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Female carpenter can't find work

by Robert Hirtle

Mary Lou Gervais finds it difficult to understand why she, a carpenter with over 20 years' experience, cannot find work in Lunenburg County.
 COUNTY - Trying to find a carpenter in Lunenburg County who has free time to take on new work is extremely difficult these days, despite the downturn in the economy.

 For some people, it might mean a wait of several months, or even longer, if they are fortunate enough to find someone willing to embark on a project at all.

 It is difficult to understand, then, why a certified carpenter, fully equipped with the tools of the trade and possessing nearly two decades worth of experience, would have trouble finding employment.

 But that is exactly the case with Mary Lou Gervais.

 It is a question that has her not only shaking her head in wonder, but also has her questioning whether sexual discrimination isn't still alive and well and living in Lunenburg County.

 Ms Gervais was born in Nova Scotia but left the province at the age of seven when her father, a member of the Canadian Armed Forces, was transferred to Ontario.

 "They took me away kicking and screaming. Even then I knew that I didn't want to leave," she recalls. "I came back every summer and spent the summers at Big Mush-a-Mush [Lake] at the camp with my grandparents and great-grandmother."

 Despite that strong desire to return to her roots, Ms Gervais remained in Ontario as she grew up, working at several jobs, including a stint at Nortel during its halcyon days.

 Ms Gervais also completed a degree in anthropology which later enabled her to work on several digs back home in Nova Scotia and in Prince Edward Island in the late 1980s.

 Throughout that period and into the next decade, however, she continued fostering a love of carpentry that had been instilled in her by her dad at an early age, gaining her carpenter's certification in 1992, studying with the Ontario Home Inspector Program in 1998 and becoming a certified house designer in 2006.

 Since 1990, when she began her carpentry apprenticeship with a construction company in Beachburg, Ontario, Ms Gervais has either been employed as a carpenter on various projects, or has worked on her own as a self-employed carpenter.

 "My father passed away in 2003, my mother passed away in 2005. After that I worked as a project restoration manager for an insurance company," she recalls. "[But] there was nothing keeping me in the Ottawa Valley."

 By the fall of 2007, the urge to return to her birthplace became too strong to resist, so she came back to Nova Scotia, spending five weeks with friends and making a life-altering decision in the process.

 "At that time I knew I was coming back," she says. "As soon as I could, I wanted to leave, to get back down here. So I came back in July of last year."

 While elated to be home, Ms Gervais has found that, for her, the prospects of finding gainful employment on the South Shore in her chosen profession have been virtually non-existent, despite an obvious spate of new construction as well as renovation work being carried out in the area.

 It has her wondering whether the fact that she is a female trying to work in what has been a traditionally male-dominated trade is hurting her chances.

 "There's still a lot of chauvinism, [from] both men and women," she says. "In the fall I had put up ads at different places. They were taken down. And I had at least one crank phone call, which I was really disappointed [with]."

 To date, Ms Gervais has sent over 20 resumés out to prospective employers, both locally as well as in Halifax and the Annapolis Valley. She has also discussed the possibility of teaching a customized night course in basic carpentry to other women at the community college level and has been busy networking and "talking with anybody and everybody I can."

 So far none of her efforts have been successful.

 "I need income. I've spent every cent of my savings. They're gone," she says. "I just want to work."

posted on 03/10/09
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