Some of the workers on the cannery restoration project gather to celebrate the completion of the work.

Carpenters-in-training complete work at North Pacific Cannery

Earlier this week, about a dozen new carpenters-in-training completed the biggest test of their new careers.

Earlier this week, about a dozen new carpenters-in-training completed the biggest test of their new careers and the benefactors of their 10 months of hard work are the entire communities of Port Edward and Prince Rupert.

Last Thursday marked the very last day that workers under a job creation partnership between the North Pacific Cannery National Historic Site, the Province of B.C., the District of Port Edward, Parks Canada, the Port of Prince Rupert, Hecate Strait Employment Development Society and a bevy of area partners were able to help revitalize the cannery and gain skills in carpentry at the same time, in hopes to find full-time work.

“It’s supported through the E.I. program, so these guys as a prerequisite, had to be unemployed and it’s basically a skills-building [program] for guys and girls interested in a new career,” said cannery manager of special projects, Steve Milum last Tuesday at a celebratory lunch.

“We basically started with some smaller projects and worked our way up to some really heavy timber work.”

Among the areas of the cannery that the workers were able to revitalize through the help of the journeymen carpenters that gave them guidance, were eight posts and beams being replaced in the Main Cannery Building, a new emergency exit rebuild for the Bunkhouse, residential boardwalks, stairs, porches and siding repairs, rebuilt reduction tank holding platforms and most immediately and visually impressive, 8,000 sq. ft of the working dock restored.

“The dock in particular is going to be amazing for community events, so it’s nice to know all their work and training is going into something the whole community can benefit from,” said Milum.

Music festivals, weddings, barbecues and more are in the plans for the finished working dock, scheduled to be completed in 2016, which would help make the cannery more self-sustainable in collecting funds for its preservation.

Ninety per cent of the project crew in 2015, starting their work in January and ending last week, had apprentice enrolment through Industry Training Authority (ITA), ninety per cent were First Nations and all gained skills involving worksite safety, hand and power tools, carpentry, concrete, foundations, painting, residential, marine/industrial skills and heavy construction.

“We’ve got some huge accomplishments done, but with the site being so old, there’s a lot more to go. We’re in the process of applying for a similar program next spring and we’ll be looking for other partners in the region,” Milum said.

Apprentice student Todd Stevens was one such worker in 2015 who helped restore the cannery and he said the skills he was able to gain through full-time, on-the-job training were invaluable.

“It’s really good. It’s great training. I’m in my first year of carpentry apprenticeship … It’s a good national historic site. It brings in a lot of tourists – especially this past summer we had a lot of tourists come through,” said Stevens.

Milum and the Port Edward Historical Society board members are in the process of trying to get the cannery to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The cannery is already designated a national historic site of Canada.

The scope of continued work in 2016 involves rebuilding the remaining 7,500 sq. ft of the working dock, working on the reduction plant structural foundation, post and beams and roof, a fish loading bay addition removal and restoration to pre-1930, a roof replacement on the European bunkhouse and triplex units and white-wash the net loft and machine shop.

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