The Weatherby family has long worked to establish a name for themselves in Yellowknife as the top trucking company with deep roots in the community.
Growing up in Yellowknife with ties to the mining and trucking community, Blair Weatherby was surrounded by characters who would have a great influence on winter road work and trucking.
“I was born and raised into ice road work,” said Blair. “My dad Gord drove truck in the 60s on winter roads. I was also largely influenced growing up around Dick Robinson and John Zigarlick.”
Robinson and Zigarlick, and their families, are credited as being winter road pioneers, founding and improving the winter road system for mines.
As a young man, Blair quickly realized he wasn’t interested in schooling and switched directions to a profession a little closer to home.
“School suggested I withdraw myself because I wasn’t that interested, so I got into trucking,” said Blair. “So there I was, a Grade 10 trucker.”
In 1991 Blair got his first gravel truck. He was casually running loads until 1997 when he officially opened Weatherby Trucking LTD with his wife Kelley.
Work was coming at a fairly steady pace for the Weatherbys, buying his second truck off a former employer and slowly expanding, but things really took off for Weatherby Trucking when they were awarded a contract to haul ore from Giant Mine to Con Mine.
“That was the big one,” said Blair. “It gave us the bank to back us and allow us to really expand the company.
“From there we got contracts to do reclamation of Con, it just kind of flowed from there. We just started buying stuff to facilitate the work we were getting into.”
Now the company fleet nearly fills their seven acre lot outside Yellowknife with tandem gravel trucks, water trucks, winch trucks, bed trucks, picker trucks, a 50 tonne crane, end dump trucks, 10-axle configurations for hauling machinery, bulldozers, a Snow Cat, six to 48 tonne excavators just to mention a few.
The love of the business eventually transferred to Blair and Kelley’s children, who have become the second generation to work under the Weatherby Trucking name.
“As parents get into ice roads and trucking, sons follow suit,” Kelley Weatherby said. “It’s a pattern.”
Blair’s own son, Dustin Philippon, has worked on winter roads and operating machinery nearly his whole life, recently reaching the 10 year mark constructing winter roads working with Nuna Logistics.
“I’ve left to go south for work a few times before, but the family businesses always comes first,” said Philippon. “I always situate myself to be able to come home and work at a moment’s notice, doesn’t really matter where I am.”
Blair and Kelley’s daughter, Aven Tremblett, has also been working with the company in the office and is credited with vastly improving the company’s website and online presence.
The whole family agreed there are certainly trying times working with kin, but there is a lot of pride and dedication involved when working for a company the family has built.
As they years go by and with the mining economy waning, Weatherby Trucking has had to expand into being able to do everything and anything involving large trucks and heavy machine operations.
“We get called when the task is impossible,” said Blair. “We’ve been described as the Aspirin.”
“When a job is giving you a headache, you call us,” said Kelley.
Over the years Weatherby Trucking has moved into civil construction, heavy rescue recovery on winter roads, exploration hauling (which died out), moving buildings and loading aircraft including some jobs with military Hercules and C-17s.
“One of the best loads was hauling a Buffalo DC 4 which ran off the end of a runway at the Diavik mine,” said Blair. “We had to haul it without wings and it was one hell of a job.”
High profile jobs like these have given the Weatherby’s a lot of notoriety and eventually landed them on episodes of Ice Road Truckers, Ice Pilots and BBC’s 23 Degrees.
These moves to expand and diversify have been necessary as local competition stiffens.
“The competition is ten times now than when he started,” said Blair. “When we started there were a small handful of construction or trucking companies. Now there’s over a dozen.”
“And they all are expanding into different territory,” said Philippon. “It seems a lot of construction companies are expanding into trucking, while we did the opposite.”
Blair says this increased competition means they have to keep their rates low, despite the constantly increasing costs of fuel, power, taxes and maintaining trucks and machinery.
“Sometimes we have to lower our rates just to be able to land a job,” said Blair. “We’re weathering the dip in the economy at the moment, but hoping it get some work with Giant Mine remediation and the winter road to Tuk.”
There are undoubtedly challenges involved with running a year-round trucking company in the North.
There is the extreme cold, equipment challenges, salt on highways eroding machinery and the constant repairs needed to the company’s extensive fleet, but Blair says the company’s biggest challenge is finding local employees.
Weatherby’s, which usually hovers around 10 employees and can jump up to 20 in the busy season, has trouble finding local employees.
“We always try to employ local Northerners,” said Blair. “It’s hard to find ones with experience who will stick around. There’s a lot a of competition between companies and the mines themselves. A mine will offer an operator a job with benefits that can pay what we would call a year’s salary in six months.”
Despite all the challenges, the Weatherby’s attribute their many years of success and continued work with being actively involved members of the community, supporting a wide range of causes.
“We’re huge community supporters,” Kelley said. “We want to support youth of the community and so they have a place to do things and go places.”
They’ve also contributed to NWT Snow Board association every year since 2007. Since 2009 they’ve been sponsoring a novice development hockey team, the Weatherby Warriors, which is something they have become quite proud of.
“It’s an important part of being well-known in the community,” said Philippon.
With Tremblett’s partner, Matthew, discovering he had a brain tumour in 2011 the Brain Tumor Foundation became a charity the family has been most active in.
“The Brain Tumour Foundation is huge part of our company,” said Kelley. “We dedicate a fair amount of time to them and are the presenting sponsors at the annual walk, which will be on June 15 of this year.”
Through the ebbs and flows of a changing economy and diversifying their work Weatherby remains, at it’s heart, a company that services the mining industry.
“We really cater to mining in the end, because of who we are and how we got into it,” said Blair.
Blair and Kelley said that more should be done to celebrate mining heritage in Yellowknife and more should be done to celebrate and acknowledge the positive things mining has done for the town.
“Our whole company was built to service mining. A lot of people forget that’s why this town is here,” said Kelley. “We wouldn’t have schools and hospitals if mining hadn’t boomed the way it had.”
But regardless of how the mining industry plays out in the future, the Weatherby’s say they’re ready to weather the storm and continue to proudly serve Yellowknife and the North.