The Dalton Company Ltd.

A New Approach to Old Values
Written by: 
Will Bleakley
Produced by: 
Chuck McKenna

The Dalton Company Ltd., based in Toronto, is a family-owned professional building services business that has served Ontario since 1940. Over 70 years of experience has taught the Daltons how to anticipate the increasingly complex building process and hold on to the core values that first established the company’s success.

Currently owned by the third-generation of Daltons, the firm is dedicated to providing an “Alternative Approach to Building” by promising integrity, commitment, accountability, responsibility and experience. This is in stark contrast to an industry that, for the most part, is intensely focused on the now, often to the point of cutting corners and breaking agreements for the sake of immediate profit. Dalton instead pulls from the past with its eye to the future, drawing on a long-standing philosophy of establishing trust, comfort and confidence.

This philosophy of establishing trust is something Dalton takes very seriously. The firm is committed to incorporating trust into its business practices and it stands behind the concept that trust is not an intangible, loose quality; instead, trust is something that can be predicted and measured,  as penned by American author Stephen M.R. Covey in The Speed of Trust. As a result of Dalton’s emphasis on trust, the firm was the focus of a 2009 Conference Board of Canada report, as a part of its Profiles on Trust series. Dalton was profiled for making trust the cornerstone of its business. No other firm in the building services industry has been profiled.

Randy Dalton, the company’s president, has witnessed the construction industry change for the worse – one of the reasons why his firm is so passionate about delivering a trustworthy, transparent brand. “Today the conventional contracting market is built on distrust. No one trusts anybody and it’s very inefficient and ineffective,” Randy says. “This has to change.”

To combat the negativity, Dalton is endeavouring to adhere to its mission of “Building on Principles.”

Randy and his brother Andrew, the chief executive officer, began managing the company in the early ‘80s, taking over from their father, who had succeeded his farther in the mid-’60s. The brothers provide services such as cost consulting, feasibility studies, master planning, project management, construction management and design build. Among their project responsibilities are site analysis and selection, preliminary budgeting and master scheduling, bid document preparation and consultant selection. Randy and Andrew continue to sharpen facets of the business cultivated over the past seven decades.

Alternative Approach with a Principled Core

“We’ve taken a different approach,” Randy says. “We provide all the services of a general contractor, but conventional general contracting is not our thing. We don’t believe that the client can be serviced properly with the conventional approach of today’s marketplace.”

One of the ways Dalton sets itself apart is by ensuring clients don’t experience any tension or stress and instead watch a project built to exacting standards at the price agreed upon. This is done by reassuring the client at every step of the process, starting when Dalton drafts a client-driven “Definition of Success” (DOS).

The DOS is integral to Dalton’s alternative approach. Unique to each assignment, the DOS takes several areas into account: communication, change management, quality of work, schedule and budget. Once established, the DOS helps guide the project team. By focusing on the project priorities, the team is able to work collaboratively and understand the client’s expectations at all times. Over the course of the project, Dalton provides a written project status report and recommendations and solutions based on what the company has learned at that point in the project.

“The DOS is where clients tell us what they need to make their project successful. We’d rather do that than do what a lot of the industry does, which is mainly a self-serving exercise based on how much profit they can make,” says Randy.

To monitor project progress and success, Dalton uses a predictive analysis the company calls a “Project’s Vital Signs” to be proactive and eliminate any surprises during the building process. All issues uncovered in this analysis are addressed through the company’s “Issue Resolution Mechanism.” Constant feedback, developing trust, and taking into account the needs of the client are what Dalton’s alternative approach delivers, as opposed to the general industry’s rising costs, bad practices and unfavorable reputations.

Infusing the Old with the New

This juxtaposition of the new and old manifests itself in not only Dalton’s philosophy but also in its portfolio. The company’s projects include the St. James’ Cathedral Centre and Artscape Wychwood Barns, which successfully contemporized older, derelict structures and facades with modern features and environmentally conscience construction. Through these projects and many others, Dalton shows how being forward-thinking, while maintaining timeless core values, is the future of construction.

Artscape Wychwood Barns serves as a meeting place for the arts, environment and overall diverse communities within the St. Clair and Christie neighborhood of Toronto. Dalton refashioned and renovated four rundown barns and constructed them in a way to integrate the surrounding park. The result is an interesting mix of heritage with an industrial aesthetic outfitted with a modern sleek look that blends well with the neighborhood. Most impressive is that the Barns are targeted to become Canada’s first heritage building redevelopment project to receive LEED certification.

The St. James’ Cathedral project, designed by architectsAlliance with Dalton as construction manager, involves keeping the original façade but outfitting the rest of the building with glass walls to increase visibility to the nearby St. James Park. The space will provide the centre with office space, meeting rooms, archives, housing, and a kitchen.

Dalton has been involved in a myriad of notable, eye-catching projects that would be hard to miss when walking around Toronto. The firm is responsible for the Toronto Botanical Garden, CTV, the Toronto Lawn Tennis Club, the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, and the Young Centre for the Performing Arts. Dalton has built contemporary, traditional and historical residences, as well as commercial structures for the academic, industrial, broadcast, cultural and heritage, performing arts, religious, and healthcare sectors.

With so many recent showcase projects and a long history to draw upon, Randy is confident in the continued success of his business but he still harbors concerns about the labour force and environmental impacts.

“The biggest concern in the general marketplace is the dearth of skilled manpower,” Randy reflects. “Apprenticeship has fallen off and there’s a lack of interest in wanting to get involved in the trade. We need a resurgence of young people getting into skilled trades like this.”

Randy and his brother, Andrew, are leading the firm to fully embrace methods that help reduce Dalton’s environmental footprint. In every aspect of construction, from planning to consultation, compliance, corrective action and emergency response, Dalton has implemented a number of ways to keep reducing waste and improving efficiency as much as possible, while promoting as much of an investment in energy efficiency and resource conservation as a client can incorporate.

The company is a member of the Canadian Green Building Council and employs Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Accredited Professionals. Dalton’s commitment to sustainability is fast becoming a trademark of the business, and a part of the core principles that guide Dalton to stable growth through an ever-changing marketplace.

Dalton’s values, combined with its unconventional approach based on trust, have made the company a true leader in its field. The Dalton Company Ltd. is helping reshape Toronto through a philosophy that everyone – clients, employees, end users – can appreciate.

Strategic Partnership(s): 
Just Aluminum
Naylor Company
Normerica Building Systems
Ridley Windows & Doors Inc.
Westaire Air Conditioning and Heating