When it comes to hauling goods in Northern Saskatchewan, Rick Smith has a proven track record.
“We covered central and northern Saskatchewan for the last 15 years plus. In central and northern Saskatchewan, [we hauled goods to] 150 towns plus on a weekly basis,” he said.
Smith is the man behind Red’s Transport, a family company that started in 1988. He took over years later,after his parents retired, and did some major expanding. The fleet was about five times larger by the late 90s.
“The name was out there. It turned into being a household name. That was more of my goal, it wasn’t so much financial it was more of a success story,” Smith said.
The company fluctuated in size over the years, and now focuses on hauling to a handful of far north communities in Saskatchewan.
“We kind of stopped dealing with central Saskatchewan, there were so many haulers out there. It was a very competitive, rate slashing kind of a scenario. So I kind of focused all our equipment and people in the far north,” he said.
For over 12 years, Wollaston Lake has been one of those communities. Red’s Transport became the only carrier into the area.
In the winter, the only driveable route is on an ice road, which presents major challenges for haulers.
“The actual real ice road guys are us. Barges, planes, it’s a real challenge,” he said. “Some episodes of Ice Road Truckers are realistic. That’s how we deal with stuff. Ice heaves, to slush on the ice… ice snow, storms, blizzards. Mother Nature tells us what we can do. So we learned it’s a totally different look at trucking for sure.”
Hauling lumber, vehicles, hospital supplies, furniture, groceries and more to isolated areas over the years hasn’t resulted in any loss of life or safety violations, Smith said.
But last year, he decided it was time for the company to switch hands.
“I’m tired, I guess the liability to be self-employed in today’s market, it’s a tough thing. And I’m getting older,” Smith explained.
Hatchet Lake Development was ready to take on that liability. The company manages investments, business activities, and labour force investment on behalf of Hatchet Lake Desuline First Nation.
The purchase of all Red’s Transport’s depot and property fit into the company’s business plan, said Anne Robillard, the CEO of Hatchet Lake Development.
The new company is called Caribou Transport.
“We like to let the community know we are in for business and development, and expand as we go along. Because we already have structured ourselves for a profit initiative as well ,” she said.
This means that down the road, the company will expand.
“This is a smart move on their part to invest in something like this. And for the far north, Black Lake, Stoney Rapids is another area that this new company is going to be looking at,” Smith said.
The main office is in Prince Albert, but the future may hold stations in La Ronge and Wollaston Lake, he said.
Although Hatchet Lake Development took on the old management team from Red’s Transport, the new incarnation will create jobs within the community, said Robillard.
“We’ll be looking at training perspectives as well for local drivers. We do have some interest and we have to take a look into that,” she said.
Smith is staying on as General Manager with Caribou Transport.
He is optimistic about the company’s future.
“This is a big opportunity for this particular community, from…. creating new jobs and controlling their freight costs a lot better than not being in control of it,” he said.
On Twitter: @chelsealaskowsk
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