Company of the Year 1-15 Employees

By Liz Cowan

More than 2,000 buildings stand across Northern Ontario as testament to the expertise and creativity of a North Bay architectural firm.

Evans Bertrand Hill Wheeler Architecture (EBHWA) began in 1956 with architects Norman Critchley and Lucien Delean. Three more eventually joined the firm – Brian Bertand, Paul Trussler and Jim Evans – and later Ian Hill and Marcus Wheeler.

In its current form, the firm continues the tradition of quality and excellence established more than half a century ago. With a staff of about 20, the firm is the largest in the North Bay area and undertakes projects spanning from Gravenhurst to Parry Sound, to James Bay and on towards the Manitoba border.

"We have been busy and not felt the need to go beyond this area," said Evans.

About 80 per cent of its work is in health care and education which includes elementary and secondary schools to post-secondary institutions; and from hospitals, clinics and homes for the aged.

Its biggest project, to date, has been the North Bay Regional Health Centre, a 755,000-square-foot facility that includes the District Hospital (acute care) and the Regional Mental Health Centre (specialized forensic mental health services).

As a new model for health care in Canada, the project resulted in many significant firsts which included combining forensic mental health with acute care, 100 per cent fresh air mechanically in each room, a major SARS review undertaken with departmental changes integrated into the design, integrating two-week and two-month food cycles for patient-focused care delivery, reworking security systems from first principles to deal with unique population requirements, and incorporating structural heavy timber construction in a B-2 occupancy (care and treatment) facility.

The facility garnered many accolades, including Wood WORKS! awards for its use of wood, and international attention. Bertrand, the lead architect, spoke to the World Health Organization on health-care design and was on an international panel in Chicago for mental-health designers. Collectively, the firm has been asked to speak abroad and at other events in Canada and the U.S.

The Harris Learning Library at Nipissing University and Canadore College in North Bay, another project the firm was involved in, recently received an award from the International Interior Design Association and Buildings and Equipment Section of the Library Leadership and Management Association, a division of the American Library Association.

"It's a pretty high-profile building here in North Bay," Wheeler said. "The award was for best interior design for a library over 30,000 square feet."

The firm has financially supported local organizations and institutions throughout its history, and continues to do so. Its partners have been involved in service clubs and other organizations, taking an active role in leadership and becoming involved in fundraising and projects.

"It just happened that we are involved and involvement in the community is certainly encouraged," Evans said.

Added Bertrand, "You tend to get a lot more back than what you give."

The partners also get a sense of pride and accomplishment when viewing or visiting the buildings they have worked on.

"There is an awful lot of work and passion that goes into our work and it is certainly not a nine-to-five job because you are constantly thinking about it," Bertrand said.

But it isn't until a few years after completion when he sees buildings with the same eyes as everybody else.

For Hill, going into buildings the firm has worked on 10 or more years ago, gives him some of his proudest moments.

"Seeing the way it is used, sometimes in ways you didn't anticipate, and seeing the building looking fresh and new, is a great feeling," he said. "You realize it hasn't lost its place and its appearance is still relevant."

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