Entrepreneur Gerry Dignard will be the first to tell you looks can be deceiving.
His company, Canadian Shield Consultants Agency Inc., is located in the small town of St. Charles, located an hour southeast of Sudbury, but it’s having a big impact on environmental stewardship in the mining industry.
The firm provides turnkey, on-site wastewater and water treatment systems for clients in mining, forestry, tourism and residential. It engineers, designs, manufactures, installs and maintains the self-contained systems, which are used primarily in remote areas inaccessible by road.
“We’re equipped to do all the fancy stuff that everybody else does, even though we’re in a small community,” said Dignard, the firm’s founder and CEO. “For us, our locale is not that important for the reason that our work is away.”
Working across the country, but primarily in Ontario, Canadian Shield’s client sheet is a Who’s Who of the mining industry. Cliffs Environmental, Lake Shore Gold, Gold Canyon Resources, KGHM, Metalex Ventures, Detour Gold and Goldcorp are all customers.
High-strength waste management, or managing the wastewater from mining operations, has experienced the most growth over the last five years, and the company maintains a presence in the Ring of Fire.
Canadian Shield is now venturing into new territory with the launch of its Environmental First Response division, which will oversee and prepare cleanup plans for spills of non-environmentally friendly materials that pose a threat to the environment.
“It’s a natural evolution from our firm,” Dignard said. “We see and understand that there needs to be a closed loop. There are engineering firms that look after environmental spills, there are aviation companies that take these engineers out to the site—we will have it all. We get the one phone call, and we’re out.”
Staff will do initial, minor containment, followed by a quick assessment and transfer its findings to the command centre in St. Charles. A report will be prepared for the client, stakeholders and environmental regulators, and a cleanup plan will be devised. Canadian Shield will then supervise the cleanup, test the soil or water impacted by the spill and provide a final report.
Potential clients include transportation companies, pipeline companies, mining companies, petroleum companies and others that are transporting toxic substances. No company can ensure it will never have a spill, Dignard said, but having a contingency plan in place provides insurance companies, stakeholders and the public with reassurance of a company’s responsibility should it happen.
“We are going to be able to prepare a quick-cleanup protocol to be able to prevent any more of the degradation to the environment before anything’s happened,” Dignard said. “You can’t prevent the spill, but you can really enhance the cleanup process.”
Dignard has invested $1.5 million into the venture, purchasing a helicopter, building a hangar and hiring a full-time pilot and operations manager, along with three part-time pilots. His aviation company, Shield to Sky Aviation Services, is licensed by Transport Canada and his pilots have been trained in hazmat-handling principles.
As a side project, Dignard is simultaneously working with the Northern Ontario School of Medicine on a pair of research initiatives that will examine whether blue-green algae can be turned into fuel and evaluate the impact of leachate from old abandoned mines on the environment.
The implications of this research fascinate Dignard, perhaps a throwback to his former, 32-year career with Agriculture Canada, the agricultural division of the federal government.
“I believe, with the environmental stewardship and protection of the environment, everybody’s implicated,” Dignard said. “It really does fit and I think the next 10 years is just going to go right up, so we want to be ready for this.”
With more than 30,000 spills occurring in Ontario every year, Dignard is confident there will be demand for his first-response service. Time is money, he said, and the faster a spill can be cleaned up, the less damage is done to the environment, less money is lost and stakeholders like First Nations are satisfied their concerns have been addressed.
Construction of a new manufacturing plant to build his wastewater systems is underway, and to meet demand, Dignard plans to hire an additional 10 employees within the next year, something St. Charles Mayor Paul Schoppmann said is a boon to the community of 1,200.
“There will be more employees, and he’s expanding,” Schoppmann said. “It’s definitely very good.”
Development of his new initiative has taken five years, but Dignard believes one can never plan too judiciously.
“You can’t be careless to launch too fast,” he said. “You have to be prepared, because you’re going to have to deliver when you’re asked to deliver.”