Trail blazers celebrated at museum
A generation ago, women fought perception, resentment and harassment to earn roles in North Vancouver Island’s timber industry.
Getting a spot in the forestry-dominated Port McNeill Museum proved much easier.
“I’m thrilled to have this exhibit here,” said Rupa Paul, manager and guide at Port McNeill and District Museum, as she showed off the new History of Women in the Forest Industry exhibit in a room off the building’s main show floor. The exhibit was conceived and spearheaded by former log scaler Jenny Durke of Port McNeill. In addition to gathering numerous photos and historical records, Durke enlisted the aid of North Island videographer Rob Marty to compile a 20-minute video for the exhibit.
The video plays on a wide-screen television in the exhibit room of the two-story, log structure, which originally housed the Port McNeill Visitor’s Centre. It features interviews both with retired scalers and women currently working at sites like the Beaver Cove dry-land sort and the WFP dry-land sort in Port McNeill.
“When I started doing research for this project I found almost nothing available to show what roles women played in the industry,” said Durke. “We videotaped the women because we wanted to hear their stories. Because that’s where the truth lies.”
The exhibit and the video both centre around the story of Janet Massey, who became the first licensed woman log scaler in B.C. in 1974. Massey got the job only after initially being denied an interview, then contacting her then-MLA, Rosemary Brown. Brown, in turn, wrote a letter to the Ministry of Forests asking if it was discriminating in its hiring practices.
Massey was called back in, and got the job.
That started a trickle of women into the industry, which eventually grew to a steady flow thanks in part to a training program sponsored by Canfor, which has since become Western Forest Products.
“The women who came into scaling on the North Island are huge in the history of women in the industry,” said Durke. “We were the pioneers. I’m not saying there weren’t others in the province, but the doors were opened wide right here.”
Durkes and Marty, proprietor of Frog House Productions, spent nearly three months together gathering footage and interviewing the subjects. What evolves is a story of the gradual, positive changes that led to full acceptance and favourable working conditions for the women who broke the barrier into a male-dominated industry.
Durke, who ultimately left the job after suffering a knee injury, confirmed she underwent some harassment when she entered the industry, but said those instances were few and far between.
Durke had some initial trepidation about approaching the other women for on-camera interviews, and was unsure how they would respond. Not only did they enthusiastically agree, but WFP allowed Marty to record the interviews at the job site. The exhibit fits neatly at the museum, which has been open nearly 14 years.