In 43 years Villeneuve Construction grew from a small operation with a single small-wheel backhoe to a company with more than 200 employees, which serves communities from Kirkland Lake to Nipigon.
The Northern Ontario Business Awards company of the year – with more than 50 employees – is now the largest employer in the mostly francophone community of Hearst, and has become a major contributor to the social and economic well-being of the community.
Claude Villeneuve founded the company in 1971, and incorporated Villeneuve Construction in 1976.
His first employee, Ghislain Lacroix, became his business partner, and in 2013 took over as the company's president. Villeneuve is now vice-president.
His son, Mario Villeneuve, the company's operations co-ordinator, said both men had a great vision for the company, and diversified early on to remain competitive.
When the senior Villeneuve started the company in the 1970s there was a strong demand for excavation and drainage services in the rural community of Hallébourg, where Villeneuve Construction was first based.
Agriculture was more active in the region at that time, said the younger Villeneuve, and the early days consisted of excavation and drainage services for local farmers.
The company later invested in a pit, and started to produce aggregate materials. "They kept investing within the company and surrounded themselves with key people," said Villeneuve.
In the 1980s, the company started to supply other construction companies with concrete, and later expanded to asphalt.
A decade later, the company had purchased its first quarry and asphalt plant, and built a state-of-the-art maintenance facility for its growing equipment and heavy machinery fleet.
Villeneuve Construction now owns more than 150 aggregate resources across Northern Ontario that provide a variety of material types including stone, sand, gravel, crushed aggregates and topsoil. By the 1990s, the company also had a major forestry operation.
In 2006, Villeneuve Construction bought the Longlac logging operation. The stump-to-mill operation has allowed the firm to become more effective as a contractor for forestry clients.
With its headquarters in Hearst, Villeneuve Construction is the town's largest employer.
"The pressure to succeed is always there," said Mario Villeneuve. "We want to prove we are the best at what we do."
The company's visible role has expanded to charitable causes in Hearst and the surrounding area. Villeneuve Construction has donated more than $2.1 million to Northern Ontario communities since 2002.
Villeneuve said charitable donations, primarily to educational institutions, sports teams, events and health care services, are a way to show appreciation to the company's employees, and their families, who live in communities across the North.
Employee safety has also been a big priority with the company.
Villeneuve Construction has surpassed one million consecutive man-hours of work without lost-time injuries.
The company hired a full-time safety co-ordinator in the late 1980s, when it was still an uncommon practice.
While the company has won a number of industry awards, Villeneuve said its recognition from the Northern Ontario Business Awards is special because it cuts across industries.
"This award is very exciting because it represents the Northern culture," he said. The award, he added, also shows the company is moving in the right direction. "We are passionate about our work," Villeneuve said. "Right now it's going very well."