By Brian Dunn

One of the vital links to the Eastern Arctic out of Port of Valleyfield is operated by Winnipeg-based The North West Company (NWC). The North West Company is the owner of Northern Stores and is a minority shareholder of Nunavut Eastern Arctic Shipping Inc. (NEAS) through Transport Nanuk Inc., a joint venture between Logistec Corporation and The North West Company.

North West was formed in 1779 in Montreal as a fur trading company before merging with Hudson’s Bay Co. in 1821. After a major reorganization in 1987 the present company emerged under its original name to provide retail services to northern and urban neighbourhood markets in several regions, namely Northern Canada, Western Canada, rural Alaska, the South Pacific islands and the Caribbean. The stores offer a broad range of products and services, with an emphasis on food.

The northern stores serve communities with populations ranging from 500 to 8,000. A typical store is 7,500 square feet in size and, in addition to food, offers family apparel, housewares, appliances, outdoor products and services such as post offices, income tax return preparation, quick-service prepared food, commercial business sales, money transfers and cheque cashing. There are 122 northern stores, offering a combination of food, financial services and general merchandise to remote Northern Canadian communities. There are also seven NorthMart stores, targeted at larger northern markets with an emphasis on an expanded selection of fresh foods, fashion and health products and services.

NEAS does all the receiving, warehousing, packaging, containerization and distribution for ten Northern Stores in Nunavik and 21 in Nunavut through its NEAS Cargo Service Centre located in the Port of Valleyfield. All the other stores are served through either Hay River, N.W.T. or by ice roads, according to NEAS President Suzanne Paquin. “They used to do it themselves in Dollard-des-Ormeaux (closer to Montreal), but when we moved here in 2000, they decided to let us handle everything for them” she explained.

During the shipping season, North West occupies about half of NEAS’ 100,000-sq.-ft. warehouse in Valleyfield, and is one of the company’s top five clients, Ms. Paquin estimated. “Their business is pretty stable. They haven’t added any new stores recently, but have expanded some existing ones.” In September, for example, North West announced plans to invest $11 million to open a new store in Hall Beach and expand two existing ones in Clyde River and Pond Inlet, all in Nunavut. More expansions are planned but no details are available.