Peter McKay has always been a man who is comfortable working with his hands.
The 57-year-old landscaper spent his early years working as a labourer at the North Pacific Cannery in Port Edward, but has since turned his talents to the task of making the yards and gardens in Prince Rupert look beautiful.
It is a task he takes great pride in.
“It’s gratifying and satisfying to help make the town look better when it’s all said and done,” McKay said. “People get really happy and are thankful for it when we help to make their properties look nice.”
McKay was the third of six children who grew up in the heyday of Prince Rupert’s pulp and fishing industries. He said he had good memories of that time going to school, working and attending church.
McKay said he would also sometimes go to the local missions to help his mother, who regularly helped to distribute food to those in need.
“My mother raised us on our own for a while,” McKay said. “She was a very nice kind lady, a devoted Christian her whole life who would go to different churches to feed people.”
When he was 17 years old, McKay dropped out of high school to work full time at the North Pacific Cannery. He said his mother had become ill so it became necessary for him to help contribute money to the household.
The work at the cannery was hard and had to be done by hand. Boats had to be unloaded, machines had to be repaired, the hours were long and the conditions were less than ideal. McKay said many of his coworkers developed either arthritis from standing on cold cement for long periods of time, or carpal tunnel syndrome in their fingers from constant repetitive movements.
McKay said that moving vehicles could also be a hazard.
“People almost got hit by the high fork lifts,” he said. “I was lucky to never get hurt, but I definitely had a few close calls.”
Despite the hard and sometimes hazardous conditions, McKay said he enjoyed his time working at the cannery because of the friendships and connections he was able to make.
“It was good because you worked with all different types of people from all different walks of life,” he said. “It brought lots of different people together and I got to meet a lot of people that way.”
McKay transitioned to landscaping in the mid-2000s when he said he began to see signs that the cannery would soon close. He had always dabbled in yard-work and landscaping, but got his first official job helping out a friend who was a contractor and needed some help with lawn maintenance.
“He didn’t have a crew, it was just him,” McKay said. “So I just followed along with him and kept doing more jobs after that first one.”
Over the next few years, McKay did double duty, working shifts at the cannery at night before picking up his shovel to clear yards during the day.
While not directly related, McKay said the workers mentality he developed as a labourer helped him in his new endeavour.
“The discipline I developed working at the cannery really helped me do well in landscaping,” he said.
McKay eventually left the cannery for good in 2008 to take up landscaping full time. Having already spent some time working in the industry, McKay said he was fully prepared for the tasks asked of him.
“I did everything from tree work, to drainage, to gardens, to gutters,” he said. “I do pretty much everything now.”
McKay eventually began working for Rupert Lawn and Garden in 2013, where he has continued to do work in Prince Rupert. He has worked on everything from city and industry properties to residential homes.
McKay said it took him a while to realize how satisfying he found his new line of work, but after completing some projects for senior residents, he began to realize that his profession did have a positive impact.
“Back at the cannery you were just a number really,” he said. “But doing this you get to interact with clients and they can see the work you do.”
After 15 years in the business, McKay said he doesn’t see himself stopping any time soon. He just hopes he can continue to work hard to make Prince Rupert more beautiful, one yard at a time.
“My work ethic is just to do good, honest work when I’m working with people,” he said. “That’s it.”