Meeting
Mike Wilson's shining moment came when he attended ceremonies in the United Arab Emirates this past March to celebrate a Guinness World Records achievement. The CEO of Atlantic Industries Limited, whose headquarters are in Sackville in southeastern New Brunswick, had provided the technology for the world's largest metal-buried bridge, with a span of more than 32 metres.



Officials from the nearby city of Dubai were on hand to unveil a large plaque about the accomplishment. It is six metres longer than the previous record holder, a steel arch bridge in Poland.

"It was a beautiful day, only 26 degrees, not 52 Celsius or whatever it is during the summer there," he said, laughing during an interview. "I was awfully proud of the achievement. They love world records over there. One official from Dubai showed me in his office 400 different world records, for everything from the tallest crooked building - designed that way on purpose - to the largest indoor downhill ski slope. I was glad to be part of that."

The Wilson family has run Atlantic Industries, or AIL for short, for 54 years, specializing in bridge and infrastructure projects.

In recent decades, Wilson, an engineer by profession, has stressed the importance of innovation, designing high-end steel products, such as culverts. The products are made in their factories in New Brunswick and Ontario or by licensees in Europe, Asian and Australia. In Dubai's case, a Polish licensee, ViaCon Group, provided three large steel archways for the $6.4-million Shamal Bridge, part of a ring road that will serve up to 2,000 vehicles an hour from different parts of the Middle Eastern country. It all came in sections via containers.

Wilson says the structure was designed to last more than 100 years, completed in half the time it takes to build a regular concrete bridge and had a much smaller environmental impact.

The steel archways use local soil as a means of giving the structure supporting strength, a trait common to many of AIL's building projects.

"And they love the rounded archways, a design which also lends strength to the structure," Wilson said. "It reminds them of the shape of their mosques."

People who have travelled through busy sections of the Maritimes or places like Bank National Park have likely used some of AIL's large steel pipes.

On the Trans-Canada Route 2 that crosses New Brunswick in a diagonal from Quebec to Nova Scotia, more than a dozen underpasses used the steel technology to allow streams and animals to pass through. In Banff, animal passageways were built that Wilson says have helped reduce dangerous collisions with big animals such as elk and bears by 95 per cent.

With global warming making headlines, the CEO sees a two-fold opportunity for his company. Projects are demanding wider culverts and bridge openings to pass more water through to avoid the worst effects of flooding. And governments and businesses are interested in reducing their carbon footprint on big infrastructure projects.

Wilson believes he can supply both.

"For these big rain events that are supposed to happen only every 100 years, but can now happen two years in a row, you don't want your bridge to disappear down the river. Our structures can help avoid that."

Much heavier concrete spans cost more to build, are heavier to transport and have a bigger carbon footprint.

He pointed to a recent smaller project in Prince Edward Island, an underpass on a ring road in Charlottetown.

It used local soil - sandstone - to shore up the sides of the underpass, rather than the conventional method of piling gravel.

"That gravel would normally be shipped by truck, on multiple runs, from the Moncton area all the way to Charlottetown," he said. "We calculated we saved 12 tonnes of carbon from being burned, just on that one small project."

This story originally appeared in the Telegraph-Journal on November 4, 2019. Written by John Chilibeck.