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The Transformative Impact of Sureway Construction

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Fifty years. Millions of man hours. Building and connecting the communities Albertans work in and call home. Countless projects spanning earthworks, underground infrastructure, mining and more. Since it began in 1973, Sureway™ Construction Group has changed the landscape and become a trusted legacy in Alberta.

“I met a gentleman in a bar and he asked me if I ever thought of doing this for myself,” says Dennis O’Rourke, chairman. “I replied that I had not. I was a superintendent for a large company but his offer to give me half of his company to work for him got me thinking. Another guy was in the bar at the same time and heard the offer. Later that night on the way out he said to me, ‘I know your brother from Olds. He is a good guy so you must be alright too.’ In that moment he offered, ‘If you ever do go out on your own, I will take a piece of the action.’”

The second “guy in the bar” was Jack Richardson.

Jack was from Olds, had his own business and was a WWII veteran with seven kids.

“I wound up quitting a very good job at Whissel Enterprises to start Sureway with Jack. Initially, Jack owned 30 per cent while I owned 70.” O’Rourke reminisces.

“When I joined Jack, I brought two fellows on my crew with me from Whissel, Ron Kunellis and Marv Gunderson. The four of us were the heart of the new company. We took on all the hard work, the work no one wanted. One particular job near 17th Street in Edmonton was being run by a certain inspector who was the most difficult person I had ever dealt with. We finished the work but I never forgot that inspector! From there we had some good jobs in Lethbridge and constructed the 34 Street tunnel sanitary under the Sherwood Park Freeway. As time went on, we learned from our mistakes, bid smarter and started making good money.

“After a strong winter in 1975, I took on a real tough job in Stony Plain with no bonding. We had a good bank account at the time but Jack saw some of the jobs as too risky and wanted out, so we parted ways. Marv had left us after the Lethbridge job. So, with just the two of us left, Ron took Jack’s 30 per cent and we kept going. Ron stayed with us until 1991 when he sold his portion to me and moved on.

“We still needed quality people and I never forgot that difficult inspector, so I went out and hired him. We talked, looked each other in the eye, made a deal, shook hands and that was that. That is how, in 1975, Bruce Hagstrom came to work for Sureway. Bruce and I have been together ever since. No paper, no contract – just complete trust and faith in each other to get it done… and the rest is history.”

That history spans half a century. At first, things went very well.

“From 1975 to 1981 things were very good in Alberta,” says O’Rourke. “Things also opened up in Fort McMurray; we had some really good years. Then the National Energy Program came along and things went downhill.”

What Was the National Energy Program and How Did it Affect Alberta?

The National Energy Program (NEP) was a policy enacted by Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s Liberal government in October 1980. Its goals were to ensure the supply and price stability of Canadian natural gas and oil, increase Canadian ownership and control of the petroleum industry, and secure a larger share of energy revenues for Canada.

Under the NEP, a two-price system was implemented, with lower rates for Canadian consumers and higher rates for others. Additionally, taxes on operating revenues of oil and gas companies were increased, and export taxes were added. The NEP’s Petroleum Incentives Program (PIP) aimed to redirect exploration efforts towards Canadian-owned companies operating in the Canadian North and offshore territories, diverting attention away from western Canada and Alberta.

One of the major effects of the NEP was a strain on relations between the West (particularly Alberta) and the East. Alberta responded to the NEP by reducing the flow of oil to the rest of the country and challenging the federal government’s legal authority. This led to conflicts over energy resource revenues and a sense of dissatisfaction among Albertans who felt unfairly treated by the policies.

The NEP was officially eliminated in June 1985 by the Western Accord of Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservative government. This accord removed oil price controls, abolished federal taxes, and encouraged foreign investment and exploration. The elimination of the NEP, along with subsequent market-oriented policies, brought about significant changes in the energy industry in Canada.

That was far from the only hurdle Sureway faced over its 50 years of growth. From changing politics to shifting economics, from a pandemic to the impact of wars, every decade was marked with highs and lows.

Sureway rode out the waves every time.

