Schefferville on track for growth
North America’s first Indigenous-owned and operated railroad
There are no roads into Schefferville, in northern Quebec. The only way in and out is by plane or train.
Over the years, locals have come to rely on the railway for almost everything: food, medicine, supplies for local businesses – even building materials. Imagine trying to build or renovate your home and getting supplies by airplane?
And now Tanis Peterson – Sept-Îles local and Executive Director of Tshiuetin Rail Transportation, Inc – is determined to find more ways the railway can help grow the region. And having started her career as a train conductor, she knows the ins and outs of the business.
“I look at the potential, and I get so excited,” Tanis says.
“There are many different business avenues to explore, like improving the freight service, providing mechanical services to other companies in the region and making improvements to the track.
“And I’m so driven to help our employees by offering them the training they need to grow,” she says.
In 2005, the Iron Ore Company of Canada (IOC) sold part of the railway for $1 to a collective of three Indigenous communities who live in the area: the Innu of Uashat Mak Mani-Utenam and Matimekush-Lac John, and the Naskapi Nation of Kawawachikamach.
“When we purchased the railway, we embarked on repairs and overhauls of equipment,” Tanis says.
“It required special capabilities and knowledge that we didn't have at the time, so IOC and the Quebec North Shore & Labrador (QNS&L) railway were there to help us – and their support continues today.”
And the partnership has been just as important for IOC.
“It’s really shown the power of what you can achieve when you work together,” says Donald Tremblay, interim President and Chief Executive Officer at IOC.
“When we collaborate, we can all benefit from the sustainable and responsible development of resources.”
Since then, the service from Sept-Îles to Schefferville in Quebec, has brought employment and economic activity. To help support the region, Tanis says Tshiuetin Rail tries to hire local whenever possible. Today, 98% of the workforce is from Schefferville and Sept- Îles, and the railway provides job opportunities for young people too. Plus, the bi-weekly service gives young people the option to pursue careers or study outside the region, while staying connected to home.
The results speak for themselves – Tanis says that since they gained ownership, both lifestyle and living conditions have improved.
“We always encourage Indigenous-owned companies to bid on our work. So sometimes there’s a trickle-down effect and we can create even more employment. Plus, if they’re making a profit, that money goes right back into the community.”
But most of all, locals are proud of their railway – it’s the heart of their community. And the railway team are like family: On any given day, you’ll find neighbours helping neighbours get supplies or friends taking friends to visit relatives. The railway has become an integral part of the community’s spirit – even the Tshiuetin’s logo was designed by a local, as part of a community art competition.
“I think it was a very innovative and courageous move by the three Indigenous communities to come together,” Tanis says.
“They recognized the economic benefits and potential employment opportunities that would come with owning the railway, with support from IOC.
“Railway is important across Canada, but I feel this one's special because we’re serving these communities in such an important way. I’m very, very proud to be part of that.”