In recognition of International Women’s Day, #BreaktheBias, Trans Mountain is excited to share how Carrie Leonard—Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc member, CEO and co-owner of Sun Ridge Contracting – breaks the bias as an Indigenous woman in leadership.

We sat down with Carrie to learn more about her and the work her company has completed on the Trans Mountain Expansion Project.

An excavator is loading common material into Sun Ridge’s 30-tonne CAT rock truck. This material was moved to landscape the hillside in preparation of hydroseeding. Kamloops Terminal Construction, 2021.

Carrie Leonard is a CEO, business owner, active Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc community member, family matriarch and First Nations advocate. Carrie and Cliff, her husband of 40+ years, own and operate Sun Ridge Contracting (SRC) – a civil earthwork, forestry and mining contracting company based in Kamloops, BC. “Our company started on the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc territory in our home office,” explains Carrie. “Our land was located on the north side of the South Thompson River and the sun would shine on the ridge, which gave us the name ‘Sun Ridge.’”

Sun Ridge is a 100 per cent solely owned First Nations company the couple started in 1994 with one gravel truck. Over the last 30 years, Sun Ridge has grown significantly and recently completed several major contracts, specifically for the Trans Mountain Expansion Project.

For Carrie, the company is where it is today because of her and Cliff’s strength, teamwork and resilience. “We built this company from the ground up. We were two people with a vision and an entrepreneurial spirit from a young age,” Carrie said. “We worked hard and persevered to achieve what we’ve been able to build today.”When asked about this year’s theme for International Women’s Day – #BreaktheBias – Carrie reflected on her role within Sun Ridge. “People are not used to having a woman in the position I am or how much I am involved in the company.”

As CEO, Carrie oversees all administrative operations, business relation activities and develops plans that align with short- or long-term goals. Through her strong leadership skills, Carrie also motivates staff to assist and advance employee engagement. “I am involved in all levels of the company,” she said. “It’s a 24/7 business and I play a lot of roles – I am hands-on.”

Three excavators lined up at the end of the workday.

Sun Ridge has worked on the Trans Mountain Expansion Project since 2019 and has completed several major contracts, including the Black Pines Pump Station and Kamloops Terminal. For the Black Pines Pump Station contract, the civil earthwork focused on the development of underground utilities and the creation of a pad the pump stations were built on – a process that required topsoil stripping, grading, excavating, backfilling and further grading.

According to Carrie, Kamloops Terminal was the most challenging contract. Due to complex underground infrastructure, the excavation work was highly sensitive. However, their skilled team carried it out successfully with safety as their top priority. Sun Ridge has a “Work Safe, Home Safe” mandate to ensure all employees work in a safe environment, so they return home to their families at the end of every day.

An excavator digs a trench for a 36” pipe to be tied in at Kamloops Terminal. The D6 dozer is creating a road for the rock trucks to gain access to the remainder of the site.

For Carrie, processing the Earth’s soil is more than just a function of her company, it is also a family passion. As a family-owned and operated company, Carrie works collaboratively with many of her family members employed by SRC who share the same passion.

Carrie’s leadership is based on her family values of respect, honesty and hard work. “I stand up for my values,” Carrie mentions as she discusses her management strategy. “I am a strong proponent of protecting our people from bullying, intimidation and lateral violence.” For Carrie and Cliff, it is also important that their employees feel valued and appreciated. Sun Ridge has an Employee Appreciation program that recognizes employees each month for their hard work and dedication. According to Carrie, “This creates initiative to be better and be proud to work for Sun Ridge.”

When Carrie and Cliff started their business more than 30 years ago, helping others was one of their goals. “We knew we wanted to help our community by providing jobs and training,” Carrie said. As a result, they strive to hire members of their community to change their lives. “Sun Ridge is a major employer for Indigenous people, while at the same time, we welcome diversity in our workplace and service delivery.”

Sun Ridge’s office staff participated in a drum in September 2021 after the remains of 215 children were found at the Kamloops Indian Residential School and the subsequent announcements from sites across the country. This was done on behalf of children and for them to be heard.

Jobs and traineeships are not the only ways Carrie gives back to the community. Every year, Sun Ridge provides funds to the Sun Ridge Contracting Aboriginal Trades Bursary for Thompson River University students enrolled in one of the Trades and Technology programs. Carrie explains, “This initiative is about supporting our people so they can obtain opportunities to further their education and become a valuable member of the community.”

Even though Carrie is an accomplished businesswoman and leader in her community, she is also humble about her achievements and credits her family for Sun Ridge’s success. “My husband and I are a dream team – we both participate in all aspects of the company and if we didn’t have each other, we wouldn’t have what we have today.”

Trans Mountain is pleased to have women like Carrie and companies such as Sun Ridge working on the Project. We are committed to maximizing opportunities for Indigenous businesses and communities.

Learn more about Sun Ridge Contracting here.