“We have had so many ups and downs in Alberta; it has been amazing,” laughs O’Rourke. “When we started, we had about five guys. We now have around 900 employees, but the most we have ever had is 1,400.”

Being able to ride the waves was not luck. O’Rourke and his management team were visionaries with sound business sense. One thing they did early on, which had a profound impact on the subsequent years, was to pay off its corporate debt.

O’Rourke explains, “When interest rates were high in the late 70s and 80s, we paid off our debt. So, when interest rates went crazy later on, we didn’t have any debt. Sureway was not in a desperate position to underbid for jobs. We simply parked a lot of our equipment in 1982 and waited for things to get better.”

They were not idle as they waited. O’Rourke and his team took the downtime to improve on processes and diversify the company. Once things improved economically, a stronger, larger Sureway was ready to take advantage of the project landscape.

While O’Rourke cites the “ups and downs of Alberta’s economy” as the most challenging aspect of his career, he is also quick to cite the most rewarding.

“What I have enjoyed the most is contributing to the places where people live, work, commute and thrive.”

Sureway Construction, over the past half-century, has been pivotal in shaping the infrastructure and landscape of Edmonton, the surrounding communities and the province of Alberta as a whole. The company’s vast contributions have left an indelible mark on the region, extending from Calgary to High Level and from Hinton to Fort McMurray – and beyond.

“We do very good work. We complete on time, we always finish our work and we don’t like to fight and argue. We just like to complete what we start!” says O’Rourke.

O’Rourke has seen the company grow to include an impressive fleet of production, support and maintenance equipment, with the heavy equipment fleet currently numbering over 700 units. This fleet supports projects in underground utilities, earthworks, mining, mechanical services, environmental services, trucking, aggregates and inspections. In 2014, Sureway replaced its existing facility with a brand new 110,000 square foot shop focusing on repairs and maintenance to this substantial fleet.

The sheer volume of Sureway’s work is staggering. They’ve installed thousands of kilometres of water, sewer and storm systems and moved millions of cubic metres of earth to build out the Edmonton area. Since Sureway commenced operations, Edmonton’s developed area has nearly tripled as the population more than doubled. Sureway has contributed to a significant portion of this growth. However, their reach extends far beyond Edmonton. Sureway’s projects have spanned across numerous communities and cities, reflecting their extensive influence and commitment to development.

Sureway’s dedication does not stop when developments are complete. With support for infrastructure emergencies, snow removal and fire response, Edmonton and area can rely on Sureway to respond to community needs.

Sureway’s work isn’t limited to residential and municipal projects. They’ve also been instrumental in industrial developments, working with major corporations such as Enbridge, Gibson Energy, Imperial Oil, Nutrien, TransAlta, Shell, Capital Power and Lafarge, among others.

Sureway provides full life-cycle services, from breaking new ground to reclaiming the land. Whether it is developing new residential, commercial, rail or industrial facilities or reclaiming to natural land or farmland, Sureway is always committed to project delivery.

Their contribution to the transportation sector is equally impressive, having constructed major roads in the Edmonton area, including half of the 78-kilometre Anthony Henday ring road and highways stretching from Milk River to Spirit River and Fort McMurray.

Despite a period of stalled development in the ‘90s, Sureway persevered. As Fort McMurray began booming again, Sureway established operations 450 kilometres north of their main office. Initially, Sureway focused on land development in the new communities north of the Athabasca River, eventually becoming a resident contractor for the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. They also constructed the Parsons Creek directional interchange and twinned HWY 63, which at the time was the largest bid-build contract from Alberta Transportation.

Sureway’s dedication to the community resounds beyond their construction projects. They provided emergency support during the 2016 wildfires and 2020 flooding, further cementing their commitment to the communities they serve.

The work over the past 50 years has been nothing short of transformative, leaving an enduring legacy on the landscape of Alberta. Fifty years later, however, O’Rourke is building something far more personal.

“Right now. I am very inspired with building a winery from scratch. I’ve already built and opened Peak Cellars. Currently, I’m building O’Rourke Family Estate.”

