Chris Seward was working the graveyard shift at a Duncan convenience store when he heard about an eight-month carpentry program offered through Vancouver Island University [VIU]’s Cowichan Campus.
“I’m doing this for my 14-and-a-half-month-old daughter,” says Seward. “I decided it was time for a career.”
With support from the Coast Salish Employment and Training Society [CSETS] BladeRuners program, Seward is learning basic carpentry skills in preparation for employment as an apprentice in the building industry. When the program ends in August, he and his classmates will have helped complete a 1,600-square-foot home for a couple on the Stz’uminus First Nation near Ladysmith.
The house construction for the Stz’uminus is an ideal project, says Keith Chicquen, instructional director for VIU’s Cowichan Campus.
“Our carpentry program is hands-on,” he said. “We always try to look for building projects that can benefit the community.”
Stz’uminus First Nation Chief John Elliott says there is no doubt about the need for improved housing, and one couple was clearly at the head of the line for support after their home was razed in a controlled burn for health and safety reasons. After living in the structure for more than 40 years, they had to find alternate accommodation.
“It’s exciting for the family and community,” says Elliott. “This is the perfect partnership to get them back home.”
The VIU foundation program is designed to cover all introductory concepts of framing carpentry for students without significant industry experience. The current cohort of 15 includes five First Nations students and three women.
Instructor Mike Braun has the students divide their time between learning skills at the Cowichan Campus in Duncan and putting those skills into practice at the building site overlooking Ladysmith Harbour.
“It’s a rancher with a vaulted ceiling, so there will be some challenges,” says Braun.
CSETS BladeRunners co-ordinator Glenn Boyda sees many benefits from community partnerships like this.
“When you look at First Nations housing and the crisis we’re in, this is a step in the right direction,” says Boyda.
BladeRunners has strong roots in construction, but Boyda says CSETS has also developed projects geared to tourism, culinary arts, early childhood education and the hospitality industry.
BladeRunners is open to students aged 15-30 with motivation as the main criteria.
As for Seward, he has no regrets about taking on the challenge and is making plans to continue his apprenticeship and tackling many more house-building projects.
“I love working in this industry,” he said.
— Submitted by VIU