In the Smith family, the “r” word is verboten.
Patriarch Doug Smith, founder of Manitoulin Transport, is in his 80s, but retirement is nowhere near his radar.
After devoting 54 years to building the company up from scratch, Smith maintains the same values and customs that have guided him through more than a half-century of success: modesty, hard work, attention to detail, and a nap every afternoon.
“To this day, his administrative assistant is required to sharpen about a half a dozen No. 6 pencils each morning to be at the ready,” said his son, Jeff Smith, describing his father’s daily routine. “His other secret weapon is a bag of Oreos.”
For his contributions to the mining sector through his innovative solutions in the trucking industry, Doug Smith was inducted into the SAMSSA Hall of Fame on Dec. 4, along with the late Paul Marcotte, founder of Marcotte Mining.
Born in Gore Bay in 1933, Doug has remained a humble, hardworking Northerner, never straying far from his roots. After a brief stint in Toronto working in banking following high school, Doug returned to his hometown to help with the family business, Smith’s Wholesale, which serviced general stores, grocery stores and service stations across Manitoulin Island.
In 1957, the company introduced fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables to its grocery line, ferrying goods from Toronto to customers in Manitoulin, Killarney and Espanola, and teaming up with George Bertrand and Sudbury Wholesale.
Facing stiff competition in the wholesaling business, Doug sold to National Grocers and acquired Hill’s Transport for $18,000. With a fleet of three straight trucks and four tractor-trailers, the company continued to service customers from Toronto, backhauling turkeys from the Manitoulin Turkey Co-op, Jeff noted.
In 1965, Doug teamed up with Cooper’s Transport to serve companies like Loeb Grocery Wholesale, Canadian Liquidaire and Canada Cement. Two years later, the companies merged.
Manitoulin Transport was instrumental in bringing more freedom to the trucking industry, which was highly regulated between the 1960s and 1980s. In order to get an expanded licence to operate in additional communities, Smith had to prove a new service was necessary. During Ontario Highway Transport Board hearings, he brought in witnesses from Inco, Falconbridge, mining supply companies and Sudbury’s then-mayor Jim Gordon to testify on the company’s behalf.
“Many of the founders of many of Sudbury’s existing mining suppliers, and management at the mining companies themselves, were enormously supportive of Manitoulin throughout those years, and we owe a lot to them,” Jeff said. “Those early witnesses wanted a better service and we bent over backwards to give it to them.”
When it came time to set up a new Sudbury terminal, Manitoulin Transport was the first company to occupy the Walden Industrial Park in 1978.
But Manitoulin and other transport companies faced a difficult time in 1989 when they were simultaneously hit with industry deregulation and a recession. Some companies “hunkered down to ride out the storm,” Jeff said, but freight volumes in the province dropped to 30 per cent.
“Many of those companies are now gone,” Jeff said. “Instead, my father took this as an opportunity to expand our services even more. In the last 25 years, he led a determined expansion by organic growth and acquisition across the country.”
Manitoulin Transport now services more direct points than any other carrier in Canada through a network of 66 terminals across the country. Head office remains in Gore Bay, where, in a town of 900 people, Manitoulin Transport employs 200.
The Manitoulin Group of Companies, meanwhile, offers ground transportation (LTL / TL), international freight forwarding, warehousing, customs brokerage, global time critical delivery, logistics, residential and commercial moving, crating and supply chain management.
For his efforts, Doug was invested into the Order of Canada in 2008, and last year received the Diamond Jubilee Medal.