The development, located in Lake Country, B.C., north of Kelowna, encompasses over 340 acres with lake access and when complete will include a world class winery, vineyards, a restaurant, a 30,000 square foot event centre and outdoor amphitheatre, all with stunning views of Lake Okanagan. Some of O’Rourke’s early wines have already won international acclaim and the wines will only get better as the vines age and mature.

Sureway physically contributes to building communities, but also contributes by providing robust community support amounting to millions of dollars to a wide variety of charitable interests including but not limited to:

• Alberta Cancer Foundation

• Athol Murray College of Notre Dame

• Capital Care Foundation

• CASA Foundation

• Compassion House Foundation

• Edmonton Opera

• Festival Place Cultural Arts Foundation

• Habitat for Humanity

• Junior Achievement

• Kelowna General Hospital Foundation

• Kids with Cancer

• Kids Kottage

• Make-A-Wish Foundation

• Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute

• Mustard Seed

• Northern Lights Health Foundation

• Okanagan Symphony Orchestra

• Pilgrims Hospice Society

• Prostate Cancer Canada

• Sign of Hope Society

• STARS Foundation

• Strathcona Community Hospital Foundation

• University Hospital Foundation Festival of Trees

• Wellspring Edmonton House

• Valour Place Society

For its outstanding project achievements and philanthropy, both O’Rourke and Sureway have been recognized numerous times. Awards include O’Rourke’s Junior Achievement Northern Alberta & N.W.T. Alberta Business Hall of Fame induction in 2008 and recognition from the Alberta Roadbuilders & Heavy Construction Association. Sureway swept the Minister’s Award of Excellence for Construction Innovation in 2014 and 2016, received an EllisDon Safety Excellence Award in 2020, then followed up with a safety award from Imperial Oil in 2022.

O’Rourke has recently set up the Dennis O’Rourke Foundation to ensure this legacy of philanthropy and charitable giving will continue and be carried on by future generations.

However, O’Rourke doesn’t count the trophies in the case as the measure of success. He counts the successful projects that contribute to the lives of the communities they serve, the teams they employ and the future generations he wishes to support.

“I just keep looking ahead,” he smiles.

Half a century is a very big milestone for any company – more so for any company in Alberta that is affected by the boom and bust cycles. O’Rourke has much to be proud of but he is quick to point out that he is far from alone in crafting the company’s success.

“We have had a lot of very good and faithful employees. There are a lot of people that worked with us that are not around anymore too, and that makes us very sad. Anyone can start a company and buy equipment but running a successful company? That is all about the people, people, people. I’m grateful for each and every one of them.”

The story of Sureway is just getting started. O’Rourke plans to leave a legacy that will always stand the test of time.

“We own Sureway, gravel pits and shopping centres. Right now it’s about the future and transitioning the brand. We have many good people and lots of great things going on. I’m thankful to be in a position where we can continue to create quite an impact going forward.”

 

PROJECT HISTORY, EDMONTON

Since 1973 Sureway has installed thousands of kilometres of water, sewer and storm and moved millions of cubic metres of earth for the Edmonton area to grow over the past 50 years. Many of these projects could not have succeeded without the collaborative effort and partnerships with our many clients, developers, engineers and subcontractors that we have worked with over the years.

The map above only covers a portion of the areas and communities that Sureway has helped develop. Project highlights include:
• In North Edmonton, Crystallina, McConachie, Marquis and Cy Becker neighbourhoods
• In NW Edmonton, Hawks Ridge, Trumpeter, Big Lake and Starling neighbourhoods
• In West Edmonton, Hamptons, Rosenthal, Secord neighbourhoods
• In South Edmonton, Ellerslie, Allard, Chappelle, Heritage Valley neighbourhoods
• In SE Edmonton, Sakaw, Greenview, Tamarack, Laurel and Aster neighbourhoods
• In SW Edmonton, Riverbend, Windermere, Ambleside, Keswick and Glenridding neighbourhoods
In 2013 Sureway widened it’s scope to include the Industrial and Mining sectors in Edmonton and area.
Highlights include:

