Success Stories


Business with 2-4 Employees

Donna Brown

President of P.C. Medic Computers Inc.

Donna Brown initially offered her computer diagnostic services to her community with her home based business back in 1994. The Thunder Bay community embraced her talent and work ethic, and it wasn’t long before she was recognized as being the one who would go above and beyond all expectations in order to ensure that her clients’ computer systems were up and running quickly. Not only did she work tirelessly on expanding her home based business into two full service locations, she always made sure that her family came first by spending quality time with her husband, four children and her three beautiful grandchildren.

She is a true role-model who continually strives to make her community a better place to live in. She actively volunteers and serves on the PARO and Thunder Bay Business Executive Boards, and she is the president of the Thunder Bay Business Exchange and vice-president of the Thunder Bay Business Women’s Network. She is also a 14 year member of the Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

P.C. Medic Computers Inc., has worked diligently with Non-Profit groups that provide Internet Safety Training Sessions for the public, and has recently teamed up with a local bank, presenting information on Virus Protection and On-Line Banking. Her company not only provides a steady and secure workplace for her employees, she is committed to providing a safe and secure environment for her community.

PARO has awarded Donna the Enterprising Women Business with 2-4 Employees Award.


denise.jpgBusiness with 5+ Employees

Denise Fortin

Denise’s Cafe

Denise Fortin is truly an enterprising woman who learned early on how to juggle her family life with the many different business roles she successfully maintained. She started out as a bookkeeper and then opened a local flower shop. Never being one to sit idle, Denise decided to open her own restaurant so that she could meet the local demand for good homemade food. Not only did she listen to her communities requests, she exceeded their expectations by offering homemade food that she bakes daily. Some of her specialties include homemade bread, hearty soups, and dessert to die for! Her establishment became so busy at lunch time, other restaurant owners were forced to close their doors during the day because they just couldn’t compete. It wasn’t long before Denise realized she would have to change her restaurant’s location in order to accommodate the growth of her business.

It was no surprise that Denise’s cafe quickly became the local favourite gathering place in Chapleau. Her establishment offers a homey feel that makes everyone comfortable. She always takes the time to speak with her customers and makes a real effort to get to know them by name. She doesn’t just accommodate her patrons, she makes sure that her female staff are accommodated with their schedule so that they can work during the day and take care of their families during the evening.

Denise also stepped up to support the local Co-op program in her community when she was approached by a local school looking for placement for a student with disabilities. Denise offered to help, and it turned out to be a very positive experience. The young person that she took in was a hard worker who contributed to the operation of her business. It was a win-win situation for both. The impact of her business in her community is also a win-win situation. She provides a secure and positive workplace for her staff and she also offers a little piece of home with every meal she serves.

PARO has awarded Denise the Enterprising Women Business with 5+ employees Award.


penny.jpgAboriginal Entrepreneur Off Reserve

Penny Carpenter

Business Manager K-Net Services

Penny Carpenter is an enterprising woman and business manager of K-Net Services telecommunications department of Keewaytinook Okimakanak. Penny played an essential role in the team which oversaw K-Net Services transform from a publicly funded First Nations programme, to a sustainable social enterprise. She contributed to this transition by being a strong female role model in First Nations technology where voices are predominately male. She was the first Aboriginal woman to become the Director of Finance at a tribal council, and the first woman to be part of the management team of Keewaytinook Okimakanak.

Penny’s strength and vision comes from her deep community roots. She places as much emphasis on the needs of her home community as she does with communities across the north and globally. She constantly strives to make her community a better place to live in by being a good role model as a social entrepreneur, business manager, mother and spouse. She teaches and mentors young First Nations girls on the importance of education, goal achievement and balancing family and professional responsibilities without compromise.

Penny is on the front lines building the Kuhkenah Network which is the largest First Nation owned broadband network in Canada. Although Penny would prefer to remain at home with her family and friends, she diligently travels to gatherings in the south to raise awareness and teach others how First Nations in remote communities are adopting and adapting broadband to create new opportunities for youth, women and entrepreneurs.

Penny isn’t just an enterprising woman, she’s a true trail blazer charting the path for other women to follow.

PARO has awarded Penny the Enterprising Women Aboriginal Entrepreneur Off Reserve Award.


sandra.jpgSocial Entrepreneur

Sandra Hay

Certified Reflexologist

Sandra Hay was introduced at a young age to her family’s prominent business widely known as Gordon Trailer Sales and Rentals. Eager to put her own entrepreneurial skills to the test, she built her first company, The Pampered Pet, shortly after graduating from high school at the young age of 17. Her successful endeavour did not go unnoticed. At the age of 18 Sandra won the Minister’s Award for Outstanding Achievement in Business in the age group of 18 to 25. After 6 successful years she sold her business and took a short hiatus giving birth to her first child. However, her passion and desire to start-up another business took hold and she found herself delving into the challenge of starting up yet another small business called Touch of Country. Customers raved about this unique store and showed up week after week for over nine years to see what was new until the unexpected happened. Sandra was diagnosed with a severe spinal cord malformation that required surgery.

