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The Drift: Timmins bucket-maker takes his place among mining supply greats

MineConnect chooses Ross Woodward as 2022 Hall of Fame inductee
Ross Woodward, who founded The Bucket Shop in Timmins, is pictured at a 2016 FedNor announcement where his company received $1 million. Photo by Frank Giorno

Growing up in the family business, Paul Woodward said, he knew that he wasn’t being dealt any special favours being the boss’s kid.

If he wanted to find a place at United Supply — and later, The Bucket Shop — he would have to meet the exacting standards set out by his father, Ross Woodward, when he first acquired the company in the 1980s.

Hard work, perseverance, and dedication helped Ross build the Timmins-based mining supply company to its current status as a respected provider of industrial buckets and wear components, said Paul.

He and his sister, Sharon, saw their father as a role model who made winning at business his life’s work.

“My dad has always been driven, dedicated to his work, putting in countless hours of effort to achieve his goals,” Paul said of the man he called “my mentor, my father, and my best friend.”

“He’s faced many challenges along the way, but he has never given up.

“His hard work and determination have led him to the top of his field within his profession, where he is now being recognized as a leader within the mining supply chain.”

That recognition comes from MineConnect, the regional association that represents mining supply and service providers from across Northern Ontario.

At a Feb. 9 ceremony at Collège Boréal in Sudbury, Ross joined 26 others in being bestowed Hall of Fame honours, which were launched in 2007.

Humbled at the acknowledgement, Ross said he was never in business for the awards and accolades, although many have come his way.

He’s received a Northern Ontario Business Award on three separate occasions — in 1995, 2007, 2017 — as well as multiple NOVA Awards from the Timmins Chamber of Commerce, and there have been others. (The Northern Ontario Business Awards is a program of Northern Ontario Business.)

“After a life’s work of what seems simple and basic, I never saw lights of recognition for me in the final end game,” Ross told the crowd.

“However, at this moment, I can confirm it feels overwhelming to me.”

In 1984, United Supply was an industrial supply business when Ross became general manager.

Five years later, he purchased the company, which he grew into four separate divisions, providing services primarily to the mining and forestry industries.

Among the mentors he’s had over the years, Ross counts Jack Halpert and Reg Pope as two of the most influential.

Halpert launched United Supply in the 1950s, while Pope was a founder at the Ross Pope & Company accounting firm. Both were early investors when Ross decided to move into entrepreneurship.

He credits their faith in him and his business philosophies for providing a solid base from which to grow his company.

“They were not in it for the monetary gain, but rather to take the journey with me for the enjoyment of seeing a renewed company reinvent itself,” Ross said.

“It was always about the accomplishment.”

By 1990, acting on a suggestion from Paul, the family launched The Bucket Shop, a committed welding shop catering to the manufacture and supply of buckets and wear components for the mining industry.

It was so successful, the company sold off United Supply in 2015 to go all in on bucket and wear components, developing its own Rhinowear line of castings.

“Throughout this period of development, our customers, regardless of the product or service we were offering, have recognized and supported our mutual exchange of value, built from trust and respect,” Ross said.

“As our business model moved from business-to-business distribution to a full-service ecosystem partner, we built a company that learned how to partner with global mining companies, Indigenous communities, and suppliers.

“That required us to raise our standards for production, quality and competence, all of which were well accepted by the mining industry.”

Today The Bucket Shop operates out of a 65,000-square-foot, purpose-built welding shop where it employs upwards of 150 people, and it’s become known for its innovative approaches to mentorship and skill development.

The company also continues to operate Steeltec, a mobile division that provides welding and millwrighting services on location for mining-industry clients.

A self-proclaimed “Type A workaholic,” Ross expressed his gratitude to his late wife, Jo-Anne, and his children for their patience and support as he threw himself into his work.

Paul and Sharon both hold senior executive positions at the company, and “I cannot say enough about how proud I am of their involvement,” Ross said.

Though it’s his name on the award, Ross said he shares the distinction with his family and his employees, who have “accomplished all the work.”

“It is the icing on a career that I’m trying to — unsuccessfully — retire from,” he said. 

“However, it’s time for me to move on, and I can’t think of a better end to a long, exciting and most enjoyable career.

“Except for the odd day, it’s been a blast.”