Belleville’s windows to the world
Photos courtesy Beclawat
With almost 100 trains running the three railroad tracks through the region daily, it might be a challenge to see the little black letters on the window labels, but chances are, a piece of Quinte is on every train.
Riders of Vancouver’s famed Sky Train, Denver, Colorado’s Regional Transportation District, a TTC Rocket, and Kuala Lumpur’s Light Rail Transit can catch a glimpse of Quinte, too.
It probably isn’t the first detail noticed – certainly someone seeing a Littoral Combat Ship bearing down on them won’t be looking for a window sticker – but it’s there, letting the world know a historic manufacturing company in Belleville is part of the global transportation and defense industry.
Beclawat, on Hanna Court in Belleville, recently celebrated its 105th anniversary. Conceived in London, England in 1912, its unique name stems from the founding members – Beckett-Laycock-Watkinson. Then, as now, it had a strong focus on designing and manufacturing windows for the transportation industry.
The company quickly expanded its markets to Australia, India, South Africa, Sweden, and Italy, and in 1934 moved its headquarters to Montreal. In 1976, it moved to Belleville, and its global reach is impressive and its market inclusive.
It’s possible that while the manufacturing staff was building windows for a Washington State ferry, designers were helping a local boat owner with windows and doors for his retirement project. “We do it all,” smiled Cindy Wilson, Beclawat’s manager of human resources. “We help with the type of glass required to meet exacting specifications supplied by our customers, or we’ll work with a custom order. We’ll support anyone needing our products.”
After more than a century of fine-tuning their product offering, reacting to market demand and technological advances, Beclawat now services four key industries – rail, light rail, marine, and defense. Gone are the days when the company built windshields for passenger vehicles and bus shelters – although there are still some Beclawat shelters protecting waiting passengers on the Belleville transit line.
Boasting 100 per cent Canadian ownership, Beclawat is making its mark around the world, all with the efforts of its 42 Belleville-based employees. Much of the glass comes from Beclawat’s parent company – Montreal-based Prelco, who bought the company back in 2005.
While the glass is outsourced, the design and manufacturing are completely in-house. The more complex projects take upwards of 12 weeks, start to finish, including design. Everything is custom, there is no production line, and rarely are the pieces repeated.
With the breadth of abilities and geographic reach, that’s understandable. The shipping dock, on any given day, can have windows and doors headed for India Rail, Angola, Cameroon, Egypt, Australia, the United States, and Kuala Lumpur. There are standing orders for universal bi-parting windows for locomotives, and other original equipment manufacturer parts and refurbishments.
Although Cindy Wilson and her colleague Stephanie Lappan, Beclawat’s project coordinator may make the process sound simple, they know the work is much more complex and has serious applications. Stephanie comes from a marine background and is very comfortable promoting Beclawat’s ship windows, which currently boasts a growing market share.
“We have one of the longest lasting marine window designs on the market. They will last 30 to 40 years, making the cost of ownership very low.”
Beclawat marine windows can be found in unique places. From the San Francisco Fire Department’s fireboat fleet to the tugboat Cooper Moran, operating out of New Canaan, Connecticut and serving the eastern seaboard, there’s a Beclawat solution. From the offshore clammer Seawatcher II operating out of New Bedford, Massachusetts to Washington State ferries, there’s a Beclawat solution.
When US and Canadian Coast Guard fleets needed new ships, Beclawat was part of the process, and of course, when the USS Coronado (LCS-4) launched its intimidating presence in 2012, Beclawat stickers were on the windows. The fast response cutter is designed for littoral – shoreline regions – protection and interception.
Marine product customers – Beclawat is known for its doors, too, and most of those have marine applications – have different expectations than rail and light rail. “Both sectors expect high quality and durability,” explained Stephanie. “With rail, their customers interact with our projects, so there’s an aesthetic expectation, too. Their customers sit next to the windows. With marine, there’s a greater focus on utility, functionality, and strength. The windows and doors must be must more robust to withstand the rigours of all conditions in remote waters.”
