In the early days of Nor-Arc Steel Fabricators, company president Mario Léveillé jokingly remembers there was plenty of finger-pointing going on at the Earlton shop.
“People would walk in and say (gesturing), I want a conveyor from there to there, and make it happen.”
Designing, fabricating and installing material handling systems became one of the many specialties at the family-owned company, just north of Temiskaming Shores.
With more than four decades in business, Nor-Arc received a Temiskaming Shores and Area Chamber of Commerce Award in the entrepreneurship category this past spring.
Léveillé admits it was a bit of a surprise to receive such recognition since his low-key father and uncles — who began as farmers on the Clay Belt — would usually decline such attention.
But it speaks to the longevity and reputation of the business that’s taken on a wide array of projects in providing machining, welding, manufacturing and mill maintenance in the forestry, mining and energy sectors.
The company began as a small general service welding shop in 1975, started by Léveillé’s father Frank (Francois) and his uncles, Alphonse, Raymond and Denis, inside a garage-sized shop that still sits on the property beside Highway 11. New additions have been grafted on over the years into today’s 28,000-square-foot shop.
A second generation now handles the day-to-day activity at the 120-employee shop with brother Yves Léveillé as vice-president of construction, in charge of the outside work, while cousin Pascal Léveillé handles much of the inside work as production manager.
They’ve since expanded into Quebec with a shop in La Sarre, where they perform structural steel work.
As a young lad in the early 1980s, Léveillé spent his weekends and summers doing shop cleanup.
“I was working with my uncles. It was enjoyable and you’re building things, so you kind of grow from there.”
The physical growth of Nor-Arc coincided with the construction and expansion at Grant Forest Products’ oriented strand board mill in nearby Englehart. Now owned by Georgia-Pacific, Nor-Arc has continued to provide mill maintenance and equipment upgrades over the years.
The Bélanger family at Earlton RV would send in large orders for Nor-Arc to manufacture their camper trailer frames as well.
Always known as an innovative and open-minded company, they segued into the renewable energy sector.
For the past 20 years, they’ve been a fabricator for KMW Energy of London, Ont., designers of biomass combustion chambers – which is basically a big industrial wood stove – used to heat buildings, provide heat for sawmill kilns, and create energy to produce steam for power plants, including three such units at Kirkland Lake Power.
In the Quebec Cree community of Oujé-Bougoumou, Nor-Arc installed two such combustion units to provide heat and power for the whole reserve.
“We are manufacturing some right now that are going to Portugal and we’re doing some for a small sawmill in Quebec,” said Léveillé.
These days, shop work includes manufacturing ore bins for a Saskatchewan potash operation, fabricating tanks for the Calabrian liquid sulphur dioxide plant under construction in Timmins, and preparing to ship a gold screening system to New Gold’s Rainy River mine.
They also cater to the maintenance and fabrication needs of local industry players like Kirkland Lake Gold and Alamos Gold in Matachewan.
“Right now, the order list is pretty full until late fall. We’re in great shape,” said Léveillé.
Geographically, he said there are no limits on how far the company is willing to go.
“We’ve shipped to Chile, Haiti and Mexico, now we’re shipping to Portugal. It’s just a matter of having the right contacts and the confidence of the people you’re working with.”
Most of their work is repeat business and based on word of mouth.
“The key is: if you follow the instructions, follow the specs and deliver on time, they usually come back and you can build the relationship from there,” said Léveillé. “But if we don’t do our job, or miss our target, it’s very difficult to come back.”
Some past projects of note include making the steel braces for Pearson International Airport’s Terminal One expansion, and supplying some of the structural steel work involved in the construction of a New York skyscraper in 2007.
On a more nuanced scale, they designed and installed a staircase for Grant Forest Products’ administration office, and, with their 10-by-40-foot plasma cutter, can do designs for decorative fire pit barrels.
While steel fabrication for clients is their lifeblood, Léveillé said they would like to add a few in-house product lines of their own. Prototype research and development is ongoing for a mobile conveyor system with Sudbury’s Laurentian University.