Living and working on an island comes with a set of unique challenges and privileges, both of which are augmented in such an interconnected and logistically demanding industry as construction.
In Canada’s Garden Province of Prince Edward Island, Arsenault Bros. Construction has expanded from humble roots to provide full-service drywall construction across Atlantic Canada. With 40 years in business as of 2023, the company is both a shining example of, and a testament to, the regional can-do spirit.
Like many businesses, Arsenault Bros. started up to satisfy a community need. After living in Alberta for several years, Carl and Anne Marie Arsenault returned to their native Prince Edward Island in the early ‘80s. “Dad had learned the drywall trade out in Alberta, and while he was home he saw an opportunity to start a commercial drywall company here on the island,” says son and current company president, Lucas Arsenault.
At the time, any building project involved off-island companies, and Carl resolved to change that. After recruiting several of his brothers and friends, Carl formally founded Arsenault Bros. in 1983.
The fledgling company expanded slowly but steadily, growing from five carpenters to an estimated 30 when Lucas returned to the island, having followed in his parents’ footsteps to Alberta.
Going beyond the Island
In addition to its growth, Arsenault Bros. had also evolved from simply hanging drywall to performing full-service interior construction. After an injury confined him to a desk job, Lucas transitioned from labour into management. “I took a few courses: cost control, project management, drywall estimating,” he recalls.
Lucas’s education continued until 2020 when he and his brother David drew up a formal succession plan with their parents. Today, Arsenault Bros. remains very much a family enterprise, with Lucas as president, David as co-owner, and several other close family members as senior site supervisors and foremen.
Once Lucas had taken the reins, he decided to lead the company in a new expansive direction, not unlike his father. “There are large general contractors that cover all of Atlantic Canada, and there wasn’t a commercial drywall contractor,” he says, “so I thought it would be beneficial.”
With such a seasonal work schedule, Lucas reasoned that establishing the company over as wide an area as possible would provide more projects and enable Arsenault Bros. to maximize productivity. “I had a bit of a growth mindset, and the new areas and new people were of interest to me,” he concludes, “so I decided to branch off the island and try projects in different areas.”
In just over ten years, Arsenault Bros. has expanded from a single office to operations across all four Atlantic Canadian provinces. “This year, we probably will average 350 employees in all of Atlantic Canada,” Lucas says. The company works in commercial, residential, and institutional spaces, providing not merely drywall but all aspects of exterior walls, interior finishing, steel studs as well as walls and ceilings, and soundproofing panels.
Satellite offices in Moncton, New Brunswick and Dartmouth, Nova Scotia now augment the company’s Cornwall, PEI headquarters and enable the team to work throughout the region.
Building on principles
To manage this balancing act, Lucas says, Arsenault Bros. is built entirely on trust and relationships. As a proud union contractor, Arsenault Bros. will typically send a foreman to a local job site, where they will recruit a work crew from local unions. “We might send a foreman that we trust, and then hire local guys.” Lucas says that this ‘delegation’ approach enables Arsenault Bros. to hire locally and complete jobs across Atlantic Canada.
Additionally, Lucas and his team see themselves as performing a vital community service, and Lucas constantly reminds his work crews: “You’re in service to someone when you go to work, and you have to keep that in mind,” he says, as Arsenault Bros.’ crews are consistently working for either general contractors or building owners.
But he also recognizes Arsenault Bros.’ impact lingers long after the dust has settled and the crew has left. “Someone’s going to own the space that we’re working on,” he says. “Someone’s going to live in it, someone could work in it, depending on what it is that we’re building or working on at that time.”
This, he concludes, is what prompts Arsenault Bros. to take the long view and see the people behind their work. “We want to send the message that our service is meaningful and that a person is going to take value from it.”
Reinforcing this philosophy are Arsenault Bros.’ three core values of humility, trust, and pride in the work. “This is a leadership-style company, not a dictatorship,” Lucas says, alluding to his family’s strong religious convictions in fostering an attitude of humble service across all departments.
Trust, meanwhile, is essential to daily operations as well as greater expansions. Lucas remarks that trust in Arsenault Bros.’ satellite offices is the leading company trait that has enabled the company’s expansion across Atlantic Canada, and it is equally important and effective in the office and on the job site.
“It all pushes up and down the ladder,” he says, “so if you build it on trust, then it’s very hard to break.” Finally, pride in the work helps build team competence and inspires team members to attain more skills and share greater accolades.
Making a difference
As Arsenault Bros. consolidates its operations across Atlantic Canada, its trademark quality projects can already be seen in every province in the region. In its native Prince Edward Island, the company has been tapped to provide interior residence space for the upcoming 2023 Canada Winter Games, which PEI will be hosting in February-March 2023.
“It’s the largest project we’ve ever done on PEI,” Lucas remarks. In fact, it’s the largest achievement in the company’s 40-year history. Yet even this is only a small part of the company’s on-island work, most of which continues to be projects that provide housing. A recently purchased subsidiary, Charlottetown-based Top To Floors, is helping in that endeavour.
“We’ll have 212 units fully rented on PEI by spring,” Lucas says with some pride. “We’re making a difference to a lot of people’s lives, which is the purpose.”
Outside its native province, Arsenault Bros.’ satellite operations are hard at work as well.
In New Brunswick, company crews are helping expand Fredericton’s Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital, as well as a large medical centre on the Canadian Forces Base at Gagetown and a new RCMP building in Moncton.
In neighbouring Nova Scotia, the company is flexing its multi-service muscles by providing a long-term care facility in Mahone Bay, repurposing an old department store, building a new port warehouse in Halifax, and expanding a Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC) campus in Sydney.
Finally, the company is helping provide a new community centre in Corner Brook, Newfoundland.
Help after the hurricane
Apart from its traditional mandate, Arsenault Bros. is assisting in the rebuilding efforts following Hurricane Fiona, which hit Prince Edward Island hard in September. Several ongoing small projects are helping local homes, businesses, and schools get their roofs and water-logged interiors repaired in time for winter. “There were six schools that lost pretty much half their roofs,” Lucas explains, “and so we’re helping there.”
Coordinating with both the provincial government and the Construction Association of PEI, the private sector is setting competition aside, he says. “The industry’s really coming together on the island to help all these people that need this work done before it gets too cold. It’s good to see the generosity of people and the industry.”
As Arsenault Bros. continues to expand, it’s also operating a natural pipeline to incentivize younger Islanders to stay close to home and enter the construction industry.
“We give a $1,000 bursary to one student from every high school on the island, every year, who is going into the carpentry trade,” Lucas says. Meanwhile, he and his staff work methodically to foster a positive and inviting culture in the office and on work sites. “That’s what we’re trying to build—a place where people want to be and not a place where they have to be,” he says.
An in-house referral program ensures that employees volunteer leads to like-minded peers, helping Arsenault Bros. ensure a steady employment stream while also fostering the company’s value of trust. “It’s more your everyday atmosphere that recruits and retains people,” Lucas says with conviction.
While Arsenault Bros. has grown significantly over a short period, its new president has even larger plans. A goal is to have at least 600 employees, and the company is well underway with 350-plus currently in its ranks.
But above all, Lucas and his staff are committed to their company becoming the leading interior systems contractor in Atlantic Canada. With the region’s hunger for urban housing likely to increase, Arsenault Bros. is well-established in its market and on its way to becoming a regional powerhouse.