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Power line training program graduates all-women cohort

Graduates now prepared to pursue work on Wataynikaneyap Power line
Recent graduates of the all-women line crew ground support training program for the Wataynikaneyap Power Transmission Line include (from left) Carrie Lyon, Jamie Keeash, Sophie Mekanak, and Shirley King.

A training program that readies power line ground support workers for the Wataynikaneyap Power Transmission Line project recently reached a major milestone, with the graduation of its first all-women cohort.

On Nov. 19, four women – from North Caribou Lake, Pikangikum, and Bearskin Lake First Nations – graduated from the program, completing 25 transferable certificates that will enable them to advance in future entrepreneurship opportunities and pursue careers with the Wataynikaneyap Power Transmission Line project.

Participants spent seven weeks at the Quetico Conference Centre near Atikokan, followed by seven weeks at the Fort William First Nation training site near Thunder Bay for hands-on skills, pole climbing, and equipment training.

The training also incorporated Indigenous knowledge, land-based learning, and health and wellness workshops.

Laura Calmwind, the training program manager with Opiikapawiin Services, which oversees the program, said she designed the course in an effort to encourage more women to get trained and find employment with the project.

“I thought it may bring in more applicants if we offered the training for women only. It may encourage more women to think about the trades,” Calmwind said in a Nov. 22 news release.

“We also looked at what barriers stopped women from applying to our training programs. That led to us offering childcare services, along with other supportive services, as it is a long time for parents to be away from home.”

Graduate Jamie Keeash brought her son along with her to the course.

“Having childcare included with this training program has made it possible for me to pursue my career,” she said in the release. “Having my young son Kingston with me has kept me going.”

Currently under construction, the $1.9-billion Wataynikaneyap Power Transmission Line project will connect homes and businesses in 17 remote northwestern Ontario reserves to the provincial electricity grid for the first time.

It’s majority owned by a collective of area First Nations, with the remaining 49 per cent owned by private industry partners, including the utility company Fortis.

Slated to be complete in 2023, the line will not only improve the health and wellbeing of community members by eliminating the need for diesel, but the project is also providing training and employment opportunities for Indigenous residents.

The training program is the only one of its kind in Canada. The course structure meets standards set out by Canada’s Infrastructure Health and Safety Association.