Island, Espanola businesses win Northern Ontario Business awards

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NORTHERN ONTARIO – A Little Current and an Espanola business have each been chosen as winners in the 35th annual Northern Ontario Business (NOB) awards.

The Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre in Little Current is the winner of the Company of the Year award in the 16-50 employees category. Farquhar’s Dairy of Espanola is the winner of the Innovation Award in 2021.

The Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre (MHCC), open since 2013, has met a need for additional accommodations while enhancing the tourism industry, an NOB release says. The company is collectively owned by six area First Nations. The hotel generates revenue for its members, boosts the marketing profile of Manitoulin Island and creates employment for residents. In 2019, the hotel employed 78 people, 80 percent of whom identified as status First Nation.

“Absolutely, it is great news,” stated Corey Stacinski, manager of the Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre. “The past two years have been difficult but we did well, which is a testament to the leadership of the board and staff of the hotel.”

“We have been working very hard to stay afloat during the pandemic and throughout my term, the board, chiefs and stakeholders have been very supportive of the hotel,” stated Mr. Stacinski. He pointed out the company business was nominated for the award by several individuals and organizations including Kevin Eshkawkogan of Indigenous Tourism Ontario, the mayor and Town of Northeastern Manitoulin and the Islands and others.

NEMI Mayor Al MacNevin said, “we supported the nomination of the hotel for this award. Right from the beginning, the Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre has been a big asset not just for Little Current but Manitoulin Island. It has been a huge boon to the municipality and the island when conferences, meetings and hockey tournaments are held on the Island. Many of these events would not take place on the Island without the hotel and the 60 rooms it adds to the base accommodations on the Island, especially in the off-season.”

“I know, for instance, that conferences have been put on by Manitoulin Transport and the Union of Ontario Indians at the hotel,” said Mayor MacNevin. “It has been a great asset for the Island and we are very happy to have it here.”

“The hotel has provided opportunities for employment and from the perspective of the owners of the hotel, the six First Nations, it is has been big for additional tourism traffic,” said Mayor MacNevin. He pointed out when proposals were first made to have the hotel located where it is, “the majority of the community was opposed to council selling the property for the hotel and conference centre.”

However, once Kevin Eshkawkogan (then-manager of the Great Spirit Circle Trail, Duke Peltier (Chief of Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory) and Dawn Madahbee Leach of Waubetek made a public presentation on the proposal and why it would benefit the entire Island, there was no more opposition. So council sold the property to the First Nations and it opened in 2013.”

“The hotel, as all businesses, had a couple of tough years with the pandemic, but when things opened up this summer they were often filled to capacity,” said Mayor MacNevin. “The hotel and conference centre has been a great thing for the Island.”

Farquhar’s Dairy in Espanola has been in operation producing butter, milk, and ice cream since 1933 but the long-time producer embraces new processes and technologies to remain efficient and relevant in today’s competition dairy industry,” an NOB release explains. “Between 2018 and 2020, the company teamed up with Cambrian innovates, the research and development (R&D) arm of Cambrian College in Sudbury, to build a new chiller system. This one-of-a-kind project, which enlisted the help of students at the college, reduces energy use, boosts efficiency and makes the operation more environmentally friendly.”

Don Farquhar, manager and one of the owners of the Espanola-based business told The Expositor, “The award was unexpected. The mayor and council and economic advisor of the Town of Espanola had nominated our company for this award.”

Mr. Farquhar explained the new chiller, “Replaced the less efficient piece of equipment we had been using. The previous chiller used a lot of water and was tough on hydro costs. With the new chiller it is air cool compressed so it takes no water and uses much less hydro.”

“I had had a meeting with a representative of Cambrian College on another topic and we got talking about our chiller and the problems we were having with it,” said Mr. Farquhar. “We were looking at development of the idea for the new chiller and were going to purchase one. However, Cambrian thought it would be an interesting project for their students to take on. So, our refrigeration guy, and a representative of Cambrian and their students met, and it ended up that the students built our new chiller from scratch with our input.”

“The project not only benefitted our company, but provided the students with real work experience. It was a lot cheaper for us and Cambrian was able to access grants for the project,” continued Mr. Farquhar. “The new chiller has been in usage for about six months,”  he said noting, “COVID had put a wrench in the whole thing when Cambrian had been shut down and it took a little longer to get the new chiller than we had originally planned. But in the end, it all worked out and, yes, the new chiller is doing the job.” 

A total of nine outstanding entrepreneurs and organizations from across the North are being lauded for their contributions as winners of the 2021 Northern Ontario Business Awards (NOBA).  This year’s celebration will be held online only, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Launched in 1986, NOBA aims to heighten the visibility and influence of businesses in the North and bring peer recognition to the business leaders who create prosperity and economic growth.

“We’re impressed with the high calibre of our 2021 winners, who have demonstrated resilience and perseverance during what has been a challenging 20 months for many business owners,” said Jeff Elgie, CEO of Village Media, the parent company of Northern Ontario Business, formerly a part of Sudbury-based Laurentian Publications. “We applaud these businesses and entrepreneurs for their ongoing role in building a strong Northern Ontario economy.”