Building Dreams in the Construction Trades 

Written by Michaela Epifano, Cape Breton Partnership

Do you remember strolling through your high school hallways, envisioning what you’ll be when you grow up? Maybe you pictured yourself as a gentle-handed nurse with a caring nature, or a meteorologist researching intriguing weather patterns. Some may have dreamed of becoming an aesthetician working to enhance both inner and outer beauty, while others thought of becoming a historian surrounded by museum walls that tell ancient stories. 

For Cole Walker, a grade 11 student at Breton Education Centre (BEC), he’s not yet sure of the exact path he’ll follow, but there is one thing he knows for certain; his future looks very similar to his Papa’s thanks to an inspiring six months of learning in a skilled trades class, taught by one passionate teacher and a community of tradespeople. 

“I watched my Papa renovate the home I live in now, and though I asked him a lot of questions like, how he does what he’s doing; why he chose to do something a certain way; how he became interested in the trades; I never knew how interested I would be until I sat down to learn in this class,” shares Cole. “Watching him do his thing was interesting, that’s why I took the skilled trades class to see what it was all about. I quickly noticed that I was good at what we were being taught, so I’ll be working in the trades after I graduate.” 

James “Jamie” MacIntosh, Red Seal Carpenter and former owner of James MacIntosh Construction, is the skilled trades teacher responsible for inspiring Cole, and countless other students, to pursue the trades.  

“It’s really up to the students. They share their ideas and we run with them,” Jamie shared. “The class has broad objectives. For example, students need to learn to solder a pipe which includes measuring, cutting, soldering, and testing. Rather than telling them they have to build a square, we can instead make a marshmallow shooter.” This just so happens to meet the criteria for this section of the course, allowing students to have fun, learn a new skill, and feel excitement over what they’re building. 

As the semester moved forward, Cole and his classmates were given the unique opportunity to learn first-hand from trades professionals working for contractors’ onsite, courtesy of PCL Construction, who were awarded the construction management contract to build the new state-of-the-art Breton Education Centre scheduled to open fall 2024. The erection of the new school is just one project within the New Waterford Community Hub model, which also includes a health centre and long-term care home, the community wellness centre, and recreational facilities. 

“We just introduced masonry this year. We were sent down piles of supplies and I was sent for training,” Jamie shared. “On the day I planned to introduce it to students, I realized I forgot the mortar mix.”  

Disappointed that the lesson would have to be taught another day, Jamie recalled the bricklayers who were working diligently on the new BEC school early that morning. 

“As a class, we went to the fence where BEC is being built, and I just hollered over. I said, ‘what mix are you guys running?’ And a bricklayer replied, ‘hold on, I’ll be over within 20 minutes.’” Sure enough, within 20 minutes, four members of Local 1 Bricklayers and Allied Craft Workers with Reddick Brothers Masonry Contracting were over mixing up a batch of mortar and giving the students and Jamie a demonstration about bricklaying. 

Bricklayer provides demonstration to students inside the skilled trades classroom. Photo contributed.

Before the demonstration ended, Jamie shared an idea suggesting a small project for the class involving laying a single brick. Not much time had passed before Jamie received a call from Chuck MacKinnon, Senior Superintendent with PCL Construction, who Jamie met previously on a walkthrough of the new building, with an even better proposal.  

“Chuck suggested that everyone come over, sign their names on bricks, and assemble them in what will be the new skilled trades class. This project would result in a plaque commemorating the experience,” Jamie explained. “It’s incredible how the students in the skill trades program became part of the new school’s legacy. It’s all thanks to this community partnership.” 

From that day onward, the relationship between the skilled trades class and PCL Construction strengthened. Members of the crew often visited the class, giving demonstrations and further inspiring passion for the trades.  

Jeff Preeper, Business Manager for Local 1 Bricklayers commented, “I’m so proud of our members and their ability to share their craft with youth. There are opportunities for students to learn from trades professionals and have a career in this trade.”  Bricklaying is considered the first construction trade dating back over 6,000 years ago, and Local 1, representing unionized bricklayers across Nova Scotia, has been training trades professionals since 1888. 

Another Opportunity to Learn 

Sarah Chisholm, third year carpentry apprentice Local 1588 and Chair of Sisters in the Brotherhood for the local chapter, is another well-known face within Jamie’s classroom.  

“In the world of trades, there’s a wide range of new equipment and tools available,” Sarah began. “When I was in school, we were introduced to the tools used today in the skilled trades program; a more traditional approach that followed the old-school methods. As a result, I didn’t have the chance to use these newer tools until I entered the workforce and began using them more regularly.” 

One day, Sarah and her colleagues Jody and Scott visited the skilled trades class where they conducted a brief demonstration of a steel stud frame installation. “We brought along all our lasers, guns for fastening the track, steel, concrete, and various types of pins, each with different sizes.” 

During the demonstration, Sarah and her colleagues shared their industry knowledge teaching students how to install a steel stud frame which proved valuable as students are usually only introduced to wood framing within the program. 

Sarah Chisholm and team members from PCL Construction provide a steel stud frame demonstration to students inside the skilled trades classroom. Photo contributed.

PCL kindly sent over gloves and left behind all of their supplies, enabling Cole and the class to disassemble and then reassemble the wall,” Jamie added. “Their generosity went beyond just the demonstration; they provided all the necessary items for the students to engage in practical exercises.”  

Thanks to the dedicated tradespeople working hard to build the New Waterford Community Hub, the high school students enrolled in the skilled trades program gained exposure to a modern way of building, thus propelling them forward as aspiring tradespeople.  

Sarah Chisholm, Jamie MacIntosh, and Cole Walker standing beside the steel stud frame.

Students Learn More than Program Objectives 

Jamie shared that the skilled trades program, and the other trade-focused programs at BEC which include construction trades and transportation, are not just about creating the next successful grouping of tradespeople. “Consider that everyone will eventually own a house and a vehicle. This leaves you with a choice: handle repairs yourself, blindly accept a quoted price, or evaluate a quote with informed judgment. Moreover, we cultivate informed consumers.” 

For Cole, the time PCL gave to his class gave him a clearer sense of what he’ll pursue in life. “Watching the workers do bricklaying, drilling, and electrical work inspires me to think about my future and what I’ll do post-graduation. I can see myself in a few different roles and this class showed me my options.” 

Cole Walker standing with his and his classmate’s capstone project which encompases all objectives successfully learned throughout the course wrapped into one major project. The project features eletrical, plumbing, dry wall, bracing, and more.

The skilled trades program has not only highlighted potential career paths but also ignited a sense of purpose and possibility, proving that within these walls, dreams are not just envisioned but tangibly constructed, brick by brick, lesson by lesson, towards a future filled with potential. 

To learn more about the new Breton Education Centre and the New Waterford Community Hub project, visit our website at  

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