Several years before her diagnosis, Sandra met a woman who was studying to become a reflexologist. Sandra volunteered to be a case study for the soon to be reflexologist. This encounter changed Sandra’s life. The sessions relieved the severe symptoms she was experiencing and she fell in love with Reflexology. After Sandra’s spinal diagnosis and surgery, she started Reflexology training in Edmonton. When she returned home as a certified Reflexologist, her services became so popular she knew she had to close her general store and focus on providing Reflexology to clients desperately seeking her care. Twelve years after opening her practice, Sandra continues to use her skills to relieve pain for her clients and also donates her time and skills to numerous retreats and fundraisers. The Alzheimer’s Caregiver Retreat is one of her favourites.

Sandra has been an enterprising woman for over 27 years. During that time she has impacted the economy of Northern Ontario in a positive way by providing a much needed income to dozens of female employees that she has hired. The generous donations that she provides to various local charities through her Reflexology office and her Prestige Limousine business (that her son runs) are too numerous to mention. She’s always the first in line when it comes to supporting a worthy cause. In short, Sandra is a successful business woman, an incredible mom who makes sure her children always come first, and a generous contributor to our community. She is the true meaning of what an Enterprising Woman is.

PARO has awarded Sandra the Enterprising Women Social Entrepreneur Award.


serena.jpgYoung Entrepreneur | Green Entrepreneur

Serena LeBlanc

Owner/Operator of The Green House

Serena LeBlanc is known in the Thunder Bay community as being a hard working & enterprising woman who is often described by her friends and colleagues as being “resourceful, spirited, enthusiastic, adventurous, innovative, caring and passionate.” Her deep concern for the environment and her keen interest in diminishing the heavy footprint of society on the earth, has been her driving force in opening an “eco-general” store in Thunder Bay. In 2008 she concentrated on studying and completing her small business training with PARO, which helped her seize the opportunity of turning her life-long dream of opening an “eco-general” store into a reality.

Serena has aways been supportive and conscious about complementing rather than competing with existing businesses. Her vision has helped strengthen our community by providing opportunities and raising awareness by concentrating on building a stronger localized economy. She continually demonstrates a strong enterprising ethic for her children, by involving them and welcoming them in being active in the family business. Their pride is evident for all to see when her eldest son (age 5) exclaims, “The Greenhouse is not just mom’s store, it’s our store.”

The Green House has filled a void in our region by providing natural alternatives for sustainable living. Many products that were at one time unavailable, such as breastfeeding shirts and reusable and biodegradable diapering products, are now available, not only to Thunder Bay residents, but to members of remote First Nations. She also worked with the Healthy Babies Co-ordinators supplying biodegradable diapers, baby slings, breast pumps and organic baby food to new moms in the remote north. Serena is an outstanding citizen who has gone to incredible lengths to ensure that the environment that we live in, is one worth living in, and that in itself is a breath of fresh air.

PARO has awarded Serena the Enterprising Women Green Entrepreneur Award and Enterprising Women Young Entrepreneur Award.


steph.jpgEstablished Business

Stephanie Ash

Firedog Communications Inc.

Originally from the UK, Stephanie Ash launched her home based business Firedog Communications shortly after receiving her landed immigrant status in Canada. Not only did she face the challenge of starting up a new business in a new country, she had to build her business from the ground up with no connections at all. Her persistence and determination helped her grow her small home based business into a large regional and national award winning company with an impressive client base in Northern Ontario, Canada and North America. Those that have witnessed her dedication and passion have stated that she puts in long hours working through the evenings and weekends so that she can fullfill her clients deadlines. It’s been said that she is oddly motivated by stressful situations and unique challenges. One of her greatest accomplishments is starting and raising a family without sacrificing her business or community commitments. Her 3 year old and 4 month old provide her with great joy and also provided her office staff the opportunity to nickname her the “Manic Momtreprenuer!”

Stephanie’s talent is not only appreciated in her own Thunder Bay community, her accolades reach far and wide. She was recognized by Canadian Marketing Magazine in 2005 as being an “innovative and influential trailblazer,” and was named as being one of Canada’s Top Ten in the publication’s “One’s To Watch Awards.” Her persistence and drive didn’t end there, in 2006 she won the Northern Ontario Business “Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award,” was honoured with an Aboriginal Youth Achievement Award in recognition of her work with First Nations youth, was also the recipient of “Career Guidance Winner” in 2010, awarded the “RBC Innovative Project of the Year Award” in 2011, and received Thunder Bay’s “Top 20 under 40 Awards” in 2012.

