Carpentry is not just for the guys

This is the story of a carpenter.

If you did not see the accompanying photo, you can be excused for imagining it is about a man because, with a few exceptions, this trade is dominated by men.

Katelyn Dawson is one of those exceptions, and she is all the more exceptional because she doesn’t fit the image we have of a trailblazing feminist in such a rigorous trade that involves the swinging of hammers and the hefting of lumber.

Sure, she has swagger and confidence that comes from managing creative and incredible tasks day after day, but she doesn’t try to appear masculine at all.

Indeed, today she is rocking a pink hoodie.

“I wear a lot of girlie things to work,” she says with a smile. “I have a pink hard hat and a pink tool belt, too.

“I shouldn’t change who I am; this is just my 8 to 4:30 job, I don’t have to change who I am to prove anything to the guys.”

Today, she is the pride of Kwanlin Dün First Nation as its first female Red Seal carpenter. But she started out in the construction business as a rookie like everyone else. “I was scared when I first started,” Dawson says, remembering her first shift with Canyon City Construction. “I was green and I knew nothing about construction. And, on the job site, there is nothing but men everywhere. I just got in there and faced my fears; I had to prove myself and get in there and do the work; I had to up my game.

“After a while, you get to know people and get more comfortable over coffee breaks and working with them.”

Now she’s used to being the only female at work.

“But it would be nice to have other women on the job site to talk to,” she adds, saying that this is changing. “I have a lot of female friends in carpentry now.”

This is a success of Yukon Women in Trades and Technology, as well. In 2010, Dawson says she was a 19-year-old “kid” looking up to these impressive and confident women carpenters who came in to speak to them.

The Yukon Women in Trades and Technology program exposed her to electrical – “I liked the fact that you can run wires and the hookups and it is pretty cool” – and plumbing.

Then there was welding, but she couldn’t get used to the sparks: “It ruined my clothes… this is not for me.”

But, in the carpentry shop, time just flew by, says Dawson.

“It was like a