Our judges went to task as there were some brilliant entries into our contest.
Janice Bell – in her words………
Working as a woman in industrial construction has offered me many opportunities to know Moxie.
For example, in British Columbia I worked on two unionized industrial construction projects that converted water retaining concrete dams to ones that also generated electricity . Because I was a woman, it had been difficult to get work through the union and impossible to get hired, so I was forced to use the services of a labour lawyer to get onsite.
These huge projects were listed in the WCB’s highest danger category and it was statistically common that at least one person would perish during the building process of each dam. This troubled me because I was also a first aid attendant as well as a construction worker.
I worked at heights of up to 70 feet in the air, jack-hammering, pouring and placing concrete, rigging and signaling the cranes and heavy equipment, running air tuggers, oiling and dismantling forms and using large diesel compressors to run “blow guns” that released air at 175 psi to clean the pour sites.
If the environment wasn’t dangerous enough, I was one of only a few tradeswomen out of the 450, mostly male workforce. Since we few women were spread among three shifts and dispersed all over the job site, “tokenism” became the result. Even at the best of times, only one or two percent of all workers there were women. It was tough going, with many of the men giving us a hard time of it. Even the women’s washroom was not a safe haven. When the men used up all their toilet paper, it was commonplace for them to use our washroom and many a time I went inside the washroom trailer to use the facilities, only to see a man coming out of one of the stalls. There was the usual plethora of rude drawings and pin-ups and language that would turn anything blue. I helped to pioneer the presence of women in industrial construction, which is why the younger women have an easier time of it now.
I first met Moxie when she insisted that I continue to work when a fellow on site whom I befriended plunged 150 feet to his death. I sadly attended his funeral and was secretly glad not to have been the first aid attendant on that particular shift.
Moxie helped me come back to work after the time I found myself 50 feet in the air, swinging in a crane basket with a fellow labourer. His concrete saw had kicked back and made a huge gash in my knee. I radioed for the crane operator to lift us back up to the top and to meet me with the first aid equipment. Since I was the first aid attendant on shift, I had to patch myself up. To make a long story short I got 52 stitches out of that incident.
Over the years, Moxie and I became good friends. We worked in all conditions, seasons and shifts. We toiled during the graveyard shifts in the dead of winter, 25 or more below zero at times, cold enough to freeze our jackhammer up. We did battle with the rock drill, basically a jackhammer that hammers and rotates the bit at the same time and would almost pull your shoulders out of their sockets if the bit got wedged in against the re-bar. This became almost unbearable when I was in the throes of menstrual cramps. That was hell on earth. My Moxie met Midol.
And there were many times when Moxie seemed to be my only friend and at no time more than the day the men singled me out to be the one to rock-drill 17 holes into the bedrock, in order to place re-bar in the holes. All the men watched and waited, anticipating my inability to complete the task. I went over to the first spot to drill, turned the drill on and realized it was out of oil. I immediate called over to my foreman and indicated that the inline oiler was empty. “No time”, he said angrily, “Just get it done!” I put the bit between my work boots and fired up the rock drill and drilled the first hole to the depth line marked on the bit. I moved it over to the next spot and did the same. One by one I went. You should have seen the incredulous look on their faces! Moxie and I showed them women could do the work!
The Moxie I developed as a result of my experiences in industrial construction, gave me the confidence to open my own business. Presently I am in my mid-fifties and am still passionately self-employed in my own renovation construction business. I do home and commercial renovations such as dry walling, building decks and fences, laying ceramic tiles, hanging doors and am now entering the restoration part of renovations. This means I am learning to restore and re-glaze wooden windows with traditional linseed oil putty, repair lathe and plaster walls, match baseboards and moldings and repoint/re-tuck using historic lime mortar.
After starting my own business, I attended a contractor only trade show put on by one of the building supply franchises. I was the only woman contractor there. I decided to enter a couple of skill contests, one being a nailing skill, the other a hand sawing skill. I beat a lot of the men in the nailing contest and they decided there had to be a woman’s category to save face. When the prizes were awarded, the winner got a nice battery operated drill and case. When I was called up as first place woman’s division, all I got for a prize was a small tool pouch. Moxie and I let the organizers know that this was unacceptable and the next afternoon at my local building supply, there was an identical drill waiting for me.
The Toronto Star once published an article about women in the trades. It included my photo and an article about me, for I was one of only nine women at that time in Ontario who had their journeyperson’s 4-colour stripping ticket in offset lithography.
I am reaping the rewards of my partnership with Moxie … confidence in my abilities, the respect of my clients and the other male contractors, my joy in sharing tips and mentoring others, the satisfaction of a job well done and the ability to find humour and get through the toughest of times.
I am thrilled beyond belief with the numbers of young women out there entering the trades. I am happy this day has come. You go girls!
And remember … Moxie is a gal’s best friend!