January 2018 – Article – Helping to Build Ontario’s North


Every job has its challenges.  So too every business and organization.  Consider the Construction Association of Thunder Bay (CATB).  It’s not a small group, nor is it relatively young.  In fact, it is a strong and successful association with a history that dates back officially to 1949.

The CATB was officially incorporated in 1967.  However before then, members were part of what was called the Builders’ Exchange which was formed in 1949.  Prior to the Builders’ Exchange, the contractors operated largely independently furthering the construction industry in Northern Ontario.

Today, the CATB describes itself as a mixed trade construction association with a specific focus on the industrial, commercial and institutional (ICI) construction sector in Northwestern Ontario.  Its members total more than 200 including general contractors, trade contractors, manufacturers, architects, engineers, suppliers and allied professionals.  Its largest demographic within these categories are sub-contractors.

Because of the expanse of the region, CATB Manager and Director of Labour Relations Harold Lindstrom says the challenge is travel.

“There is no travel back and forth…to and from the jobsite.  I tell prospective workers not to expect to be home at 5 o’clock every night.  Our contractors service an area that spans 500 km to the east and the west and points north.  They may be out of town for up to 4 days at a time.”

Lindstrom points out that northern Ontario is 10 times the size of southern Ontario.  Despite that, Lindstrom says contractors have learned how to import workers to meet the skilled trade demand.

Of the members, a total of 27 building trades (Northern Ontario) are represented within the CATB.  Most of the trades work on ICI projects such as schools, hospitals and government projects.  The heavy trades can be found working in the paper mills and mines.  While ICI work remains steady, Lindstrom says there is some other significant work on the horizon including:

  • expansion of the Musselwhite Gold Mine in Sioux Lookout
  • there’s another mine set to open in Red Lake,
  • New Gold is near completion spending half-a-billion dollars on its Rainy River Mine
  • and Premier Gold’s joint venture near Geraldton with Centerra Gold is presently in the approval stage

But it is the long talked about Ring of Fire that many are hoping will soon come to fruition.

The Ring of Fire is a massive planned mining and smelting development, located largely about 400 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay.  It is considered one of the largest potential mineral reserves in the Province, covering an area of about 1.5 million hectares.  It was once described by former Federal Treasury Board President and FedNor Minister Tony Clement as “the economic equivalent of the Athabasca Oil Sands”.

From his perspective, Lindstrom says the Ring of Fire project is tentative, adding it will depend on a multitude of factors.

“It’ll go eventually, but it will depend on things such as agreements with First Nations communities, the price of precious metals as well as the cost and construction of a road to access the site.”

Presently, Lindstrom says mining firms are close to finishing exploration of the area to determine the extent of the resources available.  He adds Norant Resources for example, is actively seeking to put a smelter in either Thunder Bay, Sault Ste. Marie or Sudbury.”

And while the CATB is ready to provide the labour force when needed, Lindstrom points out other construction associations such as those in Toronto and Calgary among other centres, will also be involved in the development of the Ring of Fire and will help to meet contractor demands.  However, First Nations communities says Lindstrom, are not expected to provide much of the needed manpower.

“Their goal is not to be a part of the construction.  Rather, they’re looking to the future.  They want to be able to man the operations once the development of the Ring of Fire is completed.”

In the meantime, the CATB is always on the lookout for trades people.  The provincial issue of a shrinking labour force due to an increasing number of retirements in the skilled trades, is an issue not just affecting the southern half of the province.  The construction industry he says is losing people faster than it can hire.

To help, Lindstrom says the CATB is working with the North Superior Planning Board to convince the younger generation to consider a career in the trades.  The school system he says unfortunately, has very little information on what a trade is and what it does.

Still the Construction Association of Thunder Bay has successfully operated for more than 68 years and with the Ring of Fire on the horizon, the future looks bright for its members.





Fred Lehmann
Communications Coordinator,

Ontario Construction Secretariat (OCS)
180 Attwell Drive, Suite 360, Toronto, ON M9W 6A9
P 416.620.5210 ext. 222
F 416.620.5310