February 08, 2012
Building in two very different provinces
By Judy Penz Sheluk
Gilles Desjardins, Brigil’s founder, was 19 years old when he built two buildings of six units each in Gatineau, QC, taking care of the construction, the administration and the leasing of both buildings.
Since that time, the company has weathered through three recessions to become one of the largest home builders in Quebec, with more than 7,000 residential housing units in Ottawa and Gatineau. The experience and expertise gained in the past 28 years, as well as working in two provincial housing markets, has provided a unique perspective.
“There is definitely a difference between Ottawa and Gatineau,” said Desjardins. “For example, a $500,000 home for sale in our luxurious project in the Vieux-Port (Hull) represents a million-dollar home in the Glebe, which is minutes from downtown Ottawa. A house in our Rivermead project in Aylmer sells for $400,000—$150,000 less than in Kanata. Prices are 30-40 per cent lower in Gatineau.”
It isn’t only the price that’s different. “Ottawa’s population prefers separate dining rooms, large great rooms for having people over and a smaller living room for everyday use. In Gatineau, the population prefers larger lots. In contrast, we can find a new home only seven minutes away from the Parliament buildings, but in Ottawa, this is not the case.”
Regardless of provincial differences, Desjardins is quick to point out that quality of product—and of life—exists on both sides of the river. “We are blessed in the National Capital region to have parks, bike paths, rivers and a renowned school system. We have all the same commodities of the big cities such as Toronto and Montreal, with the same tourism features as Mont-Tremblant and the Laurentiens.”
Partners by Association
Being a member of two provincial home builders’ associations (Greater Ottawa HBA and APCHQ - Outaouais) has also played a large part in Brigil’s success. In fact, Brigil is one of the few companies to have received platinum and diamond accreditations from the APCHQ, as well as the prize for entrepreneur/builder of the year.
“To be a member of home builder associations, there are rules and criteria that must be followed, such as quality control,” said Desjardins. “For the last 20 years, Brigil has been a proud member of the APCHQ, which allows us to offer a level of security to our customers. In Ontario, the same concept is used by CHBA and its provincial and regional associations, thus ensuring that quality is offered and consumers are protected. Both associations also work tirelessly with government to promote and protect the residential housing industry.”
Ontario home builders may lament about the shortage of skilled trades, but Desjardins says it is much easier to find workers in Ottawa then in Gatineau. “In Gatineau, construction workers are governed by the CCQ,” explained Desjardins. “In my opinion, this creates a false shortage of workers. It is mandatory that the workers speak French to be able to complete the CCQ exams. In Ontario, there is more flexibility to the home builder to ensure that the workers are qualified and that quality craftsmanship is ensured. With fewer entry barriers there is bigger workforce to pick from.
“Those challenges aside, Brigil has a team of 125 people who are motivated by excellence. We have established relationships, based upon performance and professionalism, with hundreds of suppliers and more than 350 sub-contractors, all sharing the same values and contributing to the development of many small businesses.”
Giving Back and Going Forward
Since its beginnings, Brigil is proud to have contributed millions of dollars toward the development of its community. “Brigil gives substantial donations to various charities and organizations, including the Canadian Cancer Society, the CSSS foundation of Gatineau, the Montfort hospital foundation, student bursaries for l’UQO, the Ashbury College Foundation, Algonquin College, Cité Collégiale and CEGEP de l’Outaouais,” said Desjardins. “We even sold land for one dollar to the commission scolaire des Draveurs de Gatineau to facilitate the building of schools.”
Desjardins also remains very positive towards the economy of the National Capital region. “We have a very educated, multicultural population filled with embassies that engages in interesting commercial foreign exchange. With the strong public sector, our economy is a lot more stable than many other areas of the province, and the country; we are in a great region to find employment. The construction sector has always been a respected industry in both provinces, and Brigil is proud to be part of it.”