It’s smooth sailing for Quebec-based maritime company

By Cheryl Long

groupe-maritimeWhen Verreault Navigation launches the second phase of its expansion project later this year, not only will it become home to the largest dry dock in Canada but the achievement will also celebrate the 60th anniversary of a company that continues to play an impactful role in the country’s maritime industry.

The first of the two-phase project was completed last year, more than doubling the width of its dry dock from 90 to 184 feet, creating a new access road and retaining wall, and adding a new pump house. Phase two, which will soon get underway, will lengthen the dry dock by 150 feet for a total of 950 feet, lower the bottom by five feet to allow for more flexibility with the tides, and increase the access gate to 180 feet. All of these changes will allow Verreault Navigation to accommodate larger vessels sailing in the North Atlantic, and give the company a larger presence on the international market.

A leader in ship repair and transformation

Located on the St. Lawrence River in Les Méchins, Quebec, Verreault Navigation is part of the holding company, Groupe Maritime Verreault. At its helm is Denise Verreault, President and Chief Executive Officer, and daughter of company founder Captain Borromée Verreault, who launched the business as a dredging company in 1956 in response to the needs of the local sailing market. Though she had originally aimed for a career in teaching, Verreault joined her father’s company in 1982 and became sole shareholder just a few years later. Today, the company is a leader in the transformation and repair of ships.

“My father made me work in his company, on his vessels and in the shipyard when I was a teenager,” Verreault said. “I learned all about the company. I know exactly what is going on since I took over the company. We expanded six times now and the dry dock is four times bigger than when I took over.”

Last spring, the first expansion allowed Verreault Navigation to welcome the Blue Puttees, the largest ferry in eastern Canada and the biggest ship to be dry docked in the company’s history. But that was just the beginning. The enhanced facilities will make the company a welcome choice for large vessels operated by foreign ship owners that travel along the St. Lawrence River. Currently limited to docks in other countries, next year these larger ships will be able to make their way to Verreault Navigation for necessary repairs or maintenance, saving both the time and expense involved in a return trip home across the Atlantic.

“We repair different vessels like ferries, cargo vessels, tankers, supply vessels. We repair tugs as well. We do all the work that has to be done on the vessels from top to bottom,” Verreault explained. That can include sandblasting, painting, steel work and mechanical work, made more convenient by the company’s well-equipped onsite steel shop.

Workers expected to grow by 200

Today, the company employs a total of about 250 workers. When the next phase is complete — part of a $50-million investment — those numbers are expected to grow by another 200, Verreault said. That means hiring a diverse group of new talent, from shipyard workers and project managers to welders, crane operators and many more.

The expansion will not only benefit Verreault Navigation; it will also provide new jobs for contractors and increase revenue through purchases for Quebec-based suppliers. The upgraded dry dock will bring more dollars into Quebec and Canada since most of the new clients will have previously sought repairs or maintenance outside of the province and the country.

“We have lots of demand from our clients, and we are very, very busy,” Verreault said. “There’s a lot of demand because three dry docks have closed a few years ago from the Great Lakes to the Maritimes . . . those clients have to come to our shipyard.”

Maritime law requires that every vessel undergo two dry dock inspections every five years. Depending on the age of the vessel and whether repairs are needed, the process can be time-consuming. Verreault Navigation’s larger dry dock will offer another option to ships travelling across the Atlantic that would otherwise be required to return to Europe or other locations for maintenance.

Much of the company’s success can be attributed to one of the most simple, but sometimes elusive, principles in business: client satisfaction. “The clients keep coming back over and over and over again because they’re very satisfied with what we do and how we do it,” Verreault said. “We keep improving and we do good work.”

Environmental impact is a priority

Not only is Verreault concerned with the company’s reputation as a leader in ship repair and transformation, but she also pays close attention to the organization’s impact on the environment. As part of the company’s sustainable development plan, they have introduced several initiatives designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, energy consumption, noise levels and hazardous materials spills. The company has also earned its ISO 9001 certification.

Verreault Navigation is truly a family business. One of Verreault’s daughters, learning all aspects of the organization just as her mother did, is poised to one day take over the running of the company. But that doesn’t mean Verreault will rest on her successes.

Highly accomplished, Verreault has not only brought her own company to new heights but is also involved with a number of other organizations and companies, lending her expertise to committees, advisory boards and boards of directors. She was named a member of the Order of Canada in 2006 and the Chevalier de l’Ordre National du Québec in 2001, received an honorary doctorate in management from the University of Ottawa and was a recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal of in 2013, presented to Canadians for their significant contributions and achievements. This year, she made the Canadian Who’s Who Honours edition for 2016 and was named a Pinnacle Professional Member of the Continental Who’s Who 2016.

A true entrepreneur, the celebrated businesswoman is involved in other ventures, including the development of agricultural and food processing operations that focus on organic and gluten-free products. “It’s a growing market and there’s lots of demand,” she explained.

Their line of products currently includes Gaspésie rice, gluten-free oats, oatmeal, white quinoa, hulled hemp seeds and many types of flours such as oat, white quinoa, green lentil, buckwheat, and white and brown rice under the trademark PURE GASPÉSIE. The innovative company is in the process of developing its distribution network and building a website to promote their products.