In 1990 a few forward thinking businessmen got together to address problems in their industry. Concrete septic tanks were getting a bad rap. Although most rural properties were serviced by septic systems, only a small portion of the owners actually knew how they worked. On-site sewage treatment systems were being criticized as ineffective and archaic. Government regulators claimed this was yet another reason to end rural development. Aerobic systems and plastic tanks were offered as the “new technology” but proposed results were often exaggerated and failures common. Someone had to speak up for the manufacturers, educate the public (and the government), and raise the quality of septic tank production in the province. It was in this light that the Concrete Precasters Association of Ontario was born.
Concrete septic tank manufacturers are entrepreneurs in the truest sense. Rurally located, privately owned, and spread across the province. Most starting out in their backyards, with wives and sons, brothers and daughters working in the business, they built their own forms, cranes, trucks and territories. It’s hard, heavy, honest work, with long hours and slow gains. Getting these guys together with their competitors and sometime adversaries in the same room would be challenging. Getting them to sit down and work with one another to form an association and for the betterment of the industry, seemed impossible.
Glenn Caverly worked most of his life in the concrete industry for one the provinces largest tank producers. Not long after the association was formed, he was hired as its manager. He knew the products and he knew the industry. Before long he knew most of the provinces manufacturers as well. He logged a lot of miles and visited every precaster he could find. Because he wasn’t anyone’s competitor, he could get his foot in the door, and if he could get to the boss and make his pitch, he could make a friend. By 1993 CPA member companies were making 2/3 of all the tanks in Ontario. Suppliers soon realized the value of membership, and were quick to lend support to the group.
Although we didn’t know it at the time, we had actually hired a management team, with Glenn’s wife Dorothy acting as secretary, treasurer and travel advisor. Her influence became evident as the association evolved and annual conferences became larger and more elaborate. With, hotels, name tags, hors d’oeuvres and entertainers, some things go smoother with a lady’s touch.
As we developed a relationship with the Ministry of Environment, who regulated septic tanks in the province, Brian Cooper, the head of the section, mentioned that quality control and standards of design were of major concern to the MOE. There were a lot of manufacturers across the province making a lot of tanks, and not all of them were good.
Jim Wilkinson headed up the Standards Committee, formed to help Precasters improve the quality of their product, work with the government to improve the regulations, and weed out some of the bad apples. Jim also sat on the CSA B66 committee for years, and eventually developed the CPA Product Registration Program. This program was accepted by the MMAH as an alternative to CSA certification.
Mel Marshall joined our association early on as an associate member. His experience in the industry and with other precast associations was invaluable to our fledgling group. He set up and chaired the Technical Committee and the Tech Notes program. He has offered Production Schools and workshops over the years for members and their employees, never charging for his services, always doing it for the benefit of the association.
Our Supplier Members have shown us important support since the early days as well. Their technical and financial contributions have helped our association and it’s members grow and succeed. The supplier exhibits have always been a highlight of our conferences.
Since the beginning, government regulators realized that the CPA truly represented the concrete septic tank manufacturers in the province. When the MOE was making changes to the code, we were offered a seat on the committee. Every time the government considers septic re-inspection, we are at the table. Building Materials Evaluation Committee, Building Code Review Committee, every revision of Part 8 of the Building Code, we were there. The relationship we have developed with the regulators has benefited our members by giving them a say in the evolution of our industry.
In the late 90’s the Ministry of Labour began enforcing the requirement of our truck crane operators to be licensed. Working with Durham College and the Ministry of Apprenticeship and skills, the CPA got our operators back in school and licensed. You’ve never see a sorrier lot, than a room full of middle aged truck drivers who haven’t seen the inside of a classroom since they were thrown out of one at age 12.
When the MOE made a push to have all septic tank manufactures certified by CSA, the CPA pushed back. The result was our Product Registration Program. Developed by Jim Wilkinson and the Standards Committee, the program was accepted by the MOE as an alternative to CSA, and continues to ensure a higher level of quality control and testing.
Over the past 29 years the CPA has supported research and education programs in various forms. Through the University of Waterloo, we provided funding for tertiary treatment research. The University of Guelph and the Ontario Rural Wastewater Centre, train students and contractors daily on the design and construction of septic systems, using products and equipment provided by our members. We contribute to facilities in Canada and the US who conduct ongoing testing of septic tank durability. We display at industry trade shows promoting our association and our products.
Our septic tank handbook: The Care and Feeding of your Septic Tank, was first published in 1995. The government liked it so well that they helped us fund the reprinting of another 100,000 copies over subsequent years. We’ve recently published a new up-to-date version called “The Septic Solution” and it’s been well received as well. The NPCA in the States has asked to reprint it for their own members.
Our greatest achievement however, and the key to our longevity, is our annual convention. It’s not the food and drink, though they’re always good, or the meetings and speakers, though they’re always interesting and informative. It’s getting together with your concrete buddies, once a year and talking shop. At breakfast, lunch, dinner and beyond. Talking about cranes and forms and customers and employees; SCC, CSA, WSIB, MOE, SPIFF, WHIMIS and OSHA. (Drives our wives crazy) Nobody knows the business like somebody else who’s doing it. Sure we’re competitors... we have secrets. But for 3 days a year, we put that aside, have a meal and a drink and talk shop. And we learn things, and teach things, and have a bit of fun doing it.
The other important part of our convention is the plant tour. It doesn’t have to be a big plant or a new plant. As long as it’s got machinery and smells like concrete, we’re there. And again, it’s as much about talking to other precasters as you’re walking through, as anything. Looking at the way the host is doing things, discussing how you do it, telling war stories about the time you did something and it ended in disaster... or success. This is what we come for. The association is so fortunate to have so many members who will allow us to tour their facilities every year.
But a successful conference doesn’t come together without a lot of hard work and effort. Our current Administrators, Brian and Leslie plan every detail, squeeze the hotel for every nickel, and demand perfection from the staff. And it runs as smooth as silk, year after year.
As it was in the beginning with Glen and Dorothy, the success and longevity of our association can be largely attributed to our management, and Brian and Leslie have carried us forward with zeal.
So all these years later, our little association is strong, our membership is near record, and we’re still having a great time. What’s the secret to our success... it’s the people.