Established in 1982 as a one-crane, two-man operation in Tumbler Ridge, BC, LAPRAIRIE Group of Companies has grown into a 600+ employee operation offering full-service crane and rigging, highway and bridge maintenance, heavy hauling services and frac sand mining and distribution. The 100% Canadian family-owned company services the Canadian and North Eastern USA markets through their various subsidiaries including LAPRAIRIE Crane, LAPRAIRIE Works, LAPRAIRIE Oilfield, LAPRAIRIE Rock, ENTREC Alberta Ltd., CAPSTAN Hauling and Canadian Silica.
In 2022, LaPrairie Group of Companies, a Canadian-owned, full-service crane and transportation and logistics company, celebrates 40 years of providing solutions for clients in Western Canada.
Over four decades, LaPrairie has pioneered the crawler and crane rental industry, with many firsts under its belt—including the very first hydraulic crawler cranes in Alberta and British Columbia. With fleet lifting capacities up to 650 tons and one of the newest fleets in the industry, LaPrairie provides clients with the confidence and proven reliability that comes with the “LaPrairie Advantage”.
Clifford LaPrairie Sr. started in the lifting business in Eliot Lake, Ontario. A Ford dealer and Gulf Oil agent in at the time, he was delivering 45-gallon barrels of hydraulic and motor oil to the local underground uranium mines using a flat-bed truck and tailgate lift. These barrels were hard to handle by hand and weighed anywhere from 800-1000 lbs., so when he heard that a company called SKB was selling a small, truck-mounted, hydraulic knuckle boom that could pick up four barrels at a time, he got into the lifting business.
Clifford’s son, Scott LaPrairie, now President & CEO, recalls, “I left high school early and worked with my Dad lifting engines out of trucks and whatever else customers wanted moved, when a recession hit Ontario in the early 80s. Business was slow and we had a 40-Ton RT740 Grove rough terrain crane that we were struggling to make payments on. We heard about an opportunity in northeastern, B.C. with Denison Mines who was building a coal mine in Tumbler Ridge and was looking for contractors. My brother-in-law, Wayne McBrearty, and I packed up and drove across Canada with the RT740, a one-ton service truck with mounted concrete bucket and a 21-foot camper trailer and set up shop on the banks of Flatbed Creek in Tumbler Ridge.”
It’s that kind of determination and grit that has been propelling LaPrairie to this day. In that first year, LaPrairie was a growing business with nine cranes, looking for new opportunities. Quintette Coal was looking for an experienced vehicle repair contractor for the coal mine that was under construction. With their previous experience, the team took a risk, put a proposal together and in 1984 were awarded a 10-year contract to look after their 300 pickup trucks, says Scott.
“This was the next branch of the business—vehicle repair and maintenance—we called this company, Northland Fleet Services,” says Scott. “We built a shop in Tumbler Ridge and provided both vehicle maintenance and lifting services to the mine until it closed in 99’. After the mine closed, we were approached by Curragh Resources, made up of former execs from the Quintette mine, to provide crane, hauling and vehicle maintenance services for a mine in Faro, Yukon.”
LaPrairie was “on a roll”, says Scott, and in the following years LaPrairie expanded its crane operations throughout BC into Fort Nelson, Fort St. John, Prince George and into Alberta with a branch in Fort McMurray. From there, the company expanded into highway and bridge maintenance when B.C. privatized their highway maintenance in 1987.
“One of my current partners and our CFO, Jim Feragen, joined the team and helped me bid on a few contracts. We drove just about the whole province, bid on five service areas, and were awarded two, Fort St. John and Quesnel,” says Scott. This was the beginning of Northland Road Services. In the late nineties, Alberta also privatized their highway maintenance and the company was awarded the service area surrounding Peace River. And this is the common thread that ties the 40 years of LaPrairie together. A Can-do attitude married with experience and effective solutions.
Over the past 25+ years since, LaPrairie has continued to expand its service area and currently maintains over 4000 kms of highway infrastructure across northern and central Alberta.
Since these major milestones, LaPrairie has continued to expand its operations for all divisions across Canada, the US and overseas, says Scott. “Recent highlights have included the acquisition of the heavy hauling divisions of Entrec Alberta Ltd., including their division in Fort McMurray, and in Grande Prairie known as Capstan Hauling. We also expanded our crane division into Manitoba and Northern Ontario with two new locally owned and operated branches in Winnipeg and Brandon, MB.”
The 40-year Milestone
“I am proud of our growth over the past 40-years,” says Scott. What started out as a two-man, one crane operation in Tumbler Ridge, BC, has grown to a 600+ employee group within 7 operating divisions accompanied by one of the largest private fleets in Canada.
“It took a lot of hard work and determination to get here. It has helped that we have a strong management group that has been with us for most of our 40-years in business,” says Scott. LaPrairie is the definition of a family business. Scott’s long time business partner, Jim Feragen, is CFO; son, Clifford LaPrairie, is President and COO of the mining and aggregates divisions; Brother-in-law, Kelly McManus, is President of Transportation and Highway Operations; Brother, Reagan LaPrairie, is Vice-President, Operations of the Crane and Heavy Hauling Divisions; sister, Roachelle LaPrairie, is Vice-President, Finance and Administration and cousin Carl LaPrairie, is Senior Vice-President, Business Development.
“It means a lot to us that we have been able to grow our businesses while keeping the same fearless outlook and family values that got us where we are today,” says Scott.
Over the past 40-years, the importance of entrepreneurship, innovation and diversification have stood out. The spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation is strong within our LaPrairie culture. Without a dedicated employee team, we would not be where we are today, says Scott. Diversification has played an important role too—helping to withstand difficult economic times and the inevitable ups and downs the industries experience. “When one division has slowed, we have focused on another,” says Scott.
LaPrairie Group of Companies currently has seven operating divisions with locations across Western Canada and northeastern United States. “We are able to offer our customers service anywhere they need it, through our ‘LaPrairie Advantage’—a one-stop-solution for all their project needs,” says Scott. “If a customer needs something hauled and installed, we have them covered with our crane and heavy hauling divisions. If a customer needs aggregate sourced and placed, we can do that. We aim to provide our customers a simple solution to their onsite challenges. LaPrairie Crane, our oldest division, is made up of experienced hoisting engineers, riggers, and mechanical staff working with one of the newest hoisting fleets in the industry—with current lifting capacitates up to 650 tons.”
“We have locations in major centers throughout British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. LaPrairie Works, our highway and bridge maintenance division, provides road and bridge maintenance services for the highway, resource, and oilfield sectors. LaPrairie Works Oilfield Services, Entrec Alberta Ltd. and Capstan Hauling handle our heavy hauling operations. With a specialized trailer fleet, jack and slide capabilities, multiple trans-load centers, and a reliable, trackable, scheduling and inventory management software, we can load, haul and deliver anytime, anyplace. LaPrairie Rock specializes in the development and exploration of aggregate resources, providing a full range of aggregate materials production services at every phase of the materials engineering process from initial exploration to delivery of the final end product. Canadian Silica Industries owns and operates state-of-the-art sand processing facilities for the manufacture and refinement of silica sands with easy access to port and trans-load facilities.”
Environmental stewardship is a large-part of many of all the industries LaPrairie works in. “We are proud to have thorough environmental standards in place at LaPrairie,” says Scott. “Over the years, we have been involved in unique projects that have worked to provide greener energy to various communities. LaPrairie has received industry recognition for its performance in Health, Environmental and Safety, including top employer awards from the Alberta Apprenticeship and Industry Training board and the Industry Training Authority of British Columbia and recognition certificates from the Alberta Roadbuilders and Heavy Construction Association and Heavy Construction Safety Association of Saskatchewan.“
LaPrairie prides itself in thinking outside of normal boxes in basin particular scenarios where the team can bring value to customers then bolt on additional services from their basket of different service offerings. Proud innovators who are always developing in-house software and tools to keep up with or ahead of industry standards, LaPrairie will continue to grow its operations and look to expand into new industries whenever the opportunity presents itself—including recent expansions in the US and overseas.
“We are always looking to be front-runners in innovating our services, whether it be in creating in-house applications to make our operations more efficient, researching and applying new methods to stay ahead of our competitors, or working in collaboration with our team on the ground to find new ways to improve.”
For more information, please visit www.laprairiegroup.com