A lifetime of working with his hands and a chance meeting with a man with money has J.P. Tremblay and Canada Rocks on the cutting edge.
"The sky's the limit. The possibilities are endless," he exults, waving his hands at the stacks of huge stone slabs waiting for their turns at the diamond-tooth saws and polishing machines at the Canada Rocks stone-cutting plant in Strathroy.
"We're ideally placed as the only fabricating (stone-cutting and finishing operation) in all of Southwestern Ontario," Tremblay claims.
"Usually, all these operations are farther north, where the stone is," he says.
Lot of Canada Rocks products go to Toronto, upscale new subdivisions and older neighbourhoods in the London area.
Maybe Tremblay got a feel for rock early. "I've been a contractor all my adult life. My wife and I moved to Strathroy in 1994 and started a landscaping business," he says.
Ten years ago, Tremblay the contractor, installed a paving-stone driveway for Steve Plunkett, the classic auto collector, showman and philanthropist. That driveway job led to a friendship with Plunkett and that was the start of something big.
"I had this idea for a stone fabricating shop where the work wouldn't be seasonal, it'd be year-round," Tremblay says.
Plunkett provided the financial backing to create Canada Rocks. Plunkett says. "It seemed a perfect fit. Besides, it's a niche business and there's a tremendous need for another cut shop in this area. The ones up north are so busy it takes ages to get an order filled."
In 4,500 square feet of rented space, he installed his main machine, a $200,000 saw with a 60-inch circular blade studded with 100 diamond segments. It can saw through a 24-inch thick slab, but needs new diamond teeth regularly.
Because this type of stone finishing is not recognized as a skilled trade in the London area, Tremblay says he has had to train his workers -- most of them local -- himself using skills he picked up in the trade at northern shops.
"The growth potential is huge. Our website is getting 3,000-5,000 hits a month. I don't get much sleep at night because I always figure there's something I should be doing."
With the new technique of laser etching, detailed designs of startling three-dimensional quality can be created on glass-like black marble from China. Often hand-painted "with coatings that can last 50 years," these memorials are custom made. Canada Rocks Monuments, a division of Canada Rocks Inc., manufactures them.
Canada Rocks has fashioned highly polished and laser-etched stone for a plinth-mounted memorial plaque at the Ontario University of Technology in Oshawa and a dedication plate at Strathroy Middlesex General Hospital.
While Eramosa holds pride of place at Canada Rocks, it's only one of many types of stone the company carries and they are not all delivered in massive blocks. Tremblay's storage yard is lined with pallets carting crates of smaller pieces of stone.