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Construction leader leaves legacy of ‘resilience, dedication’

Claude Villeneuve, founder of Villeneuve Construction, has died at 76

Claude Villeneuve, the founder of Villeneuve Construction in Hearst, has died at the age of 76.

Villeneuve, who started his construction career from humble beginnings, was a respected and well-known figure in the industry.

He launched his business in 1971 with a small-wheel backhoe in the small community of Hallébourg, situated along Highway 11 about 10 minutes east of Hearst. Five years later, the company was incorporated as C. Villeneuve Construction Co. Ltd.

During this time, Villeneuve hired Ghislain Lacroix as his first employee. Lacroix would become a full partner in 1981 and take on the role of company president in 2013.

As the company grew, it relocated to Hearst, and by 1988, after running out of office space, the company built a new facility to accommodate its growth.

A few years later, Villeneuve Construction expanded into aggregate resources, acquiring its first quarry for aggregate supply, followed by its first asphalt production facility.

Growth of the company involved a number of acquisitions over the years, including Chega, a local concrete supplier and excavation contractor in 1991, Longlac Logging in 1993, Moonbeam Concrete in 2007, Cochrane’s M.J. Labelle Construction in 2012, J. Provost Contracting Ltd. in 2018, and Lachance Construction in 2021.

Villeneuve Construction was an early leader in forging Indigenous partnerships, establishing a joint venture agreement for a logging operation with Mammamattawa in 2003, and collaborating with Cree-Aski to form CreeVill, which has been described as one of the first relationships of its kind in Northern Ontario, in 2009.

Once again running out of office space, the company built a brand-new facility, celebrating its grand opening in 2013.

Claude Villeneuve retired in 2015, handing over the reins of the enterprise to his two sons, Mario and Martin, who now run the company together with Lacroix.

Today, the company has offices in Hearst, Cochrane and Kapuskasing, along with a number of aggregate sites and production facilities, and employs 125 full-time employees, along with 125 seasonal workers.

Its services range from residential, municipal and road construction to aggregate production and heavy civil construction, along with forestry, mining and demolition work.

The company is also closely involved in the community, contributing regularly to causes related to education, sport, and long-term care, along with other charitable endeavours.

To recognize his many contributions, earlier this year Claude Villeneuve was inducted into the Ontario Road Builders’ Association (ORBA) Hall of Fame, which recognizes individuals for their outstanding contributions to the industry.

In a social media tribute, ORBA spoke of Villeneuve’s legacy of “resilience, dedication, and an unwavering commitment to making the world a better place.”

“With Villeneuve Construction, Claude built more than roads and infrastructure,” the tribute reads. “He built a community and a family within his company, treating every employee with respect and kindness.”

Villeneuve leaves behind his wife, Carmelle; his children, Josée, Sylvie, Martin and Mario; along with many grandchildren and siblings.

A visitation will take place at the University of Hearst gymnasium on Tuesday, April 9, 2024 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., and from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., as well as on Wednesday, April 10 from 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m., followed by a Eucharistic celebration at 10:30 a.m. at Notre-Dame de l'Assomption Cathedral in Hearst.

Villeneuve’s full obituary is available here.