Often there are crossover sectors. Military and Coast Guard marine applications are generally unseen by the public, and can include ballistic glass – known as transparent armour in the industry. Commercial marine – passenger ferries, workboats, tugs, recreational boats, and fishing vessels – can be a combination of utility and aesthetics.
“Every day is a new opportunity to help a customer with a unique product,” smiled Stephanie. “We think we’ve seen everything and then a new project comes in. That’s part of what makes Beclawat such an interesting place to work. In one corner we’ll be starting a light rail project headed half way around the world and in another we’ll be bending aluminum frames for a Coast Guard scientific research vessel. In between, we’re helping a guy from Belleville with a boat he’s going to cruise on the Bay of Quinte.”
Local roots run deep at Beclawat, and Cindy and Stephanie are grateful for the support the company receives from Loyalist College, the Quinte Economic Development Commission (QEDC), the City of Belleville, the East Central Ontario Training Board (ECOTB), and their manufacturing colleagues.
“QEDC is a huge supporter of our work,” said Stephanie. “We work very closely with Mike Hewitt and the Quinte Manufacturing Association. QEDC champions manufacturing and works so hard to keep manufacturers in the area. If we need a skill or resource we don’t have in-house, we’ll turn to them. They’ll use their network to find a solution.”
Cindy appreciates the connection from a human resources aspect. “There are many advantages to being here,” said the Pembroke native who came to the area to study at Loyalist College and never left. “The City of Belleville collects resumes within its economic development mandate. If I’m looking for a candidate, I can call Karen Poste (Manager, Economic & Strategic Initiatives) and she’ll send me applicable resumes. QEDC and the City of Belleville are very supportive and proactive. From an HR perspective – and many others – it’s a great area.”
Loyalist College is significant contributor to manufacturing success, more so since it opened its Bay of Quinte Skills Trades Centre. “QEDC and ECOTB, along with the Quinte and District chapter of the Human Resources Professionals Association are all working together to ensure candidates have the right skills,” continued Cindy. “They are very open to input and are dedicated to maintaining and expanding the manufacturing sector in the region, and part of this is providing the right training at the right time.”
It’s working. More than 40 per cent of Beclawat employees have a diploma from Loyalist, and approximately 80 per cent have taken at least one course from the college. “It’s nice to be doing business in an area where the city, the college, and the economic development community are all so dedicated, supporting, and advocating on behalf of manufacturers,” noted Cindy. For example, “QEDC went so far as to have an energy group address the cost of hydro, and they lobbied Queen’s Park on behalf of the manufacturers. They listen to our voices.”
With strong support from the municipal and manufacturing community, Beclawat has attracted an excellent workforce, and is dedicated to their wellbeing. “The work/life balance is important to us, and we do it well,” explained Cindy. “We work Monday to Friday, dayshifts only. There are no afternoon or midnight shifts, and the only person with a company-issued cell phone is our general manager, Ben Eby. When we’re off, we’re off. We don’t call people at home or on vacation.”
The ethos pays dividends. “We come to work, and we work hard; we believe in the company and its ethics. We live by our core values; they are not just words on a wall. We know we’re respected and valued. We earn a good wage; we work to live, and Beclawat encompasses that. The average length of service is over a decade. We have an employee who was one of the first hires when our Belleville location opened in 1976 and remains a dedicated employee right to this day. That says a lot about our staff and the company.”
The employees, in turn, support the community, with the help of the company. At the recent 105th anniversary celebrations, they asked for and received significant donations to Gleaner’s Food Bank. To support the local chapter of the humane society, the company auctioned surplus parts and tools and sent along a cheque for over $700.
The Canadian-owned, Quinte-centric company is unique in its products, but not in its strategic placement. Highway 401 – generally acknowledged as the busiest highway in North America – is two streets away. The rail yard is a short drive, as is the Bay of Quinte, connecting County and Quinte to the world. Aircraft from 8 Wing Trenton – Canada’s Air Mobility Base – fly overhead constantly.
Rail, light rail, marine, defense. Beclawat of Belleville connects them all, putting a little bit of Quinte throughout the world. Next time, instead of looking out the window, look at the window. Chances are, a neighbour made it.
Photos courtesy Beclawat