The phone starts ringing off the hook and the message machine crams with messages. I had been relaxing in the relative slow season of summer. The calls are all from everyone calling me back after their annual summer leave. On top of all that, construction season starts up again after a two-week siesta. Engineers popping up left and right, heavy equipment roaring back to life, and the beep-beep-beep of the backup alarm all contribute to what seems to turn a small community into a construction zone.
After looking around and checking out the workers, many of whom are Cree, it is satisfying to know that all that training actually does make a difference. Many a time I have preached the mantra “education is the key.” For a long while, it seemed to fall on deaf ears. Fortunately, today, we see Cree instructors, which is even more gratifying, knowing that a few decades ago, this scenario would be difficult to swallow for small communities struggling to create jobs and sustain them. Now the reality is that training and education is making a difference in everyone’s life.
Back in the day, some lucky guys got to train in Florida, and they learned how to handle heavy equipment with the best of them. Coming back home to grateful families, they plied their trade and helped build the foundations of our communities, digging trenches and laying out infrastructure and cement, homes would be built. Skilled workers were hard to find and when the building of the James Bay project started, it seemed that every able-bodied man had a job there.
I ended up working on the dam. After a while, I noticed that many Cree from Fort George were practically everywhere, working on cleaning the rock face and working diligently. This was noticed by the chief engineer, who asked someone who worked very closely with the shafts to guide a laser measuring device to check if the dam would shift under all that hydraulic pressure. This fellow looked up at the chief engineer and replied, “We work very hard here because we live behind this dam. We want to make sure that the work is done very well and won’t break because of a messy contractor.” The chief engineer understood very clearly that we would work well here and commented that he would feel the same, and he turned to leave to get into his vehicle.
At that instant, a monstrous truck backed over his truck’s hood and pushed the front end into the sand. We were totally amazed when a massive loader zoomed over and scooped out the engineer’s truck and placed it back on solid ground. Amazingly, it started instantly and the chief engineer headed back to headquarters a few minutes later after chewing out the truck driver, who couldn’t speak French anyways, only Italian. Talk about tough vehicles. In those days, they used steel and iron and only a little aluminum.
Today, mega projects pale in comparison to the massive legacy of the La Grande complex. Many workers who earned their badges in that project are retired now. Training is an essential element to working these days, as projects can’t be the only way to make a buck or two. Making a future using education and training as building blocks is the way to go and I’m hoping that there are enough blocks to do the job.