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Comparing chess to canoes: Mid-Canada Fibreglass Ltd. uses its 40 years of kayak- and canoe-building experience to stay one step ahead of the competition.

New Liskeard -- Mid-Canada Fiberglass Limited (MCF) stays at least one move ahead of its competition, making it the number one manufacturer for Scott and Bluewater Canoes, and Impex kayaks in Canada. Of course, producing a quality product for 40 years is a large factor in keeping other manufacturing and outfitting businesses on their toes.

In 1965, Gerald Shepherdson, president, founder and creative driving force behind the company, began making canoes along with other fiberglass products for large mining and forest companies, with partner Bill Scott. Over the years, Shepherdson bought out his partner, retained the name Scott for the canoes and handed the reins of the company over to his daughter, Rhonda Wood, vice-president and CEO.


MCF now employs about 45 people who work out of 60,000 square feet in a 100,000-sq.-ft. facility in New Liskeard.

As a former pattern maker from the local foundry, Shepherdson used his skills to design canoes.

Today, he attributes the company's success to a good team running the show, as well as their ability to diversify the product to meet market demands.

"When I started, it was canoes," he says. "You have to diversify."

Known for Scott Canoes since 1965, the company also manufactures and distributes Bluewater Canoes in Canada and Sawyer Canoes in the United States.

Six years ago, they began to manufacture their own brand of kayaks under the name Formula in Canada, and Impex in the United States. This year, MCF brought the two together and sells kayaks under the name Impex, because the market and sales are higher in the U.S., where they ship year round.

"We export between 1,000 and 1,200 kayaks every year (to the U.S.)," Shepherdson says. "In Canada, we sell about 300 per year."

With a distribution company in the States, known as MCF-America, they aggressively tap the market with the sea-touring kayaks and more than 35 models of canoes sporting 'Y' or square sterns. The names reflect the wilderness of Northern Ontario's lakes and rivers. The designs, weights and lengths are built to serve every adventurer's purpose, from white-water maneuverability and summer camp durability to light-weight casual day-tripper canoes or large capacity freighters: big canoes built to handle heavy loads (up to 3,000 to 4,000 pounds) and can accommodate a motor.

"Our 21-foot Hudson Bay is very popular," Shepherdson says. "They all have their niche."

Both canoes and kayaks are hand-made with a combination of durable, lightweight materials, such as carbon, Kevlar (found in tires and bullet-proof vests) and fiberglass mat.

"We do the original standard hand lay-up," he says, with a process called infusion, where the resin is drawn into each unit from a vacuum tube.

This is what makes MCF's canoes different from companies that use a chopper gun, which blows fiberglass in, resulting in uneven weight distribution.

"You get a lighter, stronger canoe," Shepherdson explains. "It reduces the resin content and you can put in the fabrics you need."

This year, the company's newest line is the Royalex and Royalite canoes. Made up of an inner and outer layer of ABS plastic with a foam layer in between, it is heated and moulded into a one-piece canoe within five minutes.

"We're set up and our ovens are rolling," he says. "We are anxious to talk to anyone who wants moulding done. We can do it."

Shepherdson explains that the material is made only by Dupont, and the resulting canoes are extremely tough and equal to fiber-glass in weight.

Pat Underhill, sales and marketing manager, says they will be looking at the European market with the Royalex and Royalite canoes, as they are very durable and stack well one inside the other, which makes them cost effective for shipping.

He says the company keeps a competitive edge because they work on a retail network that runs from coast to coast, whereas others work on a direct retail system.

"Presently, we are one of the largest kayak manufacturers in composite glass kayaks on the eastern seaboard in North America." Underhill says. "We are number one in the U.S., and that's what we're all about."

Shepherdson said they were short just a few votes of being the manufacturer of the year for kayaks in the U.S..

MCF earns its recognition by promoting its products at notable sporting trade shows in Canada and the U.S., particularly the one in Salt Lake City, Utah, where major retailers across North America attend to see what is new and exciting in the paddle-sport world.

Furthermore, the company also has a marine products division, called Canoe Plus, which sells a variety of marine products to dealers across Canada. The company also has one-piece beaver-tail paddles and yokes called Endless, made exclusively for their canoes and kayaks. They also distribute paddles from other companies.

As Shepherdson, Wood and their team of canoe and kayak gurus continue to manufacture a quality product, like a chess game, they keep one eye on the market and one eye several moves into the future.


Northern Ontario Business
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Author:Larmour, Adelle
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Geographic Code:1CONT
Date:Sep 1, 2005
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