Skip to main content
Pride LQBTQI flag banner. LGBT flag banner. Rainbow pride text.

Gale's Gas Bars: Putting people first

As Jessica Friesen marks 10 years at the helm of Gale’s Gas Bars, she shares her vision for creating an inclusive business that staff and customers are proud to support.
male writer Chris Daniels
Jessica Friesen Gale's Gas Bar Head Shot
Jessica Friesen

Recently celebrating her third-year work anniversary at Gale's Gas Bar, Jessica Jones has found a workplace where she is fully supported as a trans woman.

In fact, Gale's, which operates 11 gas stations, four convenience stores and provides wholesale fuel delivery in Ontario’s Niagara region, hired her when no one else gave her a chance.

“I had sent out literally hundreds of resumes and was upfront about the fact that I was in transition. And Gale's was one of only two places that responded,” recalls Jones, who was looking to get out of trucking, her prior vocation, and now works at one of Gale's’ Bob’s Fast and Fresh Convenience stores.

And when Jones needed time off for her surgery six months into her employment, Gale's didn’t bat an eye. “I was off work for a month and a half—and there was no issue,” she recalls. “Gale's has been amazing and supportive of my transition—as well as the entire LGBTQ+ community.”

Workplace inclusivity—the practice of ensuring every person feels safe and that they belong, regardless of gender identity, sexual orientation, race, background and age—begins at the top. And in third-generation Gale's owner and operator, Jessica Friesen, the roughly 85-person strong workforce has more than just a boss. They have an advocate.

Advertisement - article continues below
Gale's Gas Bar Chippiwaw
Gale's operates 11 gas stations, four convenience stores and provides wholesale fuel delivery in Ontario's Niagara Region: Gale's Gas Bars, Chippiwaw

Leading by example

Freisen recently sat down with CSNC in her office at Gale's’ headquarters. She discussed her vision, as her shy COVID pup, Dozer, a boxer, hid under her desk. Dozer accompanies Freisen to work most days and the team loves having her on site. 

“I was raised to always think about others and help where I can,” reflects Friesen, whose empathic leadership has cultivated a people-first culture—a big reason Gale's has been serving Niagara residents for more than 55 years and counting. “We’ve worked diligently to build a workplace culture that is inclusive and supportive—a place where they are proud to work, and that our customers are proud to support.”

The pride is demonstrated in the average employee tenure at Gale's. Between 75 and 80% of its staff have been with the company (like Jones) three years or longer; some employee tenures extend decades.

This thrills Friesen. She concedes, however, that “people tell me all the time that my hope for new hires to stay with us until they retire is antiquated.” Maybe so, but the longer employees stay, the more “it means we’re doing something right,” she told CSNC during an interview in her office at Gale's' headquarters. 

“We invest in people,” notes Friesen. “We offer both dental and medical benefits to all employees. And we give them a Tim Hortons gift card as a thank you when we’re made aware of a customer compliment extended to them.”

Bobs Fast and Fresh Collier
Gale's Gas Bars and Bob's Fast and Fresh Convenience, Collier

Good for business

Fostering employer pride with staff is smart, savvy business. Not only does it reduce costs that come with replacing a revolving door of employees, but also high retention translates to customer loyalty for Gale's. Friesen attributes this to helping the business survive the pandemic.  “We are very lucky to have a very solid customer base,” she says. “We have been big supporters of Niagara for over 55 years, and I think that helps. We’ve got people that believe in the family nature of the business, and I say to everybody, ‘It’s not just about my family or the Gale family. It’s the fact that we have generations of employees who have worked for us.’”

Service station attendant Kevin Hawerchuk is a 44-year veteran of Gale's, and at his previous location with the company, Ontario Street in St. Catherines, had built up relations with dozens of customers. “I had many such rapports—people would purposefully come in when I was working to fill their gas, for example,” says Hawerchuk, who is now at a new location developing customer relationships.

Why has he been loyal to Gale's all these decades? “I would describe the workplace culture as advanced for a service station,” says Hawerchuk. “Gale's has treated me very well as an employee.”

The business was started by Friesen’s late grandfather, Robert Gale Sr., when he purchased a gas station in 1967—mostly for the truck wash station attached to it, as he drove a fuel truck for Champion Oil. Her father, Robert Gale Jr., took over Gale's in the 1980s, expanding the fuel station with the company’s first Bob’s Fast and Fresh Convenience store in 2009.

“We’ve worked diligently to build a workplace culture that is inclusive and supportive—a place where they are proud to work, and that our customers are proud to support.”

