Good Morning SAMSSA Members, Founding Patrons, and Guests,
We’re here today to induct my father Doug Smith into the SAMSSA Hall of Fame.
He has devoted 54 years to building Manitoulin Transport and the Group of Companies. He has a strong work ethic and is very detail oriented. To this day, his administrative assistant is required to sharpen about a half dozen number six pencils each morning to be at the ready. His other secret weapon is a bag of Oreos.
Doug Smith was born in Gore Bay in 1933, one of two children. The Smith Family was already established in the wholesale grocery business servicing general stores, restaurants, and service stations across Manitoulin Island. After completing Grade 13, he went to work at the Bank of Montreal, for two years in Gore Bay and then moved to Toronto for another two years at their Mimico branch in Toronto. To supplement his meagre bank salary, he worked every Saturday and every second Sunday pumping gas and servicing cars at a service station, and in the evenings played his clarinet in a band.
In 1955, his father asked him to come back home to help with the wholesale business. In 1957, they decided to add fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables to their grocery line. They bought a new Ford F900 truck was to transport fresh produce from Toronto’s Food Terminal and other Southern Ontario Suppliers to the Island, Espanola, and Killarney. They also worked in cooperation with Sudbury Wholesale and George Bertrand on the same property as the Flour Mill on Notre Dame. By 1960, the wholesale business was facing stiff competition from large competitors so Smith’s Wholesale was sold to National Grocers.
My father renamed the operating company – Manitoulin Transport and acquired Hill’s Transport for $18,000. The infant company had a fleet of three straight trucks and four tractor trailers. He continued to service National Grocers and other customers with supplies from Toronto. Backhaul from the Island was provided by the Manitoulin Turkey Co-op. Manitoulin trucks had to be towed, most of the time, to navigate the rugged Espanola Hills, but by 1961, a new highway was completed allowing other carriers access to the Island. In 1965, my father approached Roy Cooper of Cooper’s Transport who held a Class A LTL licence between the Island and Sudbury as well as licences to carry for such companies as Loeb grocery wholesale, Canadian Liquid AIr, and Canada Cement. Cooper had his Sudbury terminal in the old CPR roundhouse building that was on Elm Street at the time. My father and Roy Cooper agreed to work together and share facilities. By 1967, Manitoulin Transport and Cooper Transport merged and began providing an overnight service between Toronto and Sudbury.
The trucking industry in the 1960’s, 70’s, and most of the 80’s was very regulated. My father spent countless hours and long trips away from home attending Ontario Highway Transport Board hearings. In order to get a licence expand our service to other communities in primarily Northern Ontario, he had to prove Public Necessity and Convenience. That meant essentially proving that existing licensed carriers were not providing a good service.
This also meant bringing existing and potential customers to the hearings, often in Toronto, and them taking the stand as witnesses to say that a new, better service was needed in the community. Competition from the railways and other large trucking companies was fierce and they often opposed licence applications but my father persevered, adding new lanes and providing a high service level to which customers were not accustomed. One hearing in 1976 lasted five weeks with 129 witnesses testifying in support of Manitoulin’s Class A license north of Highway 17. It was the largest and longest in OHTB history! One entire week was spent in Sudbury where we were supported by Inco, Falconbridge, every mining supply company in Sudbury, and by the Mayor at the time, Jim Gordon.
Many of the founders of many of Sudbury’s existing mining suppliers and management at the mining companies themselves were enormously supportive of Manitoulin through those years and we owe a lot to them. Those early witnesses wanted a better service and we bent over backwards to give it to them. My father spent five years looking for the right location to locate a Sudbury terminal. In 1978, we were the first company to be occupy the then new Walden Industrial Park.
By 1989, two things happened, de-regulation and a recession. Some companies hunkered down to ride out the storm. Freight volumes in the province dropped by 30%. Many of those companies are now gone. Instead, my father took this as an opportunity to expand our services even more. In the last 25 years, he led a determined expansion by organic growth and acquisition across the country. Today, our core business, Manitoulin Transport, services more direct points than any other carrier in Canada through a network of 66 terminals from coast to coast to coast.
One of SAMSSA’s mandates is to provide a ‘one stop shop’ for mining and related clients. That’s exactly what we did by vertically integrating the Manitoulin Group of Companies into warehousing, air and ocean freight forwarding, fuel servicing through New North Fuels, and in the customs brokerage business with Near North Customs Brokers. We provide a hand carry service called Expedite Plus around the world with branches in Hong Kong and Mexico.
My father is a very modest guy. He still works everyday and has learned how to use email and carries his iPad everywhere, much to my mother’s chagrine. He has never been a morning person, enjoys have a nap everyday after lunch, and burns the midnight oil on projects within Manitoulin Transport and in the community. In 2008, he was invested with the Order of Canada and recognized ‘as a business leader, philanthroprist and champion of economic and community development in Northern Ontario’. Last year, he received the Diamond Jubilee Medal at a ceremony in Toronto. He has kept Head Office in Gore Bay with a staff of 200 in a town of 900. There are no plans for retirement and I’m not supposed to say the R word.
I am honoured to share his story with you today and we’re very pleased that he could join us here today.