Dennis Oland, who is charged with second-degree murder in the death of his father Richard.

Pete Ferguson, who runs Pete's Pub near the courthouse where Oland's trial will be held, said while discussion among his patrons about the crime has died off, interest in the case and the Oland family's reach in the community complicate jury selection.

"So many people in Saint John have connections to Moosehead Brewery or the Oland family," he said. 

As a result of interest in the case, Judge John Walsh of the Court of Queen's Bench said in February that as many as 1,500 people might be needed to find a jury of 12 people, plus alternates. In the end, 5,000 summonses were sent out to people in Saint John and Kings counties, but only about 1,000 of those are still potential jurors

They will show up Tuesday at the Harbour Station arena to receive instructions from Walsh before being split into smaller groups to attend court on Wednesday.

Richard Oland was an accomplished businessman and active community member in Saint John. He was 69 when he was found dead in his office on Canterbury Street on July 7, 2011.

The Oland family operates Moosehead Breweries, the oldest independently owned brewery in Canada. Richard Oland worked in the family business until 1981 when he went to work in the trucking business and served as a director of a number of firms including candy-makers Ganong Bros.

Gordon Pitts, author of "Codfathers: Lessons from the Atlantic Business Elite," said the Oland family has changed with the times and grown their business to a global operation.

"They are one of the oldest families in the Maritimes in terms of being in the same business for 150 years or so ... and they have survived in an industry that has seen huge change," Pitts said.

And while the business has attracted attention, the family has avoided scandal.

"They are respected, and no matter what the outcome of the trial that will remain the same," said Pitts.

"They have strong family loyalty and I think a lot of people across the country will admire that."

Derek Oland, executive chairman of Moosehead Breweries and Richard's brother, issued a statement last December saying the family stands behind Dennis Oland.

"We will continue to support him and his family members throughout the upcoming legal proceedings," he wrote.

Dennis Oland, 46, was arrested two years after his father's murder. He was ordered in December to stand trial following a preliminary hearing that lasted 37 days and heard from 42 witnesses.

With 65 days set aside for the trial, Prof. Nicole O'Byrne of the University of New Brunswick's law school says it is the longest scheduled criminal trial in the province's history.

"Since the crime occurred four years ago, investigators have been putting the case together bit by bit, so there may be lots of bits for the prosecutors to put together as a story," she said.


Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press