Former Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation chief Jerry Primrose has been appointed as president and partner with Maple Bus Lines, a Winnipeg-based business that provides bus and freight service to and from Thompson six days a week.
The appointment took effect this week, said Maple Bus Lines owner Lori Mann, who previously employed Primrose as a driver and often used him as a sounding board for her ideas before he joined the company in an official capacity.
“Before I would ask him advice,” Mann said an Nov. 8 phone interview. “Now that we’ve partnered, it’s official.”
Maple began providing service to and from Thompson after Greyhound Canada shut down virtually all of its routes in the country in 2018. They were one of several companies that took the opportunity created by Greyhound abandoning the market to begin running buses on the Thompson-Winnipeg route, including Highway 6 Express and NCN Thompson Bus, which recently began providing twice-a week shuttle service to Lynn Lake. NCN Thompson Bus is a joint venture with NCN, while Maple Bus Lines welcomed Pimicikamak Cree Nation as an investor prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Primrose says he has experience in the transportation industry, having been in charge of school busing in Nelson House for many years previously, where he was responsibility for hiring employees, making sure buses were maintained and inspected, and overseeing schedules.
“I’ve done buses for most of my adult life,” he said Nov, 7, though the new job will have its own learning curve. “This is a little bit of a different challenge.”
The need for a partner to help run and grow the business stems from the changes it has already gone through, says Mann, who is kept busy in Winnipeg co-ordinating passengers and freight not only on Maple Bus Lines but also on partner bus lines that go from Winnipeg east to Ottawa and west out to Vancouver.
“I can’t leave here to go to meetings or to set up new things, set up new routes,” says Mann. ”We’re shipping freight and people coast to coast. That’s enough in itself for me. I can’t multiply myself.”
With service to Thompson — and operating and maintaining Thompson transit buses — making up a significant part of Maple’s business, it was important to have a partner who was in the north and understood the region as well as the transportation industry.
“He has the connection with the Indigenous community,” says Mann. “He understands the transportation industry and the transportation that we’re dealing with, the northern part. I can’t think of anybody better up on that side. He’s the best candidate.”
Primrose says he doesn’t feel awkward as a former NCN chief working for a company in competition with and NCN-affiliated one.
“She had no problem hiring me and when she asked me to do this I didn’t have an issue either,” he says.
Primrose’s priority in the new role will be to ensure that Maple is providing the safest and most comfortable bus transportation it can and that any issues are brought to his attention immediately.
“I want to promote the safety aspect of bus transportation,” he says, mentioning that he is aware of problems some passengers have had with various bus companies serving Thompson, including breakdowns and poor heat or air conditioning. “That’s some of the stuff I’d like to address, to make sure that people travel in comfort. I think the question is to make sure that the people are treated well. The passengers, the customers, they’re treated in a fair manner and nobody takes advantage of anybody. If there’s any issues they can contact me. I live in the north, I live in Nelson House. People can give me a call and they can go from there.”
Mann is confident that having Primrose on the Maple team in the north will be beneficial for the company.
“It’s not hard to explain to him what I’m up against,” she says. “I think it’s only going to make us stronger for sure.”