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