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Former ORBA president Mario Villeneuve proud to represent Ontario’s north

Dan O’Reilly
Former ORBA president Mario Villeneuve proud to represent Ontario’s north
ONTARIO ROAD BUILDERS’ ASSOCIATION — Peter Hamstra, district manager with Dufferin Construction Company; McLean Taylor Construction senior manager Kyle McCutcheon; 2023 ORBA president andVilleneuve Construction president Mario Villeneuve; and ORBA CEO Walid Abou-Hamde at the Adelaide Street/CP Railway Grade Separation in London, a project carried out by McLean Taylor Construction. The site visit was part of the ORBA President’s Tour.

After passing on the presidency’s baton at the recent Ontario Road Builders’ Association conference in Toronto, Mario Villeneuve believes he can look back with pride in his role as the association’s 2023 president.

“I did work hard and think I achieved something,” says Villeneuve, citing ongoing efforts by the association to push the Ministry of Transportation and municipal governments to issue tenders as early as possible.

Early tendering gives roadbuilding contractors adequate time to prepare bids and source material and labour. But it’s an issue the association has to keep working on, he says.

Another 2023 achievement was a major reorganization of the ORBA management team, he points out.

There were also personal accomplishments in becoming ORBA president.

At 44, he is one of, and perhaps the youngest, person to hold that role. He was also the association’s first Franco-Ontarian president.

“That is something I am very proud of.”

At the same time, he had some initial reservations about becoming president. That is perhaps understandable considering the time and effort he invests just to attend ORBA events.

Mario Villeneuve, the outgoing ORBA president, spoke at the association’s recent conference in Toronto.
ONTARIO ROAD BUILDERS’ ASSOCIATION — Mario Villeneuve, the outgoing ORBA president, spoke at the association’s recent conference in Toronto.

Villeneuve and his company, Villeneuve Construction Co., are based in the northern Ontario community of Hearst, about a 10 to 11 hour drive from the Greater Toronto Area.

“I don’t want the north to be forgotten and I believe there should be a balance of representation on ORBA’s board of directors from all parts of the province,” says Villeneuve on why he accepted the position.

Attending the association’s events was and is somewhat a challenge for Villeneuve, who will remain active in ORBA as its past president. Besides the conference, he also attended the Ontario Asphalt Pavement Council’s fall seminar in November.

Earlier that month he also led the ORBA President’s Tour, an annual event where association representatives visit members’ construction projects throughout the province.

“We drove to the GTA, London, Ottawa and Sudbury. We did that in a week.”

While sometimes driving, Villeneuve usually catches either a Porter Airline or Air Canada flight from the Timmins Airport. Even getting to the airport is a challenge as it’s a three-hour drive to Timmins from Hearst.

However, Villeneuve Construction has construction offices in Wawa, Cochrane and Kapuskasing and he makes a point of visiting those offices on his way to or from the airport.

While some ORBA business can be conducted virtually, he believes in-person meetings are still important.

“It is a balancing act,” says Villeneuve on how he weighs his family and business responsibilities with his ORBA duties.

He has two partners, his brother Martin and Ghislain Lacroix, so the business isn’t neglected. Lacroix was the company’s first employee and partnered with Villeneuve’s father Claude to become part owner.

“And there’s the team,” he says referring to the company’s employees.

On the home front, his two children, son, Caleb, 14, and daughter Charlotte, 11, are at the age “that they are a little more independent.”

His wife France works full time as a dental hygienist.

Reflecting on his tenure as ORBA president, Villeneuve says it was “a commitment” and that he is equally committed to working with incoming 2024 president Andrew Weltz.

Villeneuve grew up in the roadbuilding business. The company he now runs was started in 1976 by his father, who was inducted in the ORBA hall of fame during the conference.

As a student, he worked part-time for his father on weekends and during summer holidays. Like many young people he took a different career path. He studied funeral embalming at Sudbury’s Collège Boréal and then worked as a funeral director for a few years in Ottawa.

“However, I did miss my hometown,” says Villeneuve, on why he returned to Hearst where began reworking for the family firm and eventually became part owner.

Over the years Villeneuve Construction has grown to become the largest construction company in northern Ontario and now serves an approximately 75,000-square-kilometre area.

Construction, especially roadbuilding in the north, are considerably different than in the south. Not only are there vast distances, the construction season is very short, he says.

“It’s only about four to five months and work usually doesn’t start until June. Even in May the ground is still frozen.”

Like most contractors in the province, those in northern Ontario must deal with the challenges of securing labour and material. But those challenges are more pronounced in the north, he says.

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