After months of preparation, the Northern Transportation Boats Project is ready to push off and put young people to work refurbishing boats.
“Take it from someone with an arts degree,” the project’s secretary Alice Coates told Diamond Jenness Secondary School (DJSS) students Jan. 31. “The labour force is changing. You need skills, you need to be flexible, and you need to be getting those skills any way you can. We’re offering this for free, so take advantage of it.”
The transportation company’s project will see young people between the ages of 15 and 24 repairing and refurbishing lifeboats starting next week, and moving on to bigger challenges – such as building York boats, a kind of inland boat once used by the Hudson’s Bay company to deliver furs, and tug boats – as the project progresses. Participants will also be able to take the vessels they work on out on Great Slave Lake in the summertime to learn about navigation and water safety. The whole idea, according to the project’s president Albert Bourque, is to give young people a sense of place, an appreciation and awareness of working on the water, and trade skills that can help them in virtually any career they choose.
“Boats are communities unto themselves,” he told the students. “They need everything that a society does – electricians, plumbers, welders, carpenters and cooks.”
Participants will get a taste of what many of those trades through the program, which could serve them well in a maritime career path, or just allow them to test the waters for other avenues. The boats are in various states of disrepair and will require many skills to restore, including softer skills like working as a team, taking direction, and learning how to function in a working shop in general.
The program is set to run Tuesday evenings at the Northern Transportation Company carpentry shop in Old Town to allow students and their volunteer instructors to be there without compromising work or school. The organization is donating much of the materials needed for the project along with the space in which to do it, most integrally – the boats themselves.
“We’re part of the team,” said the Northern Transportation Company’s shipyard manager Jim Walker. “It’s about inspiring young people to get involved and gain skills while they’re at it.”
Walker said he would like to see a little fleet of vessels ready for the summer so that participants can reap the fruits of their labour and enjoy the water, as well as a sense of accomplishment and ownership of the boats themselves.
“Personally, I think it’s fun to create things,” he said. “I’ve done that my whole life and this project seemed to fit here at NT (Northern Transportation) in terms of what my role is and what assets we have.”
Walker hopes participants will leave his shop with not only a better understanding of tools and the skills to use them, but also what he termed the “tremendous satisfaction” of having built something.
“This project is opening the door,” he said. “We’re giving them a venue to explore life in a different way and hopefully encouraging them to always be looking around the bend to see what’s coming next.”