Having both worked for and owned local oil and gas businesses, Ray Frehlick has a unique understanding of the important role these companies play in small Canadian communities.
Like many Canadians, oil and gas provided Ray with his first job out of school—working for a drilling contractor in Estevan, Saskatchewan—and offered him solid employment until he launched his own drilling fluids business, Prairie Mud Service Ltd., in 1976 and, later, a petrochemical business called Prairie Petro-Chem.
But while he acknowledges the important role oil and gas companies play in the employment rate of small-town Canada, jobs are just one of the industry’s upsides. The sector also supports local charities and non-profits, and enrichens their respective communities through various fundraising efforts. One such example is a trend Ray started 35 years ago with his team of “cooking crews”.
Together with other local businesses, Ray organized large-scale lobster dinners—at times, for crowds of 1,000 people—and charged attendees a premium. All proceeds would go toward causes that would enhance the community, such as building a new community landmark that local governments simply couldn’t afford.
“Without fundraising, you wouldn’t have the communities we have in western Canada. Our cooking crews were an enjoyable way to raise funds for various causes, like building a local swimming pool or ball diamond,” Ray says.
Ray recalls one such initiative which brought Estevan a much-needed leisure centre and hockey rink. Before the community could put a shovel in the ground, it had to raise $6 million. To achieve this feat, the cooking crew hosted five fancy sportsmen’s dinners and auctioned off autographed hockey jerseys worth over $30,000. They were even able to attract the likes of Gary Bettman, commissioner of the National Hockey League. In the end, the dinners alone raised $1 million.
“The energy sector has been very generous over the years. That said, many of those funds are drying up now because the sector is in the doldrums. Businesses simply can’t donate to these causes that are so important to our country,” he says. “If oil and gas companies aren’t making money, it negatively affects local communities. It already has.”
This truth clearly reinforces the critical role the oil and gas industry plays in local communities—and highlights the positive contributions it will no doubt continue to make once the markets once again rebound.