The Hecate Strait Employment Society and the North Pacific Cannery in Port Edward are working together to give aging and — for a variety of reasons – unemployed Rupertites a chance to develop new skills so that they can become more employable.
The cannery on the other hand gets some much-needed help with the marathon of renovations and repairs required to prevent the 120-year-old structure from falling into the sea.
This week Hecate Strait brought people participating in a program called the “Mature Workers Program” which the employment society has been running for a number of years to help those normally considered to be past the point in their lives to start a new career do just that.
“Its a program that started in May. We have 12 participants come in and do nine weeks of in-class work like training certificates and such, and at the end they go out and do a community project. It’s something in the community that hasn’t been done before and that stands out for people who might be thinking about hiring them,” says Lisa Tapper, who runs the mature workers program for Hecate Strait.
Over a century of standing on top of the ocean has left parts of the cannery with its paint stripping off and large parts of the wooden structure rotting away. This means that the cannery requires a never-ending barrage of repairs. The workers in the program were, among other things, helping the cannery by doing scraping off the flaking old paint on the cottages that once housed the cannery’s own employees back when it was still an active, and then repainting them with paint donated from General Paint in Prince Rupert.
“The key focus is getting a number of the heritage buildings repainted for a number of reasons. Number one: we’re doing it to get them back to their original colours and secondly, to protect them from the elements,” says the cannery’s manager of Conservation and Operations, Steve Milum.
But the workers aren’t just working on the buildings though. Tom Robinson used to be a cannery employee back in the day, but the building he worked in has long since been reclaimed by the ocean. He is now in the mature workers program helping to catalogue the cannery’s extensive archive of machine manuals and other business documents; things he is intimately familiar with because of his experience working in the industry.
“I’m trying to get back into the workforce again. I retired for a bit and found i had too much time on my hands , so I had to go back and try something new,” says Robinson.
But the mature workers aren’t the only people working at the cannery this summer to get a leg-up when looking for employment later on. Also working on the buildings are a group of people in a 8-month carpentry skills program. There is also a summer-student from UBC working on the archives at the cannery with Robinson, but she is collecting oral histories from people who have been around long enough to have worked in the canneries, and anyone with a story to tell is encouraged to go see her at the cannery.