Making a Difference through Strategic Partnerships

Canada North Camps

A family owned business exudes pride in its product and service offerings along with a passion for both client and employee satisfaction. This commitment to realize a vision is a key competitive advantage that secures a level of loyalty and trust from all parties involved not often replicated in publicly held businesses.

Canada North Camps, headquartered in Edmonton, Alberta, exemplifies one such family owned business. Established in 1999, Canada North Camps operates open camps throughout Alberta as well as contract camps to numerous sectors such as oil and gas, construction, forestry and government agencies. The company also has an excellent working relationship with survey and seismic companies and drilling rigs. Camp Corp Structures, the manufacturing division of the company, has plants in Edmonton, Slave Lake to the north, and in Phoenix, Arizona.

Speaking about the merits of a family run business, Paul McCracken, Canada North Camps Founder and President explains that, “A family owned company is a little different than a large multi-national or a big publicly owned company. As you grow, if your access to capital is unlimited, you can grow a lot faster than if you’re a privately held company where you have to manage that growth. You have a lot more control… we can change on the fly. If we have demands from our clients, it doesn’t take us very long to enact a solution to a problem.”

With numerous camps throughout Alberta and more than 4000 beds anticipated by the winter of 2014, Canada North Camps strives to make staff and work crews’ living environments places where there is a sense of ‘home away from home.’ The company provides the equipment and essential amenities that camp sites require to operate as self-sustaining functional habitats, such as side by side camps, well sites, dorm units, site offices, recreation rooms and kitchen units, to name a few.

And the company is continually looking at plans for expansion. “We are open to opportunities in any of the provinces,” shares Canada North Camps Dr. Patricia Makokis, Vice President of Business Development with Indigenous Partnerships. “We’re exploring our options and we’re on the ground working on that aspect… keeping those doors open for what opportunities are there for us.”

Mr. McCracken explains further that Canada North Camps is growing in Canada and, with a plant in the United States, the goal is to expand the U.S. operations while still remaining a family owned business. “We have no desire to sell and be a public company or to grow beyond our family enterprise,” he explains. “We’re quite content to do what we’re doing. I think we’re getting better at it every year. We’ve been very successful in the direction we’ve taken. As a family company we share a vision. That’s one of the advantages.”

Partnering with Indigenous Peoples
An essential aspect of what Canada North Camps considers instrumental in its growth and indeed its success, is the core belief that an equitable and ethical dialogue needs to be established to maintain thriving economic partnerships, with a clear Indigenous business approach, in its camps’ and catering camps’ construction.

“The Indigenous arm is really important simply because of the duty to consult that exists with Indigenous people,” explains Dr. Makokis. “As a result of that, Canada North Camps has done a wonderful job of building on-the-ground, grass roots relationships with the Indigenous people in the partnership… I am from one of the largest First Nations in Alberta. I live on the Nation and understand our communities. I understand what the challenges are. I understand the need for socioeconomic change; these equitable and ethical partnerships are a significant step in that direction.”

By adhering to a company philosophy of partnering with First Nations, Canada North Camps believes in training and other resources to provide the required skills Indigenous people need for employment at the company’s camps. “We’re not just about profits, although we certainly bring profits to our partnerships,” shares Mr. McCracken. “We do many things other than just [generate] money when we come into a community and work with a partner.”

Dr. Makokis also emphasizes that when secured with an educational foundation, First Nations groups are presented with opportunities to gain sustainable employment with Canada North Camps and that, “We try to be vertical in our business model, but we also do a lot of offshoot things that help the partners that we have gain confidence in attempting to better themselves through education and other avenues.”

Canada North Camps Human Resources department has aligned itself with Indigenous employees coming into the camps and offers support at every turn. Dr. Makokis explains that 50 to 60 percent of Canada’s Indigenous population is under 25 and that subsequently, “The work that Canada North Camps does is critical in helping to build Nations, one person at a time,” she stresses. “This is our homeland so we’re here to stay. When companies like Canada North Camps work the way we do at the grassroots – on the ground – we’re helping that Nation for the future by creating the success that we are. They’re going to have jobs; they’re going to be here forever. It’s wonderful, it’s exciting, it’s challenging. That’s how as a family owned company it’s really a win-win. The Nation wins and the McCracken family – Canada North Camps – wins.”

Attracting and Retaining staff
Of course, it can be a challenge for employers to attract skilled team members who view a company as an ideal environment in which to explore, expand and secure their own personal plans for growth. In fact, nearly 40 percent of CEOs consider staff retention of valuable employees their biggest challenge in the near future, according to a recent staffing firm study.

For Canada North Camps, “our retention rate is above average,” shares Mr. McCracken. “It is a challenging business for staff. We try to have as many year-round facilities as we can and keep our people employed year-round… None of the companies in our business have an easy time of retaining staff. We try to treat our staff like our family. At the end of the day, I don’t think it’s much different for any of our companies or competitors.”

He himself has been involved in the industry since high school and knows, from experience, how camps should be operated now and into the future. From his perspective, “The success of our company really comes down to the people that operate the camps… the direction that companies like ours are taking is that we have to be more involved with the people on the land… if we’re going to work in a community that has oil companies on their land, we feel a profound obligation, if we’re working with them, to drive benefit, not just profits.”

Quality Menus
Canada North Camps provides not only a quality comfortable place to rest a weary head after a hard day’s work; the company also provides three meals a day with a focus on exceptional service and industry leading food quality at competitive prices. Menus include nutritious, freshly prepared foods with food safety practices always in mind. Individual meal plans can be prepared for those who have specific dietary requirements, and as Mr. McCracken explains, “The most important part of a camp is the food. That’s the one thing that workers look forward to every day… we do try to be individualistic. If someone has a food allergy or request we always try to work toward pleasing the client.”

Concluding, Dr. Makokis sums up that what makes Canada North Camps profoundly different from the rest is that, “this whole model, and how we work, can work across the country.” And Mr. McCracken summarizes by noting that, “We’ve done a lot of different things that we’re really proud of that go above and beyond just setting up a camp.”