THE STORY BEGINS

With our founding father, Sieg Philipp, an East German who moved to Canada in 1956. Sieg was a diesel mechanic installing power plants in remote Arctic communities. In 1962 he stopped travelling around the north and settled in Fort Providence. In 1963 he met Memoree, our “founding mother”, who had newly arrived in the tiny hamlet to teach school. Soon they were married and settled down to raise a family. Little did they know at that time they would also be raising a family business.

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Snowshoe Crafts

In 1964, Sieg bought a truck to haul cord wood which was used to heat homes and buildings in the community. Residents cut the wood, either for a daily wage or for their own use, giving Sieg a portion to cover hauling. He would then sell the wood supply to Social Services and the local mission. That same year, Mem started buying local hand-crafted moose hair tuftings, moccasins and mukluks and was selling them to visitors from her back porch. A year later, needing a retail outlet, Mem and Sieg had a small log cabin built by a couple of local men and opened Snowshoe Crafts.

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Snowshoe Inn
Snowshoe Inn Bison

Café and Lounge

In 1966, our energetic young entrepreneurs decided Fort Providence would be well served with a coffee shop. They bought an old 2-room surplus government building, moved it beside the log cabin, put in a kitchen, a counter, seven stools, a booth and a table… and the Snowshoe Café quickly became the go-to hotspot for young and old alike.

Mem’s homemade pies were always a hit! They even put in a jukebox, and in summer had speakers outside and a dance platform perched among the nearby trees. Local teens jived to Elvis and 2-stepped to country & western music! That same year, after building a small store attached to the café, they started construction on a 5-room motel… the Snowshoe Inn.

In those days there was a lot of seismic oil exploration happening in the area. Sieg saw this as another opportunity. The seismic camps needed fuel. So he stretched the family credit and in 1968 he bought a brand new fuel truck in Edmonton. Shortly after, he struck a deal with Pacific 66 to install fuel tanks in town, allowing him to set up a bulk fuel plant. Snowshoe was now in the fuel business, and still is today.

Snowshoe Inn

By 1973, to meet the increasing demand for accommodations, the Snowshoe Inn had grown to become a 35-unit motel on the banks of the Mackenzie River, where it sits to this day. Being an innovative and resourceful entrepreneur, Sieg knew he had to find an affordable solution to the high cost of electricity and heating that all businesses in the north faced. In 1973 he designed and installed a relatively simple co-generation system with three generators and an old wood-fired water boiler that burned 8-foot logs. Sieg’s innovations cut the company’s energy costs in half and paid for itself many times over. Snowshoe has effectively been “off-grid” to this day!

In the 70’s and early 80’s, this inexpensive access to surplus heat allowed the company to run its own greenhouse and, for a couple of those years, operate a chinchilla farm. Snowshoe continues to be a successful company in Fort Providence. Operations today include the motel, restaurant, lounge, bulk fuel, trucking, as well as rental properties that include a general store, training centre, homes for local workers, and office space. For a number of years, Snowshoe was the contracted operator of the Merv Hardie ferry that crossed the Mackenzie River.

Snowshoe Inn
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SSi Micro

In the 1980’s, a young Jeff Philipp, still in high school, was developing quite a passion for computers. Always on the lookout for the latest and fastest models, he quickly became the go-to guy in Fort Providence for anyone who needed a computer. A few sales led to several sales, and by 1990 the family business included a small computer store beside the restaurant. SSi Micro was born. Business grew quickly, and Jeff decided SSi should focus retail activities on the #1 brand in the market. The problem was there were no retailers. Undeterred, Jeff flew to the Gateway head office in Sioux City, Iowa, to meet with the president Ted Waite. He convinced an undoubtedly intrigued Mr. Waite to make SSi Micro Northern Canada’s “international Gateway distributor”.

SSi Micro
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Gateway to Success

Within a year, SSi was purchasing Gateway computers by the 45-foot truckload! By 1992 sales has exceeded a million dollars annually. It was a good product at a good price with good service. Most customers had no idea the head office was in tiny Fort Providence. By 1993, SSi Micro was booming! The company had no choice but to expand. It needed more space and more employees. So the 16,000 square foot Snowshoe Centre was built to house the whole operation, including a Microsoft and Novell authorized training and testing facility.

