The Covid-19 pandemic has a way of crushing people’s plans, but for Dumaresq Valpy it’s given him a new opportunity.
Last March, as Covid-19 infections spread across Canada, Valpy happened to be in the final stages of acquiring his tourism operator licence.
“My original plan was to start a tour business,” he said. “I was a tour guide here for seven years. Then I almost got my tour license. I was one week away from it and then the pandemic hit.”
He shelved the tour company bid and pulled out his “plan B,” a business idea for delivering groceries to small communities, something he’d thought of trying almost a decade earlier.
“We saw a need for groceries and supplies to be sent up to small communities in the Arctic and sub-Arctic. We wanted to give our clients a better option when it came to suppliers. The plan was to offer nutritious foods at a discounted rate.
“But because I was in Yellowknife I didn’t (qualify) as a vendor with Nutrition North. One of my slogans was ‘a healthy North is a happy North.’ So I gave up on it and I sat on it until this year because there’s been a much bigger demand for goods in general.”
With plans in place to transport goods to and from communities outside the NWT, Valpy received recognition from Protect NWT as an essential worker. In September of 2020 he launched Drumbeat Expediting.
Most of his clients are individuals who need specific items or vulnerable Elders and others who are afraid to travel.
He uses a black SUV and utility trailer to transport goods on his rounds that have taken him to all communities along the highways including Edmonton, Grand Prairie, Fort Simpson, Fort Providence and Fort Smith. Lutsel K’e is the most remote community he works with at the moment, where he ships items by Air Tindi flights.
Valpy moves goods that include things as diverse as food, chainsaw supplies, furniture, automotive items and even medical gloves.
“A fellow from Buffalo, New York who manufactures medical gloves needed me to pick up gloves. He sent them through WestJet (which) has a third party that deals with their cargo. The fellow who works for that third party was interested in the services. I picked them up at Yellowknife airport and delivered them to the hospital here,” Valpy said.
He’s limited only to what he can carry in his truck or on his trailer. Other vehicles are fair game too.
The largest and most unique item Valpy has shipped was a right-hand drive Mitsubishi van.
“It was kind of an exotic item. I guess it came from Japan. I took it down to Edmonton and its final destination was Saskatchewan.”
With his essential worker status he doesn’t have to self-isolate for two weeks when he returns from monthly trips to Alberta, but he can’t go into any bars, restaurants or into crowded public areas south of the border.
He takes all of his own food down south and sanitizes everything before he touches it. When he returns to the NWT he keeps his distance from people for a few days.
While Valpy has managed to break even and make a little profit after five months in business, he acknowledges that the project has been a lot to take on during the pandemic.
“It’s tough,” he said. “The worst thing is I don’t have any secure contracts. I don’t know what I’m going to do in the next few weeks. I work from job to job. (But) I’m lucky that I’m not losing money.”
In the bigger picture, Valpy is glad he bet on his new venture despite some difficulties and he’s considering expanding his services by purchasing a bigger truck or an enclosed trailer and hiring some staff.
“I’m happy to help when I come back from Edmonton. I feel like Santa Claus with a trailer full of goods,” he jokes. “I really enjoy being of service to people in times when they aren’t able to pick things up from their favourite stores like Ikea, and give them better prices than they could get with other companies. And I’m able to do that without putting their community members at risk.”