CCE’s Lifetime Achievement Awards: Dennis Hodgkinson
February 6, 2024
By Peter Saunders
Dennis Hodgkinson, founder and president of DGH Engineering in Saint Andrews, Man., is retiring at the end of January, following a more than 45-year career in agricultural and industrial building design and project management.
“His expertise, ability to find practical solutions to a variety of engineering problems and open-door policy will be missed,” says DGH structural engineer Alex Korotkov.
Growing up on a ranch, Hodgkinson sought to combine his affinity for agriculture with his skills in physics, math and science.
“My high school teachers told me I was a prime candidate for engineering,” he says. “I studied civil engineering at the University of Manitoba, on a structural track, then shifted to agricultural engineering, which included structural, mechanical and environmental classes, but was presented with a focus on application to agriculture.”
Hodgkinson then began his career with the provincial department of agriculture’s engineering group, serving as a waste management specialist and livestock building design specialist for 12 years.
“The department was running a technology transfer program, teaching people to build better buildings,” he recalls. “Under the auspices of the National Research Council of Canada (NRC), the Canada Plan Service was created, enabling nationwide collaboration between engineers engaged in similar technology transfer work. I was allied with that group and we developed standard building plans, design tools, guides and other resources to help farmers apply engineering principles in their operations. It was also particularly rewarding to work closely with veterinarians to apply fundamentals of disease control and health management to the design of buildings and HVAC systems for commercial animal production, which was of great benefit to the industry at that time.”
The experience gave Hodgkinson a strong background in construction and remote fieldwork, along with valuable connections to construction industry contacts across Canada, positioning him to launch DGH in 1989.
The business grew from a one-man practice to a firm with more than 70 employees today, providing engineering, design and construction management to agricultural, industrial, institutional and commercial building projects. While diversification was important given the cyclical nature of the agricultural industry, DGH established a particularly strong niche by specializing in the modernization of animal research facilities, later expanding to institutional building upgrades in general.
“And on the food side,” says Hodgkinson, “we became go-to engineers for meat harvesting and processing, grain and feed milling and crop handling, processing and storage facilities.”
Along the way, a trade mission to Kazakhstan following the collapse of the Soviet Union inspired the formation of Canagrotek, an alliance that coupled agrologists and agricultural production specialists with engineering and construction expertise. Building on the base of new inland grain terminal projects, the group offered further technology transfer to develop fully integrated agricultural production opportunities. Canagrotek remains active on projects in Kazakhstan to this day.
Over his long career, Hodgkinson has contributed to the integration of wood, structural steel and concrete elements to optimize cost-effectiveness and energy efficiency for large complexes. He has also helped develop precast concrete building products, non-combustible modular buildings, HVAC equipment for heat recovery and systems for biomass energy production.
“Helping people build businesses has been really rewarding,” he says. “I treasure my working relationships with clients, manufacturers, equipment suppliers and contractors, some of which have spanned three generations of their business ownership! I have also thoroughly enjoyed mentoring younger engineers. I’m very optimistic about the future of DGH, which is fully employee-owned. I’m ready to switch gears to the pursuit of personal interests and activities. My last transaction will be to transfer my shares to my employees!”
This article originally appeared in the January/February 2024 issue of Canadian Consulting Engineer.