Much like the cargo he loads on the ships at port, Nick Sheasgreen has been around the world.
The longshoreman, whose mother and sister are also longshoreman and whose father is a foreman at the port, only began his second career a year ago. Before returning to Prince Rupert, his evenings were spent in suit and tie as part of his gig entertaining vacationers on cruise ships.
“It was really a dream job. I had most of the days to myself, played music at night and people enjoyed it. I was doing what I loved. It was such a great job,” Sheasgreen said.
His speaks about his time on the cruise ship with considerate reflection — something many world travellers do — selecting which memory is appropriate to stir, relive, savouring other tales for a later day.
“If we were to dock at the port at 8 a.m. I’d have the whole day to myself,” he said. He would go explore and sometimes take a bus into another city. He went to Berlin once, which was quite a ways from where the ship docked.
“The best part is once you get outside the major tourist areas you get to see a real culture. You get to see different people and how they live. No matter where I go everyone has been so friendly to me, so kind,” Sheasgreen said.
He has been all over Europe, up to Norway, Finland, Denmark and Russia. He’s been in and around the Baltic Sea, and along the west coast of South America, even out to Antarctica and back up the horn to Brazil.
The jazz musician would have his flight to and from the ship paid for with each contract. He had a room, access to a gym, the staff bar and the buffet.
It took skill and charm to get the lucrative position working on Holland America. The outdoorsy guy grew up on Digby Island, across the harbour on Crippen Cove. Five days a week he took the ferry to school.
In high school, he took early morning band classes with his older brother, the only one in the family who doesn’t work for the port. They had to be at school by 7 a.m. and he would cross over to Prince Rupert in all sorts of rainy conditions.
“It was a really neat upbringing,” Sheasgreen said.
His mother kept a big garden, and they collected the rain in gutters for fresh drinking water. Sheasgreen remembers one time when a high school friend came to visit him in Crippen Cove.
His friend’s mother told her son, “Give me a call once you’re there,” then she paused and asked, “You have phones there right?”
After high school, he went to Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo to study music as an electric and upright bass player. He got his bachelor of performing arts in 2011. While on the island, he played in a lot of bands, toured for a few years and played in Vancouver.
Then he embraced the cruise ship life. The career change came after a visit to see his family in between contracts. It just so happened, the port was hiring at that time and his dad suggested he go for it.
“I thought long and hard about it because it was hard to give up something that was so enjoyable, something I went to school for and something I really loved doing,” he said but he admits he considers himself a blue collar guy.
“I realized that wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life, as much as I enjoyed it, putting on a suit and tie and going to work just wasn’t me.”
Now, a casual longshoreman, he’s part of a team responsible for overseeing containers coming into the port and shipping them out across Canada and the U.S. When the trains come in, he unloads those and puts the cargo on the ship
“It’s a really neat job because you’re part of a huge system,” he said.
He particularly enjoys loading the log ships. For that job he gets to be down on the water and sling the loads on the cranes. He likes the exercise and being outside, especially on sunny days.
“My favourite part is the camaraderie. You get out there with a bunch of really good guys and girls who work up at the port and you really can’t beat it.”
Sheasgreen still takes contracts to work on cruise ships. He evaded the cold snap in December and January and pieced off to the Caribbean for a month to play music. He considers himself lucky to have met friends from all over the world, and to dig his spiked cork boots into an exciting career at the port.
Maybe, the next step will be forming a band for residents to enjoy his musical prowess.