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Building back better: how BMO helped a Nova Scotia fishing co-op recover from Hurricane Fiona

December 1, 2023 | Customers

This is an excerpt from BMO’s 2023 Annual Report, which features highlights of BMO’s past year and stories of customers who are making real financial progress with BMO’s support.  

In 2022, Quebec and Atlantic Canada were struck by Hurricane Fiona, one of the most powerful and destructive storms in Canadian history. The storm was devastating to families, communities and businesses across the Atlantic provinces – including Nova Scotia-based Victoria Co-operative Fisheries Ltd. (Co-op), a BMO client since 2012. 

The Co-op, formed in 1955, works with more than 140 inshore commercial fishing vessels to purchase and process a variety of seafood that is then shipped to Europe, Asia and the United States. Most of the vessels are locally owned and operated by Co-op members, and their earnings to stay in the community.  

As the largest employer on the northern tip of Cape Breton Island, each year the Co-op contributes approximately $2 million in payroll to the local economy. 

The Co-op’s plant was severely damaged by Hurricane Fiona, and they lost over $500,000 in product. Luckily, no one was injured – but the Co-op’s future was at risk. 

Peter MacLeod, Senior Relationship Manager at BMO, and several colleagues sprang into action, assuring Osborne Burke, General Manager of the Co-op, that BMO would be there for them. 

From there, it was a joint effort between the commercial deal and risk management teams. BMO is one of few Canadian banks with extensive expertise in fisheries, and Risk understood the scope of the initial impact, enabling BMO to act quickly to ensure the Co-op was able to pay critical bills – and to rebuild as soon as possible. 

For the Co-op to survive, it would need to be operational in time for the beginning of the next fishing season in April 2023. 

“We needed the bank’s support to get started, not knowing what insurance or other support would be available. We didn’t know the extent of the damage – ultimately it was more than $8 million – but BMO stepped up to the plate. It wasn’t an issue worrying about how we’d pay the bills. BMO did what a lot of banks would never do for someone in our industry.” 

– Osborne Burke
General Manager, Victoria Co-operative Fisheries Ltd

The Co-op was able to start rebuilding right away – and Osborne made sure they built back better than ever, with a more efficient facility made to withstand the next storm. 

BMO’s One Client approach helped get the Co-op fully operational in time for the opening of snow crab season in April – just seven months after the devastating hurricane. 

“We never missed a day of production, which would never have happened without the bank being there for us from the very first day. Very simply, we would have been out of business without BMO,” says Osborne, who has gone on to recommend BMO to several others in the industry. 

“All the credit for the rebuild goes to Osborne,” says Peter. “He made it happen – in record time.” At the same time, Peter is proud of the way his colleagues partnered across business groups to provide timely support and local expertise. 

“Working together as one team is ingrained within BMO’s culture. Our dedication to understanding the businesses we serve – and how they impact their communities – allows us to make a real difference.” 

– Peter MacLeod
Senior Relationship Manager at BMO

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