Thunder Bay Women in Business

CEDC Open for Business

THUNDER BAY – BUSINESS – Female business leaders are a growing force in the Canadian economy. According to the Globe and Mail, Canada’s family-friendly policies and investment in women make it an ‘emerging hotspot for entrepreneurs.’ Royal Bank of Canada estimates that small and medium-sized female-owned businesses have contributed $148 billion in economic activity by 2011.

Thunder Bay is a community at the forefront of this movement, with strong female leadership present in every sector and industry.

“At least half of all our clientele is women starting and expanding small businesses,” says Ryan Moore, Development Officer at the Thunder Bay & District Entrepreneur Centre. “They are driving the economy, creating jobs and growing our city in a big way.”

The Thunder Bay Community Economic Development Commission (CEDC)/Thunder Bay and District Entrepreneur Centre (EC) is an entrepreneurial support organization dedicated to helping small businesses start up, expand, and succeed. Their one-to-one counseling can assist you to write a business plan, secure funding, and connect you with other available resources.

Entrepreneur and City Councillor Shelby Ch’ng adds, I do believe women are poised to not only change the business community but to re-image some of the most economically challenged areas of the city.  With groups like PARO Centre for Women’s Enterprise and the CEDC encouraging women from all walks of life to open and sustain businesses, women are setting up businesses that are economically feasible.  Low overhead is an entrepreneur’s best friend.  Women are opening businesses in both the cores and changing the landscapes for how Thunder Bay does business.  All we have to do is to count how many women business owners are in the south core to realize this potential!”

The Entrepreneur Centre has worked with women of all backgrounds to kick-start their businesses and access necessary information, resources, and tools to get them on the right track to success. Here are a few of their stories.

Gail Marion
Dental Hygiene Smiles

Dental Hygiene SmilesGail Marion is a regulated health care professional first and foremost, and a trailblazing entrepreneur at the same time. She started her career in dental hygiene immediately after graduation when she moved to Mississauga and spent many years working in general practice for dental and orthodontic offices. When she moved back to Thunder Bay, Gail started teaching orthodontics to dental hygiene students and continues to do so to this day. She has also worked for Health Canada in a northern First Nations community where she educated parents and guardians about proper dental care for children.

Dental Hygiene Smiles is centrally located across from Fort William Gardens to make dental hygiene care more accessible to those who need it.

In 2007, as part of its efforts to close the gap in oral health care, the Ontario government passed legislation that allowed dental hygienists to self-initiate and open dental hygiene clinics to improve access to comprehensive dental hygiene care. Gail’s years of working in practice combined with her experience up north and networking with independent dental hygiene colleagues in Southern Ontario gave her the confidence to open Dental Hygiene Smiles, a community dental hygiene clinic in Thunder Bay.

Dental Hygiene Smiles is centrally located in the McKellar neighbourhood, a high-needs area for dental hygiene care. The clinic offers flexible hours and follows the dental hygienists’ fee guide. Furthermore, Dental Hygiene Smiles is now billing to the government’s NIHB (Non-Insured Health Benefits) program that supports First Nations people who do not have any other type of dental or health insurance.

As a woman working in a female-dominated profession, Gail’s clinic also serves to help other hygienists. Dental Hygiene Smiles has sterilization equipment that is used to reprocess instruments for other hygienists. There is also a chair that dental hygienists can rent for their own clients. “I started Dental Hygiene Smiles to help the community, but also to help other hygienists. I act as a resource to any hygienist who needs help, advice, or information so that they can learn from my experience,” says Gail.

Gail accessed Entrepreneur Centre services to assist her with business planning and marketing Dental Hygiene Smiles.

Gail’s latest venture in health care is Bodystream, a holistic health care centre (located in the same building above Dental Hygiene Smiles) that uses evidence-based practices as an alternative to traditional medicine. “Bodystream is about health and healing benefit,” says Gail.

Gail is a member of the Canadian Dental Hygienist Association (CDHA), Thunder Bay Dental Hygienist’s Society (TBDHS), Ontario Dental Hygienists’ Association (ODHA), and the Dental Hygiene Practitioners of Ontario (DHPO).  She also was elected to serve on Council for the College of Dental Hygienists of Ontario (CDHO).

