Long Time Bottling Plant Coming Back to Life

It is a place steeped in history. In the days of steam engines, the town of Illecillewaet boasted a train station, hotel and sawmill. It was at Illecillewaet that trains acquired their water, and while the advent of coal may have left a ghost town, the water was still there. The existing plant was purchased in 1986 before being sold to a massive corporation that turned it into a water bottling plant.

In 2008, the company Ice River, the number one private label bottler in North America, went into soft receivership. They shut down the plant and sold the equipment, listed the plant for sale and put a restrictive covenant on the property, so purchasers could not enter the bottling business. In 2014 the building collapsed, and a clean-up that was supposed to take place never did.

Enter Marke Antonson. A businessman from the lower mainland whose previous companies had been in the fish and feed supply industry, he saw the chance to open a fish hatchery. Ultimately, environmental concerns nixed the hatchery, but Mark was loath to let the plant go. He offered to buy it out from Ice River if they released the covenant restrictions, and in 2016, the decrepit facilities became his, and Terra Aqua Marine Services Ltd was born.

“This is some of the highest quality water in North America,” Mark enthuses. “It’s a crime not to develop it.”

It hasn’t been an easy endeavour. There is equipment to be purchased, renovations and repairs, and landscape requirements, and that is just to get started. Getting a loan for such a massive undertaking can be a herculean effort.

“It’s a catch 22,” Mark says. “Banks won’t talk to you about start up businesses; they focus on cash flow lending. It’s not easy to get capital. Community Futures facilitated a loan for me. They were fantastic to deal with, and they got behind my plans.”

Since 2016, Mark has cleaned up the property and bottled a small amount of water. He’s hired all local companies to do the work, from electricians to welding, fuel to equipment rentals.

“What Community Futures is doing is smart,” he says. “It’s good economics. Enabling people to start companies in Revelstoke means there are more jobs that pay a living wage being created here. And there is so much untapped potential. There could be a hundred spin off companies from what already exists in town that generate development and jobs. For example, what about a pellet company using the sawmill dust?”

In the near future, Mark will be bottling under several different brands and marketing internationally. Countries like China, Mark notes, have huge developing markets. Countries like Saudi Arabia that have limited fresh water utilize water makers and are eager for imported quality water.

“I’m not just bottling water,” Mark says.”I will be doing water pouches, bags and boxes of water as well.”

It’s a long slog, but Mark is ready to put in the time to get Terra Aqua Marine running at full production. “It’s not my first rodeo,” he laughs. “It takes hard work and time, but the market it there and the product is there.”

When people have solid ideas and business plans, Community Futures will be there too, helping aspiring entrepreneurs meet their goals, big or small, local or international.