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Internet

The North needs Internet

By 1995, the growth in business volume from the territorial capital and beyond required SSi to establish a presence in Yellowknife. A retail outlet and training lab were opened downtown in the Panda 2 Mall. But a new product was added to the retail mix, one that would profoundly affect the company’s future… Internet service.

In the beginning, SSi purchased a 56 kilobit per second wholesale connection to the south from Northwestel, using that to deliver Internet service to new customers. Within a year, SSi was the largest dial-up Internet provider in Yellowknife, beating out all competitors by selling service at a flat rate of $1.00 per hour for access, while

everyone else was charging $5.00 an hour and requiring a minimum commitment of 60 hours per month. SSi ignored the market trend of forcing monthly contracts on consumers, and commoditized retail Internet sales overnight – to the significant benefit of Northern consumers. The competition believed SSi would go broke in no time, but thanks to some brilliant software development and innovative product packaging, SSi proved everyone wrong.

Within a year, SSi was the largest dial-up Internet provider in Yellowknife

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Satellite in the North

Satellite… We can do that!

SSi built its first satellite network in 1998. It was in the Kitikmeot region of western Nunavut. As in all Nunavut communities, the only communications link to the rest of the world is via satellite. The Kitikmeot Corporation wanted to provide their five communities with Internet service. Up to then, only Cambridge Bay had Internet, and that was with minimal performance.

The other four communities, Kugluktuk, Gjoa Haven, Taloyoak and Kugaaruk had no connection to the Internet. It was a complicated challenge, and SSi’s first foray into satellite technology required considerable research and innovation. Two of SSi Micro’s earliest team members, Jeremy Childs and Graham Blake, joined Jeff on technical brainstorming trips to the offices of Comsat corporation in Virginia, where they met with satellite engineers, and spent endless hours white boarding concepts and hammering out technical solutions for the North. And they succeeded!

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Local Training

Once the network was built in the Kitikmeot region, it was necessary to train local people to become Internet Service Providers so they could deal with customers and resolve potential problems that might arise. SSi conducted an 8-week course in Fort Providence, and two people from each of the five communities participated. They learned to take apart a computer, identify all its parts, put it back together, format it, install DOS, install Windows, install dial-up software, connect to the SSi network, get on the Internet, test email, open a browser and surf the web.

All ten students passed the course. Most were Inuit, and all had accomplished something truly new in their lives. Computers and Internet in remote Arctic communities were a giant leap from the traditional way of life. This Kitikmeot network was a groundbreaker, for SSi and for Nunavut.

Local Training
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First of its Kind

Now a player in satellite broadband, SSi moved further east to the Kivalliq region in Nunavut, signing a contract in 1999 with Sakku Corporation in Rankin Inlet to link Sakku’s existing satellite network to SSi’s network, and plug Sakku into SSi’s state-of-the-art billing system.

Around the same time, the company formed a joint venture with the Northwest Territories Power Corporation (NTPC) to install a satellite network in nine communities served by the NTPC. Earth stations were built on Power Corp. property. With the new infrastructure in place, SSi operated and maintained a private internal network for NTPC, and also sold commercial network and Internet services in the nine communities. This new “mesh” satellite network was the first of its kind in Canada and fifth in the world, winning SSi the Next Generation Solution Award at the Canadian Information Productivity Awards (CIPA) in 2000.

Up to that point in time, all data in northern Canada was transmitted via satellite to and from Northwestel’s teleport in Yellowknife. The data was then directed south over Northwestel’s traditional phone system. With more and more satellite business being realized by SSi, the Northwestel link to the southern Internet backbone was becoming too constrained, and much too expensive. It was time for SSi to have its own teleport in southern Canada. In 2001, a 6-metre satellite antenna dish was installed as a co-location at a local video transmission station in Ottawa, giving SSi independent control over northern communications services and network operations.

This new “mesh” satellite network was the first of its kind in Canada.

