Meet the first 3 women trained for one of Port Saint John’s most dangerous jobs
The 16-meter extreme tides aren’t the only oversized thing about the port city.
Saint John is Atlantic Canada’s largest port by volume, handling 28 million metric tonnes of cargo per year.
Everything on the docks on the west side – from container ships and stacks of containers to the blue cranes designed to move those containers – is gigantic.
With all those big moving parts, “you can get run over as easily as stepping in the wrong place,” Hanna Graham said. “If you don’t watch where you are going, you will probably die.”
WATCH | Three women take their place as longshoremen:
It can all be intimidating when, like Graham, you learn to do one of the “most physically demanding and also the most dangerous” jobs in the port, as Terry Wilson, president and commercial officer of Local 273, puts it. ‘HE HAS.
This work ? Container stowage. Graham, along with fellow interns Guylaine Cyr and Liz Kramer, are the first women in Port Saint John’s history to pass the test to do so.
“They did really well,” said Troy Elliot, a 30-year-old tank top.
“It’s very hard work. It takes a lot of endurance and strength in different climates. It can be cold, minus 35, hands frozen, whatever. But the work has to be done.”
Securing containers may require a little explanation for the layman.
When big ships come into port, not all of those sea containers just sit on the deck. They are strapped or locked, with a complicated system of metal bars, turnbuckles and other equipment that prevent them from slipping on the high seas.
When they get to Port Saint John, all of those moorings have to come off. It is one of the few heavy jobs that cannot be done by machines.
Lifting and carrying bars weighing up to 50 to 60 pounds each, container stevedores prepare containers “ready to be lifted by the crane and put in the yard for shipping across Canada, or [United] United States, or whatever, ”Elliot said.
Historically, whipping was a man’s job.
“We are trying to diversify the workforce, to bring women into it,” Wilson said.
In April 2021, the port was attempting to revise its list of references – the entry level for people wishing to work in the stevedoring industry.
Out of 140 applications, there were only seven women. Of those seven, only Graham, Cyr and Kramer passed the test. (There were a lot of men, Wilson points out, who didn’t succeed either.)
“It would be nice to have a good ratio of women on the waterfront,” Wilson said.
Liz Kramer is no stranger to hard work on the water. Prior to her whipping debut, she worked in the harbor just off the wharves on the west side, fishing for gaspereau and shad.
“You get a workout, for sure. Without my fishing training, I might not have the strength to lift this pole,” Kramer said.
“I was an IT analyst many years ago. After having a child, I decided to work outside.
All in all, she said, “I don’t think there is anything better than this. Being outside, enjoying the fresh air and the sun, even if you have a hard job. nothing better for me – nothing. And the pay isn’t that bad either. “
That said, she won’t stop fishing anytime soon.
“I see myself doing this full time, of course. But as long as there are fish in the sea, I will work that too.”
Like fishing, Kramer said, the port is “usually a male-dominated place of work. But you just deal with men like you do in a normal day. And everyone is actually quite nice and pretty enough. helpful here. “
Welding at the water’s edge
Guylaine Cyr applied to the port when she learned from a friend that she was looking for women who wanted to work.
Cyr, who was studying commerce full-time at the University of New Brunswick’s Saint John campus, thought the job “could be a good go-between. [job] in case I can’t find a job right after graduation, ”she said.
But she also has a weakness for physical labor.
She studied blacksmithing at the School of the Arts and Craft in Nelson, British Columbia, and obtained a certificate in welding in La Pocatière, Que, before trying her hand at stowage.
“In society,” said Cyr, “we think we’re a long way from where we were in the 1970s in terms of women in the trades, which is true.
“But there’s a lot of work to be done. Pay equity, the way we’re treated. It’s not something we talk about a lot,” she said.
“I would love to see more women in the port, for sure.”
A family matter
For twenty-year-old Hanna Graham, working at the port has been a lifelong dream.
“I come from a family of longshoremen,” she says. Today, she works alongside her grandfather, who has been wearing a tank top for several decades. This is the second job she has ever had.
“It started as a joke when I was a kid,” she said, “and it seemed to be becoming more and more a reality as I saw it was easy for me.”
Before starting, she says, her grandfather gave her some advice.
“Swear a lot. And don’t take anything personal,” she said. “Just do your job. As long as you do yourself, and you don’t hurt anyone and no one hurts you, you’re A-1.”
The work, she said, “is definitely worth it if you have the backbone to handle it … It really pays off and it pays off.”
For people who are strong and aren’t afraid of work, a whipper can make a good living – with a starting wage of $ 33 an hour.
However, getting hours as a non-union employee can be a problem.
“It’s at the demand of labor,” Wilson said. “When there is a ship, everyone is working. If we go three, four days without a ship, there is only a small group of people working.”
Graham has some advice for other women looking to get into the trades.
“Do push-ups and get down here. If you can raise that bar, all the power is yours.”