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Building change, building on tradition

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Crystal Murray, Editor Photo: Shawna Northover

When I was in junior high, I wish that I had made more noise about transferring out of the home economics class that was pre-determined for the girls. I would have enjoyed the boys’ option, what they then called industrial arts. 

I remember sitting at my desk wearing my yellow and white checked apron that I had borrowed from my grandmother, writing notes on the 10 things to remember to be a good hostess, and testing my knowledge of leavening agents, while listening to the sounds of hammers coming from the wood shop across the hall. 

The boys seemed to be having a lot more fun and learning something more useful. That was the early ‘80s and I don’t think any amount of pressure would have seen the school board bend its rules and let a girl get her grip on a hand saw. 

I doubt my industrial arts projects would have revealed any more genius than the failing grade that I got making biscuits, but I am certain the most basic training in that wood shop during junior high would’ve set me up with a few skills more practical than “how to organize a grocery list.”

Thankfully times have changed. Well, a bit. No longer are kids streamed by gender to courses deemed appropriate by the curriculum advisors. But many young women still don’t feel comfortable exploring their options in what are still, in 2021, considered non-traditional roles.

With the gaping holes in our workforce, which experts have seen coming for many years, it’s time we do more to encourage under-represented sectors of our population to pursue careers in building and the trades.

Contributing editor Janet Whitman writes “Breaking down barriers” on page 22, and introduces us to five women of varied backgrounds who are making a name for themselves in the construction business. While researching the story, she learned that only 4% of people on job sites are women. With hundreds of thousands of people working in the construction industry in Canada expected to retire in the next few years, we need a lot of women to add hard hats to their wardrobe. 

To complement our coverage of the women building the East Coast, Shannon Campbell Webb introduces us to Nova Scotian cabinet maker Carole Burnette, who tells us she “just loves to make things.” See page 30.

And that’s what we do on the East Coast. We have a knack for seeing what nature provides and turning it into something special. A mushroom is just a mushroom until it’s made into something delicious. Ask Chef Stéphane Levac. That connection to the land and knowing what to take and how to give back that is in his nature. He shares a few of his favourite fall recipes, on page 34.

We take a trip to the island of Newfoundland, too, where none of these ideas are breaking news. Writer Connie Boland met textile artist Megan Samms in the Codroy Valley, a part of the province known for its harsh weather. Megan shares her understanding that we are all part of something bigger. Discover her textile work on page 18: woven in beauty, tradition, and a sense of shelter. 

I want one of her blankets to wrap up in on a chilly day this fall, maybe even sipping one of the incredible harvest cocktails that St. John’s bartender Danny Le got his shaker out for, on page 38.

We are makers on the East Coast. It’s in our nature. We just need to make sure that no one is sitting on the other side of the hall like I was, wondering what they’re building over there. 

If you are a woman or part of a community that is underrepresented in the trades and looking for a job that fuels your passion, reach out to the apprentice programs in your province, talk to others doing a job that you would like to do, tell people that you have skills and want to work. Make some noise and start building your own future.

Crystal Murray,

East Coast Living