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Caring Internationally

With Jeff spending more time in Ottawa, he met a number of interesting people whose priorities were worlds away from the far North. This included the good folks at Care International. One thing led to another, and in 2003, SSi was building a 12-site satellite network in Zambia and Kenya to provide reliable communications for remote Care workers.

On December 26, 2004, an earthquake in the Indian Ocean caused a devastating tsunami to hit the west coast of Indonesia. On New Year’s Eve, SSi received a call from the Global Development Group in Australia with an urgent request for an emergency satellite broadcast system to be deployed in Banda Aceh and Jakarta, Indonesia. SSi put all other projects on hold and responded immediately, sending a team and equipment overseas. The emergency project was a success, and to this day remains one of SSi’s most important and rewarding initiatives. Afterwards SSi launched “Skyline” residential broadband service in Yellowknife. The Skyline offering was bold and cutting edge, using non-line of sight technology, the first of its kind implemented in Canada. It also provided Northerners an attractive choice to Northwestel, and was fully funded by SSi.

Zambia Network

SSi built a 12-site satellite network in Zambia and Kenya to provide reliable communications for remote Care International workers.

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Victory for Nunavut

Building from the experience gained with NTPC and the launch of Skyline service in Yellowknife, in 2004, SSi bid and won a competition issued by the Nunavut Broadband Development Corporation. With matching funds provided by Industry Canada, SSi built a new satellite network and installed new broadband wireless last-mile technology to provide affordable, reliable and high speed Internet access to all 25 communities in Nunavut.

This was a major milestone! Until now, only a handful of communities had public Internet service, and none had anything resembling high speed Internet. For SSi, it was a “David and Goliath” victory over the only other bidder, the incumbent Northwestel.

By May of 2005, the network was completed and QINIQ broadband service was officially launched across the territory. The launch of QINIQ service was so successful

that it doubled Industry Canada’s 5-year projection of 2000 subscribers within the first 9 months. Subsequent partnership agreements with the Government of Canada have continued to support the growing uptake of QINIQ services by Nunavummiut.

QINIQ launch
QINIQ

Building on Success

In 2006, shortly after winning the QINIQ broadband project for Nunavut, SSi won a similar competition for the Northwest Territories. SSi set to work building the Airware network in thirty communities. Regardless of population density or remote location, SSi constructed the facilities to allow satellite connectivity in and out of each community, and ensured consumers had access to quality broadband service.

Building on the success and presence SSi gained in Nunavut with the launch of QINIQ service, SSi competed for and in 2009 was selected by the Government of

Nunavut to design, deploy, maintain and operate its Wide Area Network, ensuring robust network connectivity for all government departments and to the outside world. In twelve short years, SSi had firmly established itself as a leader in the satellite broadband market.

In 2005, the QINIQ broadband service was launched across Nunavut, and was so successful that it doubled Industry Canada’s 5-year projection of 2000 subscribers within the first 9 months.

Ottawa Teleport
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Ottawa Teleport

Ottawa Teleport

With SSi’s northern satellite activity expanding, it was time to build a state-of-the-art ground station teleport based in Ottawa that connects the North to the rest of the world. In 2011, SSi opened the new facility and moved its Satellite Network Operations Center to the nation’s capital.

SSi Today

SSi TodayToday, SSi is a recognized leader in providing effective and affordable communications services to remote areas, and in providing a competitive alternative to the incumbent operator in small and underserved communities.

SSi has championed the cause for fair pricing and open competition in the northern communications market. This dates back to those early days in 1995, when we commoditized dial-up Internet at a flat no-contract rate of $1 per hour.

We have also taken steps in the regulatory arena to ensure northern consumers benefit from competitive choice and the best of communications services. This has led to a number of decisions in the past few years by the CRTC, including opening up the North to local phone competition, and ordering Northwestel to lower wholesale transport rates so that local competitors can actually invest in new technologies to deliver attractive alternatives in broadband and voice. As well, SSi is actively participating in a major CRTC review now underway into the “basic service objective”. This proceeding could well set the course to deliver affordable and quality broadband service for northern consumers for many years to come.

Today, SSi is a recognized leader in providing effective and affordable communications services to remote areas.