Having become a registered nurse (she still shares her nursing expertise with volunteer board work), Friesen never imagined she would take over the family business in 2014. But when she suffered postpartum depression after the birth of her son, her father suggested she get out of the house by helping him with two new properties. “He said, ‘Why don’t you talk to some of the suppliers of the convenience store?’ And I fell in love with being able to foster those relationships and make decisions about the business.”

READ:  Futureproofing Canadian Convenience: Innovating a path to the future

Bob’s Fast and Fresh Convenience stores, which now number four, have become a critical footprint to the success of Gale's.  “Fuel stations are what bring customers to us, but the margins are better in the stores,” notes Friesen.

For urban dwellers, the stores feel almost like a general store, selling chips and candy, household cleaning supplies, shelf stable foods, fresh groceries like eggs and milk, and even pet food. A self-serve counter features a microwave where customers can heat up a danish or make a cup of coffee.

Gales Fueling Niagara Drummond
Gale's Fueling Niagara, Drummond

Communicating values

In addition to the mantra “treat others the way you’d like to be treated,” Friesen was also raised to believe “that if you do good, people will talk about it.” And while that may have been true in the past, she says the reverse is now true—“Bad news travels fast”—and has shifted her approach about touting Gale's more publicly.

“We’ve accepted the fact that if we’re not telling our story, and bringing what makes us different to the forefront, then we run the risk of nobody talking about us,” she says. “And so, I started looking at things that would allow us to tell what’s great about Gale's without being too ostentatious.”

“We are very lucky to have a very solid customer base. We have been big supporters of Niagara for over 55 years, and I think that helps."

For instance, Gale's became the first and only retailer in the petroleum and convenience industry to meet the stringent standards for accreditation by the Rainbow Registration with the 2SLGBTQI+ Chamber of Commerce in 2022.  “We have several trans and gay staff members,” says Friesen.

Pride flags hang prominently in the convenience store windows, a symbol that the business meets standards to ensure 2SLGBTQI+ customers and employees feel safe, welcomed, and accepted.  

“Being a smaller business, and as an owner who is boots to the ground, I can look at these designations, research them and work to obtain the designations, if I think it’s something that’s feasible,” says Friesen. “Oftentimes, we’re already meeting a lot of the criteria outlined by these designations.” The only change Gale's made to earn its Rainbow Registration, for instance, “was making the male bathroom and female bathroom unisex bathrooms.”

Advertisement - article continues below
Gales Gas Bars Virgil
Gale's Gas Bars, Virgil

Walking the walk

While showing a visible symbol of support is important, Friesen also uses her position and privilege to speak out against discrimination and harassment, while simultaneously promoting empathy and inclusion.

In 2022, Friesen spoke out after a customer hurled homophobic slurs and threw candy at a Gale's employee, including in a blog post and on the writing platform Medium, where she has almost 1,000 followers and has blogged about everything from being a business owner to her weight fluctuations over the years.

“He’s a young man [and] deserves to live without fear. We all do,” she wrote. “So, what can be done. I’m about to get louder. We all should.”

Gale's shared the video of the disturbing incident on Facebook in speaking out about it with Niagara 411 news, which has 138,000 followers, and its own Facebook page, where it’s been viewed 1,600 times.

And when a minority of customers started taking out their frustrations about high fuel costs on staff, including verbal abuse, Friesen piped up again. “It is NOT OK for our employees to face abuse, harassment, hate talk, etc., because of the price of gas,” she wrote. And to one past customer in particular who used expletives, she told this individual “please don’t come back.” 

Friesen—who also published in 2021 a first-hand account of prioritizing her mental health following her post-partum with the book This Will Not Break Me: My Personal Journey with Postpartum Depression–says speaking out is the least she can do. “It’s important for me to break that glass wall as a business owner. Because while my decisions as the boss may impact more people, you know what? At the end of the day, it’s the people at the pumps and counters that are really bringing in our income.”

Jessica Friesen



  1. Offering full service as a feature attraction

Gale's Gas Bar has 11 active sites—seven with a full-service offering, either completely full serve or split serve. “It’s important to keep an eye on your customer demographics and cater to them,” says Gale's owner and operator Jessica Friesen. “Niagara still has a great demand for full serve—whether that be because of the older demographic, the commuters going to the GTA, or some other reason, we know our customers still want it.”

  1. Catering to market reality, not out-of-market trends

Gale's isn’t rushing to add EV chargers—yet. “We don’t see those vehicles very much here,” says Friesen. “But we’re keeping an eye on it.”

  1. Fostering workplace diversity

Having a diverse workplace starts with creating a place where people feel comfortable and safe. “We recognize that employees are not just here for a pay cheque. We have worked diligently to build a workplace culture that is inclusive and supportive—a place where they are proud to work, and that our customers are proud to support,” she says.

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2024 issue of Convenience Store News Canada

This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds