A New Perspective on Northern Necessity

Northern Transportation Company

Having been with the company for a year and a half, Marketing and Customer Service Director Scott Dryden has drawn from his extensive experience in the field of marine transportation to help shape Northern Transportation Company Limited into what it is today. For the previous five years, Mr. Dryden has been the Operations and Customer Service Manager for Canada Steamship Lines, managing four to six ocean going dry bulk ships travelling the North American west coast and beyond.

Two years ago, he was approached by NTCL to assist with Marketing and Business development. “Being at CSL, I wore all hats,” recalls Mr. Dryden, “so it was excellent training and great to have that as a background before getting into NTCL.”

Describing the transition, he adds, “I find this company offers a really good challenge and it’s a company with a long history close to 80 years. NTCL has been one of the mainstays of the Arctic offering community supply and becoming increasingly involved in project cargo for oil and gas projects in remote sites. With the limited road access and flight freight being expensive as it is, barging has really been an important thing in this area.”

NTCL has gone through a bit of a revitalization in the last four to five years, and a refocusing of strong ‘customer first’ principles. From 1944 to 1985, NTCL was a Crown corporation, but was among the first public assets privatized under the Mulroney government, along with Air Canada. The Inuvialuit Development Corporation and the Nunasi Corporation each bought 50 percent of NTCL and created NorTerra Inc. as the holding company which now includes Canadian North Airlines, Weldco Beales heavy manufacturing, Northern Industrial Sales and Braden Burry Expediting (BBE), boasting about a half billion in revenue for the group. Mr. Dryden says, “NTCL is sort of the Grand Daddy of all these companies. There is such a good and co-operative and complimentary effort by all these subsidiaries and sister companies to work together in the north.”

Community investment in the company was one of the driving factors in Mr. Dryden’s transition. He explains, “one of things that attracted me to come over to NTCL is the Inuvialuit and the Inuit people of the north all having a vested interest in the NorTerra companies and they all share in the benefit of these companies being so successful.” Braden-Burry Expediting, for example, are in logistics and freight forwarding, yet are involved in the cargo marshalling of loading and unloading NTCL barges and cargo shipped by Canadian North Airlines. “Between the companies themselves, there is some very good symmetry there. It’s win-win all around.”

NTCL boasts an extensive infrastructure across the North. The company’s Hay River facility in the Northwest Territories is the most northern point on the CN rail line and is the only Arctic shipyard in North America. The site serves as a maintenance centre for tugs and barges for both the Canadian Coast Guard and private shippers.

This seasonal maintenance is complemented by work done out of the company’s Atlantic base during winter months. From the its St. John’s location, NTCL uses four tugs and roughly ten barges that engage in offshore cargo movements, ice management and seismic support work. Mr. Dryden explains, “Through contracts with oil companies, what they are doing is literally towing ice bergs away from the Hibernia oil platforms, or when they are doing exploratory drilling or seismic studies to see where oil deposits may be, our ships are support vessels for that.” Year round these two locations along with NTCL’s three Arctic Terminals host between 40 and 250 employees.

Mr. Dryden adds, “Being an Aboriginally owned company, our foremost focus is on equal hiring practices and our parent company NorTerra takes extreme efforts to make sure that the Inuit and the Inuvialuit beneficiaries are given employment opportunities within all the companies, especially NTCL. They can come on board in the beginning as deckhands and over a number of years of certain criteria, experience and training, certification can be gained through the process.”

Safety is also a paramount concern for the company. Mr. Dryden explains, “If we can’t do it safely we are not going to do it.” Nonetheless, NTCL has a demonstrated commitment to getting the job done in all kinds of weather and adverse situations. “Our offshore St. John’s work happens more all year round. Our Great Slave Lake and Mackenzie River work areas in the Western Arctic where we primarily operate, are frozen for about eight months of the year.” NTCL’s operations in the Arctic run from the middle of June to mid October due to the freezing. “Weather of course can be a factor but we have some of the most experienced mariners in the industry worldwide.”

NTCL can move five to six million litres of fuel per barge tow, which consists of six barges at a time, which are pulled by tugs across Great Slave Lake and the Mackenzie. This also offers 60,000 square feet of deck space, or a big box store worth of space. Needless to say, these vessels are no Theodore Tug Boat. They measure roughly 150 feet long, have approximately 4500 to 5000 horsepower, and are typically staffed with a crew of eight to ten. The barges are used to resupply both private citizens and commercial enterprises along their route. The shipping route extends into the Arctic Ocean; as Mr. Dryden describes, “We will make our way down to Tuktoyaktuk or Inuvik to reconsolidate the loads. We will go as far east as Gjoa Haven and Taloyoak to roughly about 22 different communities.”

There is much to be proud of at NTCL to which the company’s many accolades can attest. NTCL has been awarded a Citation from Chevron for Seismic Exploration Support in 2012 Beaufort Sea Program and was recently also rewarded the contract for carrying fuel for all the northern communities.

The company is eager to be involved as early as possible with its clients’ supply chain and logistical planning, even if consulting is the only thing they can offer on a particular project. Mr. Dryden explains, “I think personally a ‘no’ is better that a ‘maybe’ as we are not in the business to make promises we cannot keep. We are committed to making sure people get the help they need.”

NTCL knows how crucial the environment is for the great North; as Mr. Dryden notes, “what we have is an initiative to do environmental backhaul work. We have been assisting with the cleanup of the Defence Early Warning (DEW) Line sites from the Cold War in the 50s, which was basically established between the Canadian and American Military. There has been a lot of equipment and debris that has been left up there and the land needs to be returned to its natural state.” NTCL has also been working with northern communities to initiate a service to provide for removing hazardous materials at a charitable rate. “If we can start to get ahead on cleanups,” Mr. Dryden offers, “we would be doing the communities a much appreciated favour.” While air transportation may be more immediately environmentally friendly in terms of emissions, Mr. Dryden explains that shipping provides other environmental trade-offs. “What we provide is that we mitigate risk as there is a lot of risk; we might be selling deck or fuel space but really we are mitigating risk for the people and environment we care about.”

While NTCL has carried fuel on the Mackenzie for decades without incident, it is currently investing in double-hulled barges to replace some of its existing fleet and add an additional layer of environmental protection.

Mr. Dryden says that his experience in the Arctic has had a humanizing effect on himself as well as how he sees the transportation industry. He says, “seeing and interacting with people in the North and talking to small business owners and private citizens can really stress how a year of their lives can hinge on our dependability. […] You really get to see firsthand, how vital this service is to them. Really hearing their stories has shaped my interest and devotion from a customer service side.”

Mr. Dryden’s job has made him see the world in a different light. “It is absolutely amazing the perspective you get from experiencing the North. You know travelling throughout the Arctic, it really is an entirely different world and culture being Canadian and foreign all at once. The ingenuity and co-operation is incredible. They are very proud of their heritage, their land and are the very best example of environmental stewardship.”

June 22, 2018, 6:37 PM EDT

A Proactive Approach to Resolving a Longstanding Debate

About forty skilled Central and South American workers from Ecuador, Peru, Columbia and Costa Rica came to British Columbia, Canada as temporary foreign workers (TFWs) in 2006. This story incited Labourers’ International Union of North America (LiUNA) call for reforms to Canada’s TFW program (TFWP) and the International Mobility Program (IMP). LiUNA, a powerful voice within the construction industry with over half a million members – 110,000 of whom are in Canada – has been the only Canadian union to address the issue.