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Federal funds to modernize Thunder Bay housing business

Smart Modular Canada used $1.38 million to automate construction process, triple housing production
Smart Modular Canada president Bill Boulton addressed the FedNor announcement on Friday, Nov. 17, 2023

THUNDER BAY — A local company will be able to further meet the housing demands of Northwestern Ontario.

On Friday, Smart Modular Canada, a three-year-old company based in Thunder Bay, unveiled $1.38 million in FedNor funding during an announcement that included the two local Liberal members of Parliament.

“We learned pretty quickly when we started that in order to get more houses out the door and the quality that we want, we needed to automate,” company president Bill Boulton said.

“So now we've automated with CNC (computer numerical control) equipment so we can now build our own cabinets, [unlike before] where we had to buy them from out[side] of the province.”

The company began importing modular homes into the region in 2007. The president incorporated Smart Modular Canada in 2019 and began production at the Haniak Road facility in November 2020.

“We opened the doors in this facility at the far end of the building in a small section where we could fit three houses in there," Boulton said.

"We had six people and we did what we could to build houses, but we got more orders and we used to look down the length of this 76,000-square-foot facility and go, ‘Wow. I wonder if we'd ever be able to fill [this space] up.'

"It's actually getting tight. So, really, the growth potential is unlimited.”

A picture of a modular home at Smart Modular Canada on Haniak Road on Friday, November 17, 2023. | Kevin Jeffrey/TBnewswatch

Thunder Bay–Superior North MP Patty Hajdu, who is the minister of Indigenous services and the minister responsible for FedNor, said that the communities themselves will decide how the units will be utilized.

“Some of it very well might be rental housing that the First Nations will administer. These modular units can [also] be used for things like nursing stations [and] police stations," Hajdu said.

"That's an amazing solution as well to complex infrastructure builds that take a very long time. When you think about alleviating the need for multiple rotating crews of workers, the challenge of getting raw materials to First Nations, this is a plug-and-play solution for First Nations that wish to pursue it.”

Thunder Bay–Rainy River MP Marcus Powlowski said the federal government understands that housing is a significant issue for a lot of reasons.

“[Businesses] in Thunder Bay are looking to hire people, but it's hard to get people to immigrate here when there isn't affordable housing for them. A better supply of housing is really critical in terms of addressing the housing shortage, particularly in Northwestern Ontario,” Powlowski said.

“[There is a housing problem] in places like Atikokan and Fort Frances, but in those places, they don't have a lot of contractors there that are building. They have to get contractors from Thunder Bay, [who are] going to charge a premium because they have to go up there to do it.

"So, to have something like this that can make affordable [and] modular housing and bring it out [to the communities in need] really makes a lot of sense and it provides real service to those communities in all of Northwestern Ontario.”

The government said the FedNor spending is anticipated to create 15 jobs and will help triple production of modular homes.

— TBnewswatch