Fontaine Electric a family affair
By Peter Caulfield
Based in the French-speaking St. Boniface quarter of Winnipeg, Fontaine Electric Ltd. provides electrical, security and fire alarm contracting services across Manitoba.
By Peter Caulfield
Fontaine Electric has carved out niche markets for itself in the provincial government and public schools. But what makes the company really special is the length of time it has been in business. Founded in 1913 in St. Boniface, the company will celebrate its 100th birthday in two years. And for all of that time it has been owned by the Fontaine family.
“I’m most certain there will be a celebration [in 2013],” said Andre Fontaine, president of Fontaine Electric and great-grandson of the company’s founder, Pierre Fontaine.
“It was carried on by my grandfather, Georges, and then by my father, Robert,” Fontaine said. “I am the fourth generation to continue on with the legacy.”
Other family members working at Fontaine Electric today are Andre’s mother, Annette, who is the company secretary; and his uncle Georges, who winters in Phoenix but spends summers installing security systems in northern Manitoba.
Fontaine says his grandfather was a security system pioneer in the early 1960s.
“[He] was interested in new technologies, such as security systems, and he began to spec security contracts with schools through the Manitoba Association of School Trustees,” Fontaine said. “He made a proposal for a motion detection system, which was accepted and the system was installed.”
Word of the company’s expertise gradually got around and Fontaine Electric started installing security systems in schools all over Manitoba.
Fontaine says school security systems have challenges for the integrator.
“Schools have many users — staff, students and participants in community and extracurricular events,” he said. “And many schools are used from early in the morning until late at night.”
In addition to schools, Fontaine Electric has many customers in the Manitoba provincial government, including Government House, the Lieutenant Governor’s official residence. The company also provides fire alarms, access control and security systems for 22 provincially-operated small airports in rural and northern Manitoba.
In 2000, the Fontaine family started XL Alarms Ltd., which provides Underwriters Laboratories of Canada-certified monitoring services and alarm installations.
“We couldn’t get guaranteed monitoring service with third parties, so we started our own,” he said. “Many of our larger clients were anxious for us to build and offer the services provided by XL.”
Fontaine says XL doesn’t stand for anything in particular. “My father tells me we needed a name to incorporate and he didn’t want to be too high up in the telephone listings,” he said.
Fontaine Electric has grown considerably in the last 20 years. “We have gone from a core group of six to a staff of 16, and our annual sales have increased significantly over this time, too,” he said.
Fontaine Electric and XL Alarms occupy the same 1,500-square foot facility, which contains offices, a monitoring station and a warehouse. Although all employees are based there, many staff proceed directly to their job sites, as most Fontaine Electric installations take several weeks or months to complete.
Fontaine says there are “seven and one-half” employees who perform construction and installation.
“I am the one-half, as I divide my duties between the field and the office,” he said. “The remaining employees work in the monitoring station.”
Fontaine says many employees have been with the company for more than 15 years and some for more than 20 years.
Fontaine says the company plans to “continue on our present course of manageable growth and provide an enjoyable and open workplace for our employees and clients.”
Fontaine Electric has installations all over Manitoba. “I would be hard pressed to find very many communities in which we do not have installations,” Fontaine said.
Three school division customers are the Division Scolaire Franco-Manitobaine, Seven Oaks School Division and River East Transcona School Division (RETSD). Neal Hastings, RETSD director of maintenance, says the division has 48 intrusion alarm systems that are serviced by Fontaine Electric and monitored by XL Alarms.
“Our fire alarm systems are monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week and our intrusion alarms are monitored during the hours when no staff are present,” Hastings said.
Recently RETSD has focused its attention on security system replacements and system monitoring upgrades, including the installation of new intrusion alarm systems.
“These new intrusion alarm systems are networkable and we will be able to access them from our maintenance office to add or remove user codes and generate reports on alarms, openings and closings,” Hastings said. “We are currently focusing our dollars on upgrading the monitoring of our fire alarm systems, which we are upgrading from the obsolete two-line dialers to a cellular-digital communicator.”