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erages in Toronto introduced Alfred to Branson, saying, “If you want to know about the private label business, here’s the guy you should talk to.” “Branson told me two things,” Al-


fred smiles. “He said, the banks are not your friends and don’t go pub- lic. Stay private. Tat way you stay in control.” Alfred has done so many things. At


one time, he worked for Ed Martens, former president of Wordsnorth Com- munications,


back


in the day when the agency business in Winnipeg was still vibrant. Alfred was vice president of the Cross Communica- tions Group which did a lot of work in public affairs. Con- sequently, he spent time in Ottawa, where he got to meet all the deputy ministers and direc- tors general. Later,


Alfred


worked for MP David Walker as an apolitical consultant on Aboriginal af- fairs. So here we are, this bright young


fellow from Pine Dock, Man. has made himself a reputation in Winni- peg and Ottawa. He was about to be swept literally out to sea on another tide of fortune. Alfred has now made his home in


nearby Riverton and was offered a chance to haul a boat from Riverton to Hay River, some 2,600 miles away overland. “What the heck,” thought Alfred. “I can visit my cousin,” and away he went. His cousin worked on one of the boats up there. After learn- ing that a new deckhand was quitting, Alfred rushed over to the company of- fices and asked to put in a resume. “You can do what you like,” said the man in the office, “but it won’t do you any good. We have at least 50 appli- cants ahead of you.” Alfred said he’d apply anyway — why not? Te pay was excellent — $70,000 for six month at sea — and while he is sitting there, the young guy walks in and quits.


14 • Spring 2017


enough sea time to get his captain’s papers, when his father became ill with diabetes and needed constant care and dialysis. Alfred decided to return home to Winnipeg to support his dad who passed away a year later. Meanwhile, his mom, who also need- ed dialysis, moved to Fisher Branch where she commuted the 135 miles to Winnipeg every second day for treatment. Alfred had not come home empty -handed; he had a nice little nest egg from his days at sea. With a lot of time to think about the future, he stated thinking about confectioner- ies. Potato chips are light. Tey don’t freeze and they stay fresh a long time. Gradually, Tomahawk Chip Compa- ny Ltd. took form in his mind. In the spring of 2005, he was ready to go. He needed a manufacturer and


started looking for product and pric- es, searching from British Columbia, down to Oregon and back, and finally settled on a cooker in Mississauga, Ontario. He had the distinctive and beautiful bags designed by Aborigi-


Well, you can see where this is go-


ing. Alfred was on the spot while the other applicants were miles away. Te need was urgent, so Alfred got the job. “It was great," remembers Alfred. "I


got to see the Beaufort Sea, got six months off every year and made a pile of money.” He worked there for five years and was within two weeks of having


nal artists like Bighetty, Dubois and Nigiyok. One of their first outlets was the Aboriginal co-op, Neechi Foods at 325 Dufferin Street in Winnipeg. He now has his chips in a num- ber of chains from Alberta to On- tario, including Arctic Co-ops, North West Company stores, and Feder- ated Co-op service stations. As well, his product has been picked up by wholesalers such as Pratts Wholesale, the Massy Whole- sale and Sysco Foods. He has been pounding the side- walks in England, Europe and the United States to open up new mar- ket opportunities. He has also set up prospects for direct distribution and sales by Aboriginal youth.


Although the en-


Tomahawk Chips continue to expand its presence in local stores.


The chip bags feature artwork done by aboriginal artists.


terprise has grown considerably, it still operates with the original intent: to


open up opportunities for native peo- ple, to show that others can do what he himself has done. “When they ask me for advice,”


Alfred says. “I tell them, ‘Just do it!’” It is that let’s-just-do-it philosophy that has guided him all these years and that has made the seemingly im- possible quite within reach for Alfred Lea.


His story doesn’t end there. He has magnificent plans to stimulate a tour- ism business that would bring people in from all over the world to experi- ence indigenous culture, Canadian style. When first offered, his plan couldn’t get the support of Western Diversification, even though he had some pretty big players as partners. Attitudes are changing as people be- gin to understand the ingenuity, drive and power of this community and can see the past and ongoing success- es of guys like Alfred Lea. Tere is no doubt his plan can come forward again, perhaps with a new result. Pine Dock’s most famous son is still just beginning.


The Hub


Photos by Alfred Lea.


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