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Valve manufacturing plant opens in Alexander

First of its kind in Canada, says founder

Alexander First Nation is now home to what is likely Canada’s first on-reserve valve manufacturing plant — a facility its founder hopes will provide skilled jobs for generations of band residents.

About 150 people were at the just-renovated old arena behind the Alexander First Nation administrative building Aug. 19 for the grand opening of the Alexander Valve and Supply manufacturing plant.

The plant is the first on-reserve valve manufacturing plant in Canada, according to company president Ken Braget. The plant will manufacture the company’s ball valves, which are used in various industrial applications.

“It is the only First-Nations-built ball valve in the entire universe!” Braget told the crowd.

Formerly known as True North Valve Solutions, Braget’s company became Alexander Valve and Supply earlier this year when it partnered with Alexander First Nation, which now has a 50 per cent stake in the company through the Alexander Business Corporation.

Alexander Chief George Arcand Jr. said this plant will bring long-term sustainable employment to the community and generate revenue for community programs.

“I want to officially announce that today Alexander is open for business!” Arcand told the crowd.

High-tech jobs

In an interview, Braget, a Métis member of the Michel First Nation, said he grew up in Edmonton immersed in valve manufacture through his stepfather, and went on to establish the True North valve company, which now has various facilities in Edmonton.

Braget said he got the idea to do something new with his company in 2018 when he saw how a big company had sponsored a recreation centre in Conklin, Alberta — something which brought virtually no jobs to the community.

“What our First Nations communities need is something they can build around,” he said — a starter industry that creates many jobs and spawns spin-off businesses.

Arcand said Braget pitched the idea of building a valve manufacturing plant to Alexander council about two years ago. Council agreed to house the plant in the reserve’s vacant arena, which was made business-ready with the help of a provincial grant.

The plant itself contains racks and crates of steel parts, work benches, hydro-test stations, and a computer-operated milling machine the size of a small tank.

Workers use the milling machine to turn steel lumps into finished end caps for ball valves, said manufacturing manager Colin Wadsworth. They then use a toothpick-like probe on a robotic arm to confirm the parts have the proper dimensions.

“Our tolerances are quite tight,” Wadsworth said, with some parts needing to be accurate to within less than the width of a hair.

Workers combine the end caps with other components manufactured off site to assemble one-inch ball valves, which they then hydro-test for leaks, Wadsworth explained. Finished valves, which feature the word “Alexander” in raised letters, are then shipped to companies such as Enbridge and Imperial Oil. Workers will also perform finishing touches on much bigger valves manufactured off-site.

Braget said the plant will start with about five workers but has room for 50. He hopes to start operations in two weeks.

Braget said this plant is less about profit and more about community building.

“We want our people in Alexander to be able to walk to work,” he said, and to come away from work with skills they can use to stay employed and off the streets.

Braget said he hopes this facility will bring a century’s worth of prosperity to Alexander.

“I want one day for a grandfather, an elder, to go sit with his grandchild and say, ‘I used to work at the factory you work at now. I built what you built.’”

Visit www.alexandervalve.com for more on the plant.


Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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