Brave Adventures has been making bold moves.
The family-run business scooped up a three-year Highway 1 operation and maintenance contract for $2.9 million in November. It entails the grooming of approximately 130 km of highway between Wrigley and Fort Simpson and it kept six people employed over the winter.
“We bid on that because we just wanted something more stable,” said Brave Adventures owner Wes Pellissey, who’s a band member with the Pehdzeh Ki First Nation in Wrigley. “Having the stability of work all the time is really crucial, especially with Covid right now.”
Some of the workers with the previous highway contractor have moved over to do the job for Brave Adventures, which outbid the Liidlii Kue First Nation’s Nogha Enterprises and Pehdzeh Ki Contractors, the development arm of the Pehdzeh Ki First Nation.
Pellissey got another big break earlier – one that he orchestrated by pitching himself and his company to dignitaries – to clear and mulch the Tlicho all-season road to Whati in 2019.
“Big jobs like that are very rare up here in the North,” he said. “It helped me get rid of some of my older gear and get into some new, modern machines.”
He also received some financial assistance from the NWT Metis Development Corporation to put a down-payment on a new mulcher, which sells for close to $450,000. He later added several mulchers to his fleet, but sold some of the machines after completing the Tlicho road project. He said he considers mulching to be environmentally-friendly because it doesn’t destroy the topsoil and rip up all the roots.
Pellissey launched Brave Adventures in 2003 when he was the fire technician in charge of the Wrigley forestry base.
He periodically turned to the Deh Cho Business Development Centre for insight and advice and said Sean Whelly and Todd Noseworthy provided valuable guidance.
He did a lot of brush clearing and smaller-scale road mulching jobs over the early years.
With business growing steadily, Pellissey’s wife Tamarah, who’s a trained message therapist, assumed responsibility for Brave Adventures’ administrative duties in addition to being a business partner.
“We wouldn’t be anywhere today if it wasn’t for my wife. I’m so proud of her,” Pellissey said. “She’s such a hard worker. When she sets her mind to something she doesn’t take no for an answer.”
Although his company has attained a number of safety designations, he’s striving to achieve Certificate of Recognition (COR), which meets national safety standards.
“Safety is everything nowadays,” he said, adding that he also seizes opportunities to expand his skill set wherever he can, such as picking up an ability to weld.
Grateful to predecessors
He credits numerous influences for helping form his identity and character. His great, great grandfather James Pellissey was a Dene leader; his grandfather Wilson Pellissey, was a medicine man who lived in Tulita; and his father Ewald “Eddie” Sonnenberg all served as inspirations to him in some form.
He also calls Don Morin a “key mentor” as he learned a great deal from the former premier when he worked for Morin at Aurora Village for a number of years as a young man.
“I always wanted to kind of be like him – how people respected him and how he took care of his family. He was big inspiration to me at that point in my life,” Pellissey recalled.
The nature of his work often keeps him in the bush, where he’s always felt at home. In his youth, he regularly hunted rabbits and chickens for his mother.
“I love the bush. It’s one place where I’m always at peace, I’m calm,” he said.
It’s for this reason he encourages budding entrepreneurs to identify a line of work that gives them fuel to keep going.
“Find something that you really like doing… You have to pick something that you have a passion for, a burning desire,” he advised. “You eat, sleep and live your business. When you go home at the end of the day, that’s not the end. I get calls all night long, people breaking down and stuff… having to run your own business is a lot of self-discipline.
“There will be tough times but you’ve just got to stick to your guns and don’t give up on yourself and your business.”
Although he’s busy, Pellissey said he’s inclined to help shepherd others who are on a trail similar to his own.
“I would like to mentor people, and use my experience from the way I grew up to try to help Indigenous people to bridge that gap in small business in the Northwest Territories,” he said. “It would be nice to see more Indigenous businesses spring up and flourish.”