Best Managed Companies 2021

Canadian North

A commitment to serving Canada’s northern regions — in the best and worst of times

Throughout its evolution, Canadian North has been focused on bringing transportation to underserved communities. The company — which began as a subsidiary of Canadian Airlines in 1989 and is now an entirely Inuit-owned airline serving the Northwest Territories, Nunavik and Nunavut — has an ambitious mission statement: “To meaningfully improve the lives of our people, our customers and the communities we serve.”

“You can say we’re perhaps overreaching with this statement, but in the regions we serve, there are often no roads, no rails,” says Chris Avery, Canadian North’s president and CEO. “That’s where our drive comes from. We’re a small company, but we serve a very important population that depends on us.”

Headquartered in Kanata, Ont., Canadian North flies to 25 northern communities, including Arctic Bay, Clyde River and Gjoa Haven, as well as its southern gateways of Ottawa, Montreal and Edmonton. In addition to carrying about 350,000 passengers a year, it also delivers essential goods — more than 22 million kilograms of freight and mail travel through its route system annually.

Canadian North is also operating more sustainably now, as prior to its merger with First Air in 2019, the two companies were competing to serve the same communities. Now, as one airline, it has half the planes in the air, half the cargo facilities and half the hangars, which makes it a much more energy-efficient company. “Two airlines were flying on top of each other, fighting for a very small pie,” says Avery. Also thanks to the merger, Canadian North is now backed by more financial resources, enabling it to invest in new infrastructure and equipment specifically tailored to the needs of remote communities.

Canadian North’s importance to northern communities was never more apparent than when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Amid lockdowns, its cargo business carried on — because it had to. “Unlike so many other airlines, we can’t stop operating because if we do, people won’t have milk or bread on the shelves,” says Avery. “Our planes also allowed things like COVID tests to move back and forth between labs. Our people stood up through all these changes and continued to deliver just as they always have.”

A big way that Canadian North is taking care of its people is through the recent hire of former CBC anchor Madeleine Allakariallak, who joined the team of over 1,500 employees as director of Inuit employment and talent strategies. In her new role, Allakariallak will be working on engagement and retention programs, furthering the company’s commitment to ensuring the well-being and development of its staff. “It’s important for us to be properly represented across our organization,” says Avery, “whether it’s in leadership, on the flight deck or at check-in.