“It was -43 Celsius… I was shivering nonstop… I could hardly feel my toes…”
In the northern reaches of Alberta, the winters can be long and punishing. Driving winds and blizzards account for a vast portion of the season. But through all this, workers in the trades “weather the storms” so to speak and must push on with their daily tasks. Tori Frank, a Journeyman Carpenter, is one of these people. Strategy and planning are crucial in her position, but she also relies heavily on the trust built between her colleagues and leadership team. When this trust is lacking, the consequences can be severe, or in Tori’s case – permanent. Read on to discover how Tori, a young woman from Fort Saskatchewan has overcome this, and now thrives as a professional in her industry.
At 24 years old, Tori already has a wealth of experience in the construction field. Her venture into the industry came when she began cutting grass with a local company in her hometown. She fondly recalls the satisfaction that came from the position in spite of the early mornings, long days, and sore feet. Soon after, she accepted a role with the same company working with heavy equipment, and later working with the surveyors. Fascinated by the planning and development aspects, she applied to college for a pre-employment carpentry program and was soon hired in her trade by a large commercial company. As a Journeyman Carpenter, Tori now works at a plant in Fort Saskatchewan, setting up changerooms and lunchrooms for local workers, and loves the problem-solving aspects that she often encounters throughout her day-to-day.
Challenges exist in most workplaces and the construction and carpentry industries are no exception. For Tori, the biggest and most daunting of these are always the best learning experiences. Often, these skilled individuals rely on quick thinking and creative solutions when faced with obstacles. However, making mistakes while building a new project is often unavoidable, but as carpenters they adopt a learn-from-it mentality. In fact, her team has a favorite saying that can often be heard around the site:
“It’s not a mistake until you can’t fix it!” (No pressure, right?)
As a woman working in a predominantly male industry, Tori explains that she has faced many challenges throughout her journey in the construction world. Most often, she has encountered co-workers who assumed that she was not capable of numerous types of jobs due to her small stature. But what she lacks in height and bulk, she makes up for with positivite attitude and determination.
“The biggest thing I have learned is to always remain calm and let your work speak for itself. I had many days coming home crying because I was sore or because I couldn’t lift as much as the men on the crew – but it comes with time and never giving up!”
In addition to personal interactions, the construction industry is fraught with unpredictable weather conditions that can turn from bad to worse in mere seconds. In her second year of carpentry, Tori was the victim of one such circumstance. It was her first winter outside and as a novice, she was not aware of the importance of rugged winter clothing. At a chilling -43 degrees with blisteringly cold winds, the day was one that promised to be brutal and unforgiving.
The workday was beginning, and on a roof in an isolated location, Tori was already feeling trepidatious about the lack of safety awareness provided by her leadership team.
Tori was shivering constantly, and the unheated lunchroom provided no respite from the cold. By this point, she had already lost much of the feeling in her toes and was having trouble walking. With hands so cold she could barely unbutton her clothing, Tori refrained from drinking water the entire day just to avoid using the on-site Porta Potty. Like the lunchroom, it was unheated, and she had grave concerns about exposing any skin to the freezing cold surroundings of the Albertan prairies.
Early afternoon had arrived, and Tori could no longer feel her feet. When she relayed this to a member of her leadership team, she was told to stop overreacting and to head back out on to the roof. As a young carpenter and driven by an immense pressure to appear capable, Tori headed back out into the cold.
Driving home, her feet felt as if they were on fire. Tori realized that she had never experienced any pain quite like this. Upon removing her work boots, she beheld her toes – an alarmingly dark purple colour. 4 hours later, Tori was still sitting in the bathtub, running warm water over her feet – an excruciating process – while fervently hoping that she wouldn’t lose her toes. Three years later, the damage is still palpable. Tori’s toes quickly become numb in frigid weather and turn white. She has never since regained full feeling.
These days, Tori is well-versed in staring down adverse conditions and has learned to adapt to each of the seasons. She emphasizes that layers are an outdoor worker’s best friend, and that it’s best to over-dress. Removing a layer is a lot easier than wishing you had an extra one to pull on!
“To me, my work clothing is just as important as my tools, and investing in my work clothes really does make the difference in -40C. Anyone can learn this the hard way like I did, but my biggest piece of advice to anyone in trades is to invest in your clothing!”
For Tori, Helly Hansen base layers have been her constant. Her position as a carpenter means that she is often sweating and in need of a garment that will keep her dry and comfortable throughout the day. She also has rave reviews for the HH work pants with their durability, easy access pouches and inserts for knee pads.
“Ask any old guy on a job site what he would do differently throughout his career, and the answer will most certainly be to protect your knees!”
Just as important as the lower layers, Tori stresses the need for a shell that is waterproof, windproof, and breathable.
To say that Tori’s profession is a challenging one would be putting it mildly. The work is extremely physical, and the conditions are ever-changing. Days in the summer can be sweltering, while the winter season is fraught with the constant threat of frostbite. Worksites change all the time, and like most of us, she doesn’t enjoy the luxury of a heated workspace. But through all of this, Tori has adapted and shares her valuable learnings in the importance of hard work, great gear, and trust – in both herself and her team.
From her worksite in Fort Saskatchewan, Tori leaves us with a final bit of inspiration:
“For any ladies and men who are thinking about joining a trade or are in your first years of your trade; you will get stronger! If you can’t be stronger, be smarter. Take every day as a learning experience to make yourself better. My biggest tip – invest in your work gear because you are the most important!”
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