• Enbridge SET (South Edmonton Terminal) 2013-2016
o Sureway performed the scopes of all earthworks and underground utility installation for a new
5 tank terminal expansion.
o 700,000 m3 Earthworks
o 3.1 km drainage pipe
o 3 km firewater pipe
o 750,000 tonnes of gravel for tank pads
o 1,200 m3 of concrete structures
o 10 lift stations

• Enbridge Hardisty
o Earthworks, firewater and mechanical services
o Three new product tank foundations, new containment area, manifold containment, above ground and below ground piping and structural

• Enbridge Cheechham
o Earthworks, shear wall and containment system for water management facility upgrades

• Gibson Energy 2021-2023
o Rail loading area expansion, tank foundation and containment liner systems

• Imperial Oil
o Civil Maintenance contractor 2019 to present
o Southlands Rail Terminal
o Earthworks, drainage systems and demolition for rail yard – 2022 to present

• Interpipeline 2020-2022
o Bypass piping, new containment area

• TC Energy
o Fabrication Services

• Dow
o Earthwork and mechanical for new and retrofit pipe below and above ground

• Nutrien
o Earthworks, sub-drain systems and containment systems for new gypsum stacks – multiple projects
o Earthworks and drain system for plant reclamation

• Shell Scotsford
o Earthworks and drainage installations for expansion

• Cenovus (Canexus Rail Terminal)
o Earthworks, drainage, tank foundations for new rail yard and product transfer station

• Capital Power – Generating Station
o Earthworks and mechanical for new gas feed to plant. Firewater upgrades

• Transalta Highvale Mine
o Earthworks and utility construction for mine expansion, ash dike raise, process water

• Westmoreland Coal Valley Mine
o Earthworks for mine reclamation

 

PROJECT HISTORY, FORT MCMURRAY

In 2004 Sureway began to operate in Fort McMurray and has maintained a permanent presence in the region since as a major contributor to its continued regional growth. Highlights in Fort McMurray include:

• Prime contractor for the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo performing major capital infrastructure projects across the region

• Parsons Creek Interchange which was the largest bid-build contract from Alberta Transportation at the time

• Eagle Ridge and Parsons North neighborhoods

• Eco Industrial Park

• Stone Creek including 250 acres residential neighbourhoods
o Stoney Creek Village Shopping Centre
o The Markets future development

• Emergency support during the 2016 wildfires
and 2020 flooding

• Community reinvestment

 

RING ROADS AND INTERCHANGES:

Southeast Anthony Henday Drive (SEAHD):
• 2005 to 2007 – in Edmonton, AB

• Project scopes were Earthworks and Underground drainage utilities – as a Subcontractor

• 7.1 Million m3 of Earthworks

• 9 km of drainage pipe – culverts and storm pipe

Northeast Anthony Henday Drive (NEAHD):
• 2012 to 2015 – in Edmonton, AB

• Project scopes were Earthworks and Underground drainage utilities – as a Subcontractor

• 7.69 Million m3 of earthworks

• 5.5 km of Culvert CSP

• 5.0 km of Storm pipe

Parson’s Creek Interchange:
• 2013 to 2016 – in Fort McMurray, AB

• General Contractor was Sureway Construction

• Project scopes for Sureway was Earthwoks and Underground drainage utilities

• 5 Million m3 of earthworks

• Subcontractors performed 450,000 tonne of roadway gravel and 190,000 tonne of asphalt

West Calgary Ring Road (WCRR):
• 2019 to 2022 – in Calgary, AB

• West Calgary ring road DB1 project, for Stoney trail and Highway 1A (Transcanada) construction

• Project scope was Earthworks – as a Subcontractor

• 6.2 Million m3 of earthworks

• 1.9 Million m3 of bedrock blasting

 

Mailing Address:
9175 – 14 Street NW,
Edmonton, Alberta T6P 0C9

Phone Number:
780-440-2121

Toll-Free:
1-877-447-2121

Email:
info@sureway.ca

www.sureway.ca

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