To say that Stephanie has become deeply engaged with and invaluable to her community is an understatement. Her business has created rewarding careers for 9 staff members under the age of 35. When she is not mentoring, teaching or encouraging those around her, she is continually giving back to her community by actively participating on numerous boards and committees. Her passion and commitment is reflected in everything that she does, and is evident to everyone that she meets. Stephanie Ash is truly an enterprising woman.

PARO has awarded Stephanie the Enterprising Women Established Business Award.


valerie.jpgNew Business

Valerie Fraser

Atikokan-Quetico Trading Post

Valerie Fraser’s dream of opening a trading post became a reality when this courageous woman took a chance and launched her unique business in a very small community. The Atikokan-Quetico Trading Post provided this enterprising woman the opportunity to follow her vision by promoting all the things she truly loved and believed in. Her store became all about celebrating the community, supporting and promoting local talent, and visiting the history of our past Voyageurs.

Her business continues to promote and showcase the work of many fabulous local artists, songwriters and authors. These gifted individuals are part of what makes the Atikokan-Quetico Trading Post a great success. She has showcased rare and amazing colour photography exhibits, offered local singer songwriters a performing place to call their own, and provides a rare opportunity for the public to share and participate in the creative workshops that she hosts. When Valerie isn’t arranging new artistic workshops for all to enjoy, or taking the time to organize special events, she will most likely be found organizing annual fundraising walks for the MS Association. In fact, The Trading Post and many of it’s artists came together and supported the Lucy in the Sky Walk for MS honouring the memory of Lucy Gasparotto.

When you visit the Trading Post, you will find that Valerie’s store provides more than a revenue stream for many local and regional artists. Her store often serves as the community’s information and tourism bureau. She always takes the time to talk with visitors, and usually entices them to stay an extra day or two after she provides appealing information that helps promote the area.

Valerie is a futuristic thinker who helps celebrate the past, promotes the present and showcases the future.

PARO has awarded Valerie the Enterprising Women New Business Award.


donnalynn.jpgFrancophone Entrepreneur

Donna-Lynn Wiitala

Checkmark Centre d’Excellence

Donna-Lynn Wiitala’s story is an incredibly inspiring story! Donna-Lynn was born with cerebral palsy. Daily physical functions that we take for granted became increasingly difficult for her, yet she didn’t allow her disability to hinder her. Making no excuses for herself, she set the bar high and obtained her Masters in Education. When she began teaching, she started using a scooter to get from class to class. She was determined and driven to see that all students experiencing difficulty with their French studies would receive the help and support they needed in order to succeed.

Donna bridged the gap felt by many in French Education with the launch of her business Checkmark Centre d’Excellence. Students that struggled on their own now have an outlet that supports them with their studies. Because Donna-Lynn believes that all students have a right to expect quality education, she obtained extra training and certification to teach the ‘Apprendre à lire à deux’ program from the University of Quebec in Montreal.

Donna doesn’t just concentrate on her own business, she supports other small businesses and Francophone organizations in Thunder Bay. She has volunteered at the Learning Centre at St. Martin School, has been influential in helping Push and Hagi, and volunteers her time to Sunday school. It’s clear to see that Donna is truly concerned for the education of our children and will stop at nothing to ensure they receive the quality education they deserve.

PARO has awarded Donna-Lynn the Enterprising Women Francophone Entrepreneur Award.


shirley.jpgAboriginal Entrepreneur On Reserve

Shirley Cheechoo

Founder Of Weengushk Film Institute

Shirley is an award winning Cree actress that initially founded the prestigious “De-ba-jeh-mu-jig Theatre Group” in 1982. This highly regarded theatre group became known in Ontario as being one of the longest running Native theatres in North America. Being continually driven by her vision to ensure Native youth are given opportunities to find their inner voice and see their lives portrayed on stage, she continued to expand her network by establishing her film company Spoken Word Productions, and her newest project; Weengushk Film Institute, at M’Chigeeng, Northeastern Ontario.

Not only has she impacted the lives of those whom she has worked with and mentored, she has created growth for business owners by providing them with opportunities that they could tap into by utilizing their catering services for her cast and crew while filming, and by attracting art enthusiasts and tourists into her community with her work.

She has opened up many hearts of those around her with her compassion and determination, and has built a bridge between native and non-native communities by sharing stories and experiences lived by those who at one time, felt like they had no voice.

PARO has awarded Shirley the Enterprising Women Award for Aboriginal Entrepreneur on Reserve.