Katrina Sutherland
Brighter Days Elderly Services

From a very early age, Katrina Sutherland’s passion has been working with seniors. She is the certified Therapeutic Recreationist behind Brighter Days Elder Services, a business that provides recreation, leisure and companionship to seniors to keep them physically and mentally active and healthy.

Brighter Days Elderly Services offers recreation, leisure and companionship to keep seniors active and healthy, both mentally and physically.
Brighter Days Elderly Services offers recreation, leisure and companionship to keep seniors active and healthy, both mentally and physically.

Having spent years volunteering for organizations such as Hospice Northwest and the Alzheimer’s Society, Katrina’s seen first-hand how big the need is for recreation therapy among Thunder Bay’s senior population. She went on to achieve a BA in Gerontology and a Diploma in Recreation Therapy. During a lecture, Katrina heard the professor mention how few private recreationists there are in Thunder Bay compared to most cities. It was a real ‘lightbulb moment’ for Katrina who immediately recognized the potential for this business opportunity.

Soon after graduation, Katrina took the idea and ran with it and started Brighter Days Elderly Services to be able to bring the much-needed companionship and recreation therapy to seniors in our city. Katrina completed the Starter Company program and received a grant of $5,000 which she used to procure a website, establish branding, and cover other promotional expenses.

Brighter Days is now a full-time business. In fact, Katrina’s currently in the hiring process of another Recreationist to be able to serve more clients. “I had zero clients when I started and it’s been an amazing first year in business,” she says. “I want to keep growing as an organization to reach as many seniors as possible and provide more jobs in Thunder Bay.”

“Starting and running the business takes a lot of time, drive and many unpaid hours.  I couldn’t imagine doing all this work for something that wasn’t a passion. I have never felt more in the right path in life as I do right now. I have found what I am supposed to be doing with my life and this is just the beginning. I have big dreams for myself and Brighter Days.”

Suzie Kepes, Rosie Lauro, and Marie Penko
The Commissary Deli & Smoked Meats

The Commissary Deli & Smoked Meats accessed funding to rebuild their damaged building with assistance from the Thunder Bay & District Entrepreneur Centre.
The Commissary Deli & Smoked Meats accessed funding to rebuild their damaged building with assistance from the Thunder Bay & District Entrepreneur Centre.

Famous for sausage and other smoked meats, The Commissary has been serving Thunder Bay for over 75 years. Originally established as Kutnic’s in 1936, The Commissary has since been passed down two generations to sisters Rosie, Suzie, and Marie, along with their brother Steven, who re-opened the business full time in 2004.

You can expect a unique shopping experience at The Commissary that is a mix of wholesome goodness and authenticity with a slight ‘old country European’ feel. The warm and welcoming atmosphere and ‘homey’ culture makes the regulars feel like part of the family. The store’s always enjoyed healthy revenues largely from repeat customers and word of mouth, but the devastating flood of 2012 caused insurmountable damage to the building, nearly closing The Commissary for good.

Not to be defeated, plans for reconstruction began immediately and a new state-of-the-art meat processing facility was completed almost a year later. The Commissary used Entrepreneur Centre services to access $217,000 in funding from the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation (NOHFC) to help cover the costs of the new facility and equipment.

Women in business is not a foreign concept for this entrepreneurial family, who grew up watching their grandmother and then mother manage the place. “We learned so much from the women in our family. They were the real lifeblood of the clan,” tells co-owner Marie Penko. “At our late mom’s funeral, the priest referred to her as a matriarch, the way she used to manage the business and how she watched over the store for so many years. He was bang-on.”

The Entrepreneur Centre helps business owners like the ones you just read about with writing a business plan, securing funding, and finding their way to successful entrepreneurship. They also provide free workshops and seminars and have youth programs specifically for young entrepreneurs.

Their one-to-one business counseling, comprehensive information, consulting, and referral service make them a great ‘first-stop’ if you’re starting a business or even thinking of starting a business. All Entrepreneur Centre (EC) services are FREE and confidential. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call (807)625-3960 or visit

CEDC Community Economic Development (CEDC) Entrepreneur Centre
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