Take a trip on a DRL Group coach, across Newfoundland and beyond, and then extend your journey as you learn the myriad businesses and interests, including fisheries, mining and toxic waste cleanup, that have enabled this company to expand its legacy. Lorie Greenspan reports.
If you think it’s a stretch that a company that traces its origins in the Newfoundland fishing industry could end up operating a popular coach touring business, what would you think if that same company was also an integral part of real estate development? Mine rehabilitation? Toxic waste cleanup?
You’d think, if you lived in Triton, Newfoundland, you had found Jason Roberts, operator of DRL Group. He is the “go to” man if you’re in trouble and if you’re not, why, just sit back and let the veteran tour operator take you from coast to coast.
DRL Group, or Dorman Roberts Limited, traces its roots to 1922 as a fishing operation, started by Dorman Roberts’ grandfather, Samuel G. By the time Dorman took over, the company employed schooners that sailed for their daily catch off the coast of the Grand Banks. Samuel was a true entrepreneur and had also purchased a general store, expanding into wholesale groceries and consumer items. “We were an old fashioned Walmart,” Jason Roberts recalls.
The business flourished into the 1950s and early 60s, during which Dorman established fishing camps where men stayed and fished during the summer for salmon and cod.
In the 1970s the family put in a modern fish processing facility but in the 1980s decided to get out of fish processing with the decline of the saltwater fishery.
Dorman was diagnosed with cancer and after five years, passed away but the family persevered. In 1995 the government of Canada put out a request for a proposal to take over a federal operation, the Trans Island Bus Service. “Being around equipment and trucking it was a natural move,” Roberts said. ‘It was a regulated route, continuous and steady, and that’s how we got into the coach businesses.”
The family expanded the business into Atlantic Canada and even after a brother, Javis, passed away, the family continued its operations with help of Jason, his brother, Jefferson and mother, Ruth. DRL today includes DRL Coachlines Ltd., operator of inter-city bus services; Presidential Coachlines LLC, charter bus operator; Triton Ocean Products, lobster holding and mussel farming and processing as well as a construction arm that is responsible for creating cozy subdivisions throughout Newfoundland.
NOW ON TOUR
Operating under DRL-LR, the company provides daily motor coach service with 25 stops across Newfoundland. The westbound coach departs St. John’s at 7:30 a.m. en route to Port aux Basques; the eastbound coach departs Port aux Basques at 8 a.m. en route to St. John’s.
As a charter coach operator, DRL-LR takes passengers on charter tours throughout Newfoundland, across Canada and into the United States, including four nights and five days into Florida and Nashville – tours that operate maybe six or seven times a year. Operating under the motto, “Getting you there, 365 a year,” the company has organized escorted motor coach tours for varying lengths of time to other destinations that include: Prince Edward Island, ’Cross Canada, Nashville-Branson-Graceland, Maritime Provinces, Florida, Cape Cod, and Toronto-Niagara Falls. For the locals, though, especially the 55-plus crowd, it’s best to keep the tours into places they know. “It’s hard to push for them to do new destinations and get enough interest,” Roberts said, and added, “A bus operation in Newfoundland isn’t the same as in Connecticut. When a bus breaks down in the U.S. you can call another bus operator for support or to get another bus. Here, you’re on your own.”
DRL’s inventory includes 19 state-of-the-art coaches. Each is 45 feet long and can seat 56 people in plush comfort. The coaches are manufactured by Prévost in Canada, and the product is described by Roberts as “the best coach on the market, with an all stainless steel structure and frame. We get good support from the factory; the coaches are easy to work on and have real good curbside appeal. They’re smart looking, and ride and operate well.” That’s important in Newfoundland where there aren’t huge snow events but a lot of smaller annoying weather happenings that can be just as extreme to operate in, Robert says.
The company also offers DRL-LR Road Pak Express Parcel Service, delivering envelopes, parcels and other packages across the Island of Newfoundland, 365 days a year.
Outside of the coach and parcel delivery business, Roberts says, “We do everything, from subdivision development to docks and piers, blasting and crushing. When someone’s in trouble they call me. People ask for help, I say, ‘What do you need?’ Everybody these days wants it done today – you have to accommodate that.”
FROM SUBDIVISIONS TO MINES AND WASTE
On the subdivision end, the company is currently constructing a 45-50 lot development in Triton, an economic center on the island. Each home is between 1800 and 2500 square feet and offers panoramic views of the water, including the occasional floating iceberg.
When not engaged in building homes, DRL, Roberts relates, does “a fair amount of toxic waste rehabilitation and remediation. We will handle pretty much any kind of waste, covering it with soil to burying it.”
Last year, Roberts relates, the company completed a project at a zinc, cobalt and copper mine site that had been closed for 20 years – a major remediation project that was government issued. “We had to put in a new dam (over the retention pond), and change the pond’s elevation, and cover the site with a special blend of gravel and top soil. There were 50 acres that had to be reshaped,” Roberts says.
DRL also keeps a hand in the fishery industry. “We just started a new project for the aqua culture industries: salmon farming,” Roberts says. “We’ve been doing a lot with that. It’s becoming a huge industry here; there’s a lot of good, clean water up here and good temperatures to work with.”
At a cost of $15 million, the project entails construction of a road and docks for the boats that would head out to the salmon cages.
But no matter what DRL does, it seems to involve some sort of journey, which, since 1922, has taken the company across an island and a continent and into the many industries that profit from its expertise.