Julie Enman has been teaching the foundation carpentry program for Coast Mountain College in Prince Rupert, and shares her skills with other women around the world. (Keili Bartlett / The Northern View)

Heart of Our City: Julie Enman shares tools of empowerment

Coast Mountain College instructor teaches carpentry and confidence in Prince Rupert and abroad

Growing up, Julie Enman’s father was a welder — but even as she was surrounded by tools, she was never allowed to touch them.

“On some level, it was a little bit nerve-wracking,” Enman said of her first project. “I grew up in one of those houses where I was never supposed to use the tools. I worked for the Coast Guard when I was 16, and I got to weld a little bead.”

She took the bead home to Lawrencetown Beach, Nova Scotia, to show her dad and brother, who were impressed by her work.

“It was kind of getting back at them. I can do it — I can do it as well as you. They were both pretty surprised by that,” she said with a laugh.

Since then, not only has Enman become a skilled tradeswoman and certified journeyman, she teaches others how to use the same tools she was once forbidden from holding. For the past year, Enman has been teaching the foundation carpentry program for Coast Mountain College in Prince Rupert.

Her students have been learning the basics of the construction industry, from pouring concrete to shop work. For one of their first projects, many in the class — most of them First Nations students — made their clan crests.

Enman said her courses always create at least one project they can take home, a badge of honour and a reminder of what each student is capable of.

READ MORE: Heart of Our City — Glenn Reece is a dedicated student

Before her current posting, Enman taught the same course to students in Kitkatla.

“It was really cool the students there got to be more self-directed and contribute things to the community,” Enman said.

The class made staircases all over and became known for the benches they placed in the village.

“There’s no public transport per se out there, so for elders, if they’re making their way through the community, it’s nice for them to have places to stop and put up their feet,” Enman said with a smile.

These projects aren’t the first that Enman has helped create a lasting impact with. Since 2006, she has been working in different locations in Canada and abroad — mostly in Latin America — in humanitarian aid. First, she helped women in Nicaragua apply for grants to start small businesses. While the work could be rewarding, Enman said it was also frustrating, especially when she watched non-governmental organization (NGO) projects fail.

“You have to question, ‘Does this really help?’” Enman recalled. “I started thinking about what are the things people really need to live. That’s food, shelter. People always need a carpenter and a place to live.”

She was working in the Yukon, tired of earning minimum wage to be able to afford to volunteer abroad, when she decided to enrol in a carpentry program. There, she learned more than practical skills, she found empowerment.

“It gave me more power to say I’m at this level, this is what I’m worth and you have to treat me accordingly. Pay me accordingly,” Enman said.

It’s this sense of worth and ability that she teaches through trades. Many of her students abroad, more so than in Canada, are women.

“It’s really surprising to me given that the culture in Latin America is typically a little bit more machismo than here, and we’re starting to see a lot of women pop up in the trades. The numbers aren’t there in Canada,” she said.

Enman’s students still keep in touch, which she loves. Friends from Bolivia will message her, telling her about the projects her former students are working on now. She loves hearing how many of them are employed or continuing their training.

When Enman’s hands aren’t crafting a new project into existence, they’re wrapped around the handlebars of her bike.

“I ride my bike around the city. I’m still getting to know the place and I love discovering little things. People here are friendly, so sometimes you’ll just stop and talk to people,” she said. “I love being back by the ocean again. Anytime I can get by hands on a kayak, I’m in the water.”

But Enman won’t be close to the ocean for much longer. In September, she’s packing her bags to lead a carpentry course at a workshop school in Bolivia. Between soaking up the salt air and fundraising for her Bolivian volunteering, Enman is looking forward to having her last few beers at the brewery.

“There’s not enough time in the world to do all the hiking trails and see everything,” she said of the coastal city.

When asked if she would return to Prince Rupert, Enman said, “Absolutely. There’s no question about that. I told the college already if they ever have anything in Rupert, call me first.”

Although she may be leaving, Enman’s handiwork and more importantly, the lessons she’s taught, will remain in the communities she’s literally helped build.

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