Comforts of home and camp

WindigoIt’s hard to imagine anything more satisfying than a gourmet meal at the end of a 12-hour work day in a Northern Ontario mine. Coming back from a long day at Musslewhite Mine to a camp run by Windigo Catering LP offers that, and more.

Windigo Catering provides everything from janitorial maintenance to housekeeping, kitchen, and cafeteria services all the way to the office, managing facilities to Goldcorp Canada Ltd.’s Musselwhite Mine at Opapimiskan Lake. “Coming back to camp to a hot meal and a comfortable bedroom is what is needed for a good night’s sleep and productive working day the following day,” says Jeff Harris, Camp Manager, Windigo Catering, Musselwhite.

Windigo Catering LP is a 100 per cent First Nations-owned company born out of an agreement between the Windigo First Nations Council and Goldcorp in the mid-1990s, designed to take advantage of the economic opportunities created by the Musselwhite Agreement with Placer Dome Canada Ltd. The agreement ensures employment for Aboriginal people in the remote northern communities of Bearskin Lake, Sachigo Lake, North Caribou Lake, Cat Lake, Koocheching, Whitewater Lake First Nations and Slate Falls Nation and has served as the genesis for a range of employment, skills training, economic development opportunities and environmental protection.

The company officially become Windigo Catering LP in 2005 when the Windigo Chiefs reorganized the WCDC to separate ‘not-for-profit activities’ from ‘for profit’ activities, resulting in a ‘for profit’ structure through the formation of general partnerships (e.g. Windigo Ventures General Partner Ltd) which oversee business operations (e.g. Windigo Catering Limited Partnership).

Now, over ten years later, the Windigo Community Development Corporation (WCDC) has flourished into a successful group of companies with the Musselwhite contract functioning as the ‘fuel’ for business growth, dividends to Windigo communities and outside investments. Currently over 80 percent of Windigo Catering employees are Aboriginal, and 50 per cent of those come from the signatory communities—and the company shares revenues amongst the five Windigo member First Nations.

It is Windigo Catering’s policy to first recruit from the Windigo communities, thereby offering employment opportunities to community members. Many of the positions are ‘entry-level positions’ (e.g. housekeepers, laundry attendants, dishwashers, cafeteria stewards) which can be used as a spring-board for many Windigo band members who are entering the workforce. Many Windigo employees go on to post-secondary education.

“Our team is the most important,” says Harris. “We go to great efforts to hire from the signatory Windigo territories and hire from within.”

In 2013, Windigo Catering LP won the prestigious Skookum Jim Award for exceptional achievement in the Canadian mining industry. Windigo Catering’s exceptional “gourmet comfort food” has elevated what is considered possible for base camp living. Meals include lamb curry, sushi, Osso Buco, and the list goes on.

“The Musselwhite Agreement embodies cooperation, understanding, and mutual respect,” says Frank McKay, President of Windigo Ventures General Partner Ltd. “We’ve been proud to work closely with Goldcorp on their Musselwhite project since 1998. Our relationship is based on shared values, and continues to strengthen as we provide increasing support to a range of mining operations.”

McKay further notes that the Goldcorp partnership has been a key catalyst for business growth. “Profits generated through Windigo Catering are financing other aspects of our business, which include Windigo Property LP and Windigo Distributors LP. The Skookum Jim award feels like icing on the cake.”

The key to such accolades? “At the end of the day, when you are tired it is nice to know you can look forward to a wonderful meal and then go to your room which is immaculately clean. It’s a little more like a home away from home,” says Debbie Korobanik, General Manger, Windigo Venture General Partner.

It’s also the employee-first philosophy. “We try to maintain an open-door policy, and we also offer group benefits and a registered pension plan,” Korobanik says. “Having leadership where you have a very clear idea of where you want to be in five years or in 10 years is a major factor in any successful company,” says Korobanik.

The Windigo Chiefs completed a strategic plan in February of 2016, which outlines five priorities for the next five years. The Windigo leadership is now focused of the economic opportunities arising from an all-weather road and the construction of the Hydro Grid project led by Watay Power. The large-scale, $1.3 billion project will connect 16 remote First Nations communities to the power grid over the next five to 10 years.