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Women and Girls: A unique opportunity for young women to build trades skills on Porphyry Island

Young women aged 14 to 18 have a unique opportunity to build their experience in the trades while camping on Porphyry Island this summer.

THUNDER BAY – What began as a class assignment for two students at Lakehead University has turned into an unforgettable experience that will offer young women training in the trades while camping on an island in Lake Superior.

Annie Ross and Abigail Beatty, students in Lakehead’s school of Outdoor Recreation, Parks, and Tourism, are coordinating three five-day sessions geared towards young women aged 14 to 18 who want to gain experience in the trades.

The program grew out of a proposal for a hypothetical Builders on Superior Shores program the pair developed for a second-year ORPT class.

They imagined it could take place on Porphyry Island, located about 40 kilometres east of Thunder Bay on the other side of the Sleeping Giant, where the Canadian Lighthouses of Lake Superior (CLLS) maintains a historic lighthouse originally built in 1873.

The island is also home to a provincial park and some fairly unique flora.

The CLLS like the project enough to give it the green light, and Ross and Beatty undertook an independent study course in which they planned the program in detail. The first session will begin July 3, and some spots remain open.

Ross and Beatty say their own high school experience fueled their desire to create a space for young women to gain experience in the trades in a welcoming, supportive environment

Both reported being given short thrift in high school shop classes dominated almost entirely by boys, sometimes being told to leave working with heavy tools to male students.

“We wanted to try to equalize the gender gap that exists within the trades,” said Ross. “Abbie and I have both taken shop classes in high school, and we felt the environment wasn’t very encouraging or welcoming of young women.”

Beatty said the program is an opportunity she would have relished as a secondary student.

“I think I would have loved it,” Beatty said. “I also did some trades classes, and I wasn’t included… I think if I were able to do this, maybe I [would have] gone more toward the trades.”

Participants will take a charter boat from Silver Islet, about a 20-minute ride away.

Throughout their five-day stay, they’ll help build amenities like Adirondack chairs and picnic tables, assist with brush-clearing and other maintenance, gaining experience with basic carpentry tools and practices.

The trip, led by Ross and Beatty, will also include traditional camp activities like paddling, polar bear dips, campfires, and games. The program is also seeking additional trades mentors (contact information is available online for those who may be interested).

The experience is sure to be unforgettable for young participants. Ross hopes it will also widen the career possibilities they consider.

“Our hope is that we’re going to generate some interest in pursuing a career in the trades or looking into the trades as more of an option, instead of just writing it off as a male-dominated [industry].”

Julie Rosenthal, the assistant director of Lakehead’s ORPT program who taught the course in which Ross and Beatty kick-started the project, called it a perfect example of how the university seeks to integrate learning opportunities into the community.

“It really made it go from a theoretical skills-building course into something that’s actually happening,” she said. “That’s what we really like to do at Lakehead, especially in the school of ORPT, is make our projects contribute to the community.”

The program will ultimately bring benefits to not just participants, but visitors to the island and the trades industry, which is seeking to boost female participation, she said.

Ross and Beatty secured a grant of over $5,000 from the Thunder Bay Community Foundation, and sponsorships from eight local businesses, to make the program a reality.

Those interested in learning more and signing up can do so at the program’s website.

Sessions will run from July 3 to 7, from July 24 to 28, and from Aug. 7 to 11.

The experience is open to participants of all skill levels.

It costs $350 per person, which covers transportation, food, and amenities (tents are provided).

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