During International Women’s Month, St. Albert Gazette is celebrating women that are making a difference in our local business and community landscapes. Cunningham Transport is Edmonton and area’s top family-run local school bus rental and charter service. As the company celebrates 50 years, Laura Cunningham honours her mother, who founded the company alongside her father Ed. In Laura’s words, this is the story of a family and what drove them to succeed.
“This is actually a story about my mom, Jean Cunningham. She’s now retired but was a strong business woman and alongside my dad Ed, they built the company that has served the region for 50 years. I want to recognize her for being a trailblazer in an era that was not so easy for entrepreneurial women – especially in an industry like transportation.”
Laura continues, “They launched the business in 1972 when they first bought a couple of buses from a couple named Pat and Adam Hauptman. That was the start of the business and it grew to a fleet of over 200 buses servicing eight school boards.”
The company remains local as well as family owned and operated, with Laura and her sister Carmen joining the team. Services have been expanded to include special charters for weddings, golf groups and concerts. Class 2 MELT training is also offered.
Experience, hard work, grit, longstanding customer relationships and a relentless dedication to providing personalized, top-notch service are factors in Cunningham Transport’s success, and what helped drive them through the challenges of COVID.
Giving back is also important to the business. Laura says, “We support a local women’s shelter and Hope Mission. We are a Métis family that are original homesteaders on the west side of St. Albert and we are members of the Métis Nation of Alberta, so we support our local Indigenous communities as well. Additionally, my daughter is the President and CEO of an organization called the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund, which builds education and awareness to further reconciliation in schools and organizations across Canada in relation to the history of the residential schools.” Carmen’s daughter is teaching underprivileged kids power skating while working on her doctorate in sociology with a focus on violence against indigenous women.
Following the example of her parents, Laura is pleased to help women in business, and others, thrive.
“I’m part of an organization that supports women with financial advice and support. I’ve always supported the community by volunteering with coaching and being a part of the local school council and community league. I like to support those working for Cunningham Transport by giving them a step up, helping them out when we can and supporting them with their future education in the field. Helping people – that was something my mom and dad always did. It’s so important.”
Over the years, the Cunningham family has earned many awards and recognitions, including:
- In 1904, Henry Cunningham was one of the first members of the first city council of St. Albert.
- The Métis Association Building is named after Pat Cunningham’s sister, Delia Gray.
- Dr. Chester Cunningham was awarded The Alberta Order of Excellence as a humanitarian and educator and was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada in 1993 for starting Native Counselling Services of Alberta, among other things.
- Sturgeon County is naming a bridge on Meadowview Drive Cunningham Bridge in recognition of the family’s many contributions to the community.
The family has always had an interest in driving people forward, so it is no surprise that Laura’s son has just started a company called Rural Rivers.
“His company connects customers with authentic nature excursions by renting canoes, kayaks, and in winter, moonbikes, which are fully electric bikes that travel on the snow. We all know how much snow we get in Alberta!” laughs Laura.