Stoughton, population 694, is a small community in southeast Saskatchewan, surrounded by the Rural Municipality of Tecumseh. It’s a quiet, sparely populated region, where in the growing season canola fields lay beneath vast, unobstructed prairie skies. The municipality’s office is in Stoughton, and it enlisted PCL Construction for a relatively modest project – a new 5,000-square-foot single-story office building, wood framed, with meeting rooms and office space next to storage and archive rooms.
Yet this project isn’t as simple as it seems. This unassuming government building represents an immense amount of history, for both the town of Stoughton and for PCL.
In 1906, the newly established Poole Construction, founded by Ernie Poole, erected a farmhouse in Stoughton. It was the fledgling company’s first-ever project. In grainy black-and-white photographs from the time, workers dressed in overalls or suits stand outside a small building below a canopy sign reading “E.E. Poole General Contractor,” oblivious to the heights their company would one day reach.
Poole Construction’s first major project came 15 years later in Weyburn, Saskatchewan, due west of Stoughton, and the farther afield the company ventured, the more it grew. It eventually headquartered in Edmonton, Alberta, entered the United States market, implemented an employee ownership program and renamed itself PCL Construction. Today, it has more than 30 offices across the globe, over 9,500 employees and an annual construction volume surpassing $8 billion, making it Canada’s largest general contractor.
But PCL never forgot its roots in the Saskatchewan prairies. One hundred and sixteen years later, those roots led the company back to Stoughton to construct this new office building – just half a mile from the farmhouse where PCL’s story began.
“The community of Stoughton has always been really proud of the fact that PCL started there,” says Colin Haus, manager, Special Projects, with PCL in Regina. “When you're walking around, a lot of the locals will point out where the old farmhouse was or where Ernie Poole's shop was. They know the story, even though it was more than 100 years ago.” Haus says that some members of the Poole family, who were relatives of Ernie’s but not involved with the construction industry, homesteaded in the area, and are buried in the nearby cemetery.
This connection means more than a sentimental story, however. It translates into a stronger relationship with the client. Sean Tulloch, a project manager with Special Projects, says that when the team visited Stoughton prior to construction, they called it “the motherland.” “That got everybody’s attention and got them a bit more involved,” he explains. “It showed the owners that we were there to deliver a really good product at the end of the job, because we have this reputation and are trying to satisfy everybody’s expectations.”
PCL was also active in engaging the local trades to help work on the project. Employing local tradespeople showed the client that PCL was truly invested in the community, but it also honoured PCL’s own people. After all, many PCL employees, especially around the Saskatchewan districts, have roots in communities like Stoughton.
This all demonstrates that small-town fellowship is not just a stereotype; it’s a reality that PCL, thanks to its humble beginnings, understands. In a rural municipality, for example, all the councillors are ratepayers who live in the community. “They’re not employees, per se,” Haus says. “They’re all farmers or small business owners who live there, so they have deep ties. They tend to be highly invested community members who want to do something for their area. So, we involved them in a lot of meetings and took them for site walks, and that kind of heavy involvement meant a lot to them. They probably get one of these RM buildings once in their lifetimes, so they want to do it right. That’s what we were trying to do for them.”
Tulloch adds that workers on the new office building would routinely talk with passersby who were curious about the project. Site signage referencing the 1906 project would often kickstart long discussions with residents about PCL, Stoughton and how the two have intersected throughout their histories. “We had a lot of those types of conversations on-site,” Tulloch says, “which is great, because it shows a deeper level of community involvement.”
The RM of Tecumseh project wraps up in May 2022, yet this strong connection between PCL and Stoughton will endure, and its new building is a reminder that every construction project, big or small, is ultimately about the people and community it benefits. The history of PCL will continue to add chapter after chapter, but it will always begin the same way: with a farmhouse in Stoughton, Saskatchewan.