By Linda White
Special to The Toronto Sun
As the first boilermaker welder apprentice in Ontario, David Laird broke new territory in a trade that would take him across the continent. He has worked on thermal hydro projects, at oil refineries, steel mills and nuclear generating stations.
Today, Laird is a lead hand with the Toronto District School Board, a member of Boilermakers Local 128, and the reporting secretary with the Maintenance & Construction Skilled Trades Council.
Boilermaker David Laird has travelled the continent working at oil refineries, steel mills and nuclear generating stations.
He learned of the trade through family members and was prepared for a transient lifestyle. But the trade isn't one many are familiar with.
"It's very well known in the States, but not so much in Canada," says Laird, 49, who graduated from Malvern Collegiate in Toronto.
Boilermakers and boilermaker mechanics make, install and repair boilers and other large vessels that hold liquids and gases. Boilers supply steam to provide heat and power in buildings, factories and ships, and to drive huge turbines in electric power plants. Tanks and vats are used to process and store products.
Boilers are usually made in sections and welded together. Small boilers can be assembled in a manufacturing plant, but larger ones are usually assembled on site.
At his first job, a two-year stint at Nanticoke Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant on Lake Erie, Laird was introduced to all aspects of the trade, including welding and grinding. He also learned about rigging, which once involved hoisting a steel drum that weighed 400 tons using cables.
Laird spent the next two years working on heavy water towers at the Darlington Nuclear Generating Station in Clarington, east of Toronto. He completed his apprenticeship at Lakeview Generating Station in Toronto, doing repair work on boilers.
During his four-year apprenticeship, Laird completed three school terms at Local 128: basic, intermediate and advanced, each of which took two months.
"By the time I finished, I was pretty much doing the same work I do now as a journeyperson," Laird says.
Jobs in the trade can typically last anywhere from just a couple of days to a couple of years.
"I've done hundreds of jobs all over Ontario," Laird says. "It's pretty seasonal work, unless you're involved in new projects like nuclear plants. A lot of bigger companies schedule work to be done in summer months, when the weather isn't so inclement."
He had expected his job with the school board to be a temporary one, like many others. "I was dispatched there out of the Boilermaker Hall and thought I'd be there a few months, but I've been there ever since."
Thirteen years later, his job involves assigning a staff of about 12 boilermakers to various jobs throughout the school board. He oversees everything from construction to maintenance, which can involve replacing leaking tubes on older boilers to increase efficiency.
After three decades in the trade, Laird remains grateful that he was selected as an apprentice in the early years of apprenticeship.
(Linda White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
is a freelance writer based in Brooklin, Ont.)
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