(Written October 14, 2009)
If you've been following my blog, you already know that my mother passed away on Sunday, September 13th of this year. My tribute to her can be read here.
On Friday, September 25th, we celebrated her spirit and her love of dance by getting our groove on at Starlight in uptown Waterloo, which was loads of fun! This event was was mentioned in the obituary I wrote, and as a result, the staff at Starlight, along with the DJ, were awaiting our arrival.
The bartender recognized me from my blog pictures and confided in me that she loved the way I viewed death. Her brother had passed away and she had also felt it was good to celebrate his life instead of mourning his death.
DJ Charless extended a handshake followed by a hug, telling me he thought it was so cool how I'm celebrating my mom. He played 'Spirit in the Sky' in her honour (hence the crazy picture above:) and my crew and I danced like there was ants in our pants!
In addition to the special treatment at Starlight, another exciting thing happened that day. I received an email from Valerie Hill of The KW Record, asking if she could write a feature article on my mother's life. Her interest was peaked when she read the obituary and she felt drawn to the fact that my mom had been a bricklayer. Of course I said YES!
The article came out on Tuesday, October 5th, entitled "She Built Walls and Let Few In" and although it took a very different perspective than I had expected, it complemented my tribute and only added to the story that was my mom's life.
It also included a very special picture of mom and I at her wedding in 1984.
The interview with Valerie also resulted in her unearthing an article written by The Record in 1986 about my mom's entry into the bricklaying profession, along with a kick ass photo of her laying bricks! I have typed out the article below, since I only have the original paper copy (Photo courtesy of The KW Record circa 1986). Enjoy! P.S. The article was published on Thursday, December 18 (mom's birthday!), 1986!
FORMER STORE MANAGER ENJOYS BRICKLAYING
by Henry Koch of the KW Record
When it comes to bricklaying, women have exactly the same job opportunities as men at the same rate of pay.
Brian Strickland, the first vice-president of the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftsmen and the top-ranking bricklayers’ union official in Canada, can vouch for that.
So can Eugene George, president of GA Masonry, RR2, Breslau, the largest masonry contractor in North America who employs hundreds of bricklayers from Newfoundland to Alberta and hundreds more from New York state to Kentucky and South Carolina.
If you’re still doubtful, ask Lowana Richardson of 49 Foxridge Drive in the Hespeler section of Cambridge. She’s the first female apprentice bricklayer in GA Masonry’s 40-year history and the living proof.
Strickland believes she’s also the only female unionized bricklayer in Canada. “There are some in the United States, but I know of no others in Canada.” (There are 12,000 unionized bricklayers in Canada and about 130,000 in the United States.)
Lowana, who is in her 30s and married with a 10-year-old daughter, Mandy, was hired by a GA official in July after completing a 20-week pre-apprenticeship course at Conestoga College. Nine male apprentices were also hired by GA.
The hiring official was impressed with her work, “general interest, attendance at classes and attitude.”
Since July she has been laying bricks and concrete blocks at jobsites in the K-W and Toronto areas. At the moment, she is helping to build an office building in Brampton.
Lowana goes to bed at 9pm, gets up at 5am, packs a lunch of meat sandwiches and a thermos of tea and drives to a Hespeler shopping centre where she is picked up by a company van that takes her and five or six male bricklayers to the Brampton jobsite.
When it’s cold, she wears four sweaters, a warm coat with a parka and jeans. She’s on the job at 7:30am, has lunch in a company trailer, quits at 4pm, gets back to Hespeler at 5pm, eats twice as much as she used to when she worked in various capacities at retail stores and “sleeps like a log.”
She is paid the same as male apprentices and will be remunerated the same as journeymen bricklayers after completing 5,600 hours of apprenticeship and two more classroom sessions, one seven weeks and the other eight weeks, at George Brown College, Toronto.
Information on the local pay scale for bricklayers was not available. But Andy Clow, manager of Conestoga College’s Waterloo campus, said journeymen bricklayers in the Toronto area “who work overtime can make more than $50,000 a year.”
A native of Cape Breton Island, N.S., Lowana worked in retailing-from selling to management-in Nova Scotia, Labrador and Ontario.
She rose to district manager of Consumers Distributing in Dartmouth, N.S., and was manager of an office supplies store in London, Ont., before the family moved to Hespeler in March, 1984.
Her husband, Doug, who is also in his 30s, is district sales manager of Consumers Distributing in the Niagra area.
Although she enjoyed retailing, she preferred working outdoors. “I wanted to be successful at whatever I did and had no idea I would be in the construction business.”
She enrolled in the Conestoga College course after finding that bricklayers were in big demand. A number of women enquired about the course, but Lowana was the only female student.
“Maybe there’s a perception by women that it’s heavy, physically demanding work. Any woman can do it,” Clow said. Lowana conceded she was “fortunate to be breaking new ground.”
Eugene George had this to say: “It could be the start of a new era that offers all kinds of opportunities in all the trades, providing that women think it’s the place for them to go.”
The experience in the United States, he said, is that women “don’t last (in construction) because of the physical requirements of the job.”
He pointed out that colour, creed or sex has never been a hiring consideration in GA’s history. “Ability to turn out quality workmanship in schedule is the key requirement. Performance is the name of the game.” If they can meet this requirement, female and male bricklayers are always welcome at his company.
George is always glad to see that Lowana has a positive attitude “and is not afraid to work in the heat of the summer and the cold of the winter.”
The man who hired her said she is “punctual, reliable and working out well.” Of the 10 apprentices he hired in July, four have left for various reasons. “She is one of the six who stuck with it.”
Lowana enjoys her work and has no problems on the jobsite. The portable toilets are equipped with locks. She has been accepted by her male counterparts as “one of the workers.” Some call her “the celebrity.”
Before taking up bricklaying, she “had no idea how things went up.” Now she takes an interest in every building she passes. “Everything in construction is so coordinated. Everything falls into place. It’s a fascinating business.”
Lowana, who is five feet, one inch tall and weighs 120 pounds, is in better shape physically than when she was working in stores. “I’m developing stronger muscles.”
Male spectators at construction sites are surprised to see her. Some stop and ask her why she isn’t at home in the kitchen.
Most are pleasantly surprised and shout “go for it.”
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Rock on, mom. Thanks for being so kick ass.