Fillmore Riley takes a trip to the tundra for its firm retreat

Viewing the polar bears is a good reason to visit and celebrate the firm's 140 anniversary

Fillmore Riley takes a trip to the tundra for its firm retreat

Fillmore Riley LLP is heading north to celebrate a major milestone.

The Winnipeg firm was founded in 1883, so this year marks its 140th year in business. Fillmore Riley has already commemorated the anniversary with a dinner for the entire firm – and past alumni – held at the Canadian Human Rights Museum, and later in the year, there is another Winnipeg event planned for Fillmore Riley’s 80 lawyers and their spouses. But the most adventurous happening will occur in October on the tundra outside of Churchill, where the legal team hopes to encounter polar bears.

“We were talking about having a retreat before COVID, and of course, everything got put on the backburner,” said managing partner Stuart Blake. “A lot of the firms in Winnipeg, when they talk about going on a retreat, they tend to go down south in the winter to Arizona. I had been up to Churchill before COVID, and I had done the polar bear tour, and I found it was an absolutely amazing experience. It’s in our backyard. It’s a jewel. People come from all over the world to see the polar bears, but yet there are a lot of people here in Winnipeg and Manitoba who don’t go up there. So, I thought it would be a good idea to bring everybody up there as a team-building exercise, and it has been really well received.”

Stuart Blake

The retreat will last for two jam-packed days in which the lawyers will get tours of the Town of Churchill, a local Indigenous interpretive centre, and the Polar Bears International House conservation centre. Buggy rides across the tundra and dog sled excursions are also on the schedule, as are viewings of the bears themselves and the Aurora Borealis, assuming the wildlife and the weather cooperate.

Taking lawyers on a retreat isn’t entirely new for Fillmore Riley, but that has always been done on a much more modest scale, said Blake, adding that destinations were usually small resorts across the province, in support of local businesses. But no matter the location, Blake believes in the value of getting away as a group.

“I think it is helpful just to exchange ideas and to team build and to get to know the partners, and for younger lawyers to get to know the more senior lawyers and for everyone to really bond.”

To make the retreat work logistically, the firm had to charter a plane and book every hotel room in the area. Even then, some people will have to share accommodations.

“I think that is going to be part of the whole team-building experience we are looking forward to doing,” said Blake. “Hopefully, it will work out; otherwise, people will be pointing fingers at me.”

Fillmore Riley hired Frontiers North to organize the retreat’s activities, and the firm is working with the company and with the Manitoba government to create marketing and promotions for Churchill’s polar bear tourism industry.

As for the next 140 years, Blake said he can’t predict what will happen or how the firm will evolve, but he doesn’t seem to think anything too dramatic will occur.

“Our firm has always been about slow growth. We like to think we are a firm that provides exceptional service to a really good core of institutional and blue-chip clients. We like our place in the market in Manitoba. We just continue to grow within it and do good work.”

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