Co-Owner, Harbour Technologies
Owner, Warrior Supplies
CEO, Wuxly Movement
In February of 2020, Warrior Supplies — the PPE side of Jason Thompson’s project management and training business, Superior Strategies — was struggling.
“I was a month or two away from shutting it down,” says Thompson, a member of the Red Rock First Nation and an advocate in Thunder Bay for the inclusion of Indigenous peoples in business and society. “It just wasn’t getting the same traction as some of Superior’s other offerings.”
Reconciliation isn’t just the government’s responsibility. It’s everyone’s responsibility.
Thompson’s problem changed as COVID-19 swept through the world’s population like a firestorm. Demand for PPE in Northern Ontario skyrocketed, but he couldn’t get reasonably-priced supply and he wasn’t alone — Canada’s lack of domestic PPE manufacturing triggered bidding wars for foreign-made products that became prohibitively expensive, if and when they could be sourced at all.
The shortage became so critical that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and premiers across the country appealed to manufacturers to pivot their production focus to PPE manufacturing.
“These are historic times in which we need to do everything we can to support Canadians and mobilize all our efforts in smart ways,” Trudeau said in a March 20, 2020 press conference.
Building business partnerships with shared goals
Windsor-based Harbour Technologies was among the companies to answer the call for help. The vertically integrated supplier of custom systems, tooling, and machining re-positioned itself to make equipment for PPE manufacturing, designing the first Canadian-made N95 masks and production lines and the first fully automated isolation gown manufacturing lines in concert with Oakville-based robotics and automation firm Promation.
In Toronto, outerwear manufacturer Wuxly Movement was also hard at work. The company best known for using recycled, biodegradable, environmentally-friendly, and animal-free materials to produce ethically manufactured jackets and accessories had pivoted production to make isolation gowns as well.
The three companies quickly realized that they all shared common values and leadership beliefs, and collectively approached Superior about joining their PPE manufacturing consortium. The partnership helped to deliver on a mutual desire to manifest reconciliation principles while introducing state-of-the-art production capability to an Indigenous business in Ontario’s north, all in alignment with the government’s stated priorities.
“Developing Canada’s pandemic response capability is critical to everyone in this country — and that has to include our First Nations,” says Harbour’s co-owner, Andrew Glover.
Prioritizing reconciliation in business development
Since committing Promation to the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB) Progressive Aboriginal Relations program several years ago, president Darryl Spector has also become a firm believer in the role both individuals and businesses play in establishing reconciliation initiatives through embracing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action.
These values and beliefs also resonated with Wuxly owner James Yurichuk, whose company is a member of the CCAB. Along with the rest of the team, Yurichuk believed the initiative could be a shining example of how Canadian businesses can reconcile with an Indigenous community in a substantial and meaningful way.
“Reconciliation isn’t just the government’s responsibility,” says Spector, a sentiment echoed by Yurichuk. “It’s everyone’s responsibility.”
Manufacturing economic prosperity for everyone
Today, Thompson is cautiously optimistic about the future. He’s leased new manufacturing space, Wuxly is sending experts to Thunder Bay to train Warrior staff, and ultrasonic welding machines — used to seam the gowns together — are en route from Windsor and Toronto.
Once production gets up to speed, Thompson says that there are plans to expand and then roll out to other Indigenous communities in Canada and the U.S. who are interested in replicating the model.
Of course, there are concerns. The vital need for domestically-manufactured PPE demonstrated over the past 15 months seems to have been forgotten by purchasing departments, who are once again buying cheaper imported products over those made in Canada or by Indigenous-owned companies.
“It’s imperative that the federal and provincial governments recognize that this industry will continue to need support to ensure its long-term survival,” Thompson says. “It isn’t a call for a hand-out — it’s a call for a change in procurement guidelines that protect the investment they’ve already made to establish domestic pandemic response capability. It just happens that in this case, they would also be protecting a Canadian-Indigenous business partnership that could lead to greater economic prosperity — not just for the companies that answered last year’s SOS, but for the Red Rock First Nation and beyond.”