News & Events
Building constructive relationships
Almita Piling Inc. Senior Vice-President, Bill Baillie (Sc’85), is on the lookout for new ways to strengthen relationships among Indigenous communities and his company.
Almita designs, manufactures, and installs helical piles: steel pipe with helical threads that are rotated into soil as structural support without the need for traditional forms-and-concrete methods of foundation laying. Almita’s piles are popular solutions for electrical transmission, rail, pipeline, and renewables projects in remote areas. These are jobs that often involve crossing and building on Indigenous Peoples’ native lands.
“We wanted more meaningful, more sustainable, opportunities to engage with Indigenous groups,” says Baillie. “To be fair and honest, it’s an important piece of our business: that we demonstrate our commitment to Indigenous communities and peoples as we work on their lands.”
Baillie read a piece in the Queen’s Gazette earlier this year about teams gearing-up to compete in the Dunin-Desphande Queen’s Innovation Centre Summer Initiative Pitch Competition (DDQIC). Among the competitors was Kingston-based not-for-profit startup, Focus Forward for Indigenous Youth.
“As an organization, we facilitate community driven projects,” says Focus Forward chairman and founder, Evan Veryard. “We don’t use cookie-cutter solutions. We work with the communities to discover what they want and we build partnerships to bring their aspirations to life.”
The group’s mission statement caught Baillie’s eye, so he contacted his long-time personal friend and DDQIC executive director, Greg Bavington, who made introductions.
Veryard and his colleagues were collaborating with teachers at Senator Allen Bird Memorial School in Montreal Lake Cree Nation, north of Saskatoon, on a greenhouse-building project for students in Grades 10, 11, and 12.
“We had a great chat,” says Baillie. “I offered them my thoughts on Almita’s experiences with Indigenous engagement and they mentioned that their first project in Saskatchewan is a greenhouse that needed foundations. Concrete is difficult to get up there so helical piles would make a good alternative.”
Baillie and Almita’s regional manager for Saskatchewan, Simon Pollard, not only donated the helical piles for the greenhouse project, but arranged for the use of the skid steers needed to install them. The two travelled to Montreal Lake with their crew to lead a two-day workshop so Allen Bird students could learn how to install the piles themselves.
“The ability and skill to operate a skid steer is a very sustainable and transferable skill in remote aboriginal communities,” says Baillie. “Each student was in the seat three times on that first day. We had them go through pre-start inspections, had them do some fun exercises, and then they installed the piles on the second day. “
“I don’t think any of the students thought at the outset, ‘Oh, one day I could maybe work for Almita Piling,’” says Christina Lorentz, teacher at Allen Bird. “At the end of the two days, though, they could say, ‘This is something I could do. I could be part of this and be doing great things.’ It was so good to see them have such great feelings of accomplishment.”
Almita’s donation is an important one for Focus Forward, too. Though the team placed well in the DDQIC competition in August, earning $10,000 in prize money, it’s a huge challenge for new not-for-profits to earn the opportunities and credibility to demonstrate to potential funders and partners that they can deliver what they promise.
“We had the pieces coming together for this project but if Bill and Almita Piling hadn’t stepped up to work quickly with us, we likely would have had to go through the winter without technically providing a single educational opportunity to Indigenous youth,” says Veryard. “Thanks to them, we have a good start on the greenhouse and some much-needed momentum for this and other projects in the spring.”
Now that the foundations are in at Montreal Lake, Focus Forward is looking for partners to help complete the greenhouse project there in the spring and for a long list of new projects they’re hoping to get underway next year.
“The poverty level here can be quite high,” says Lorentz. “At the end of the day, too many of our students don’t get opportunities like these and don’t know what they’re capable of. So, everyone involved in this project deserves to be recognized because it’s a wonderful gift to our students. I’m so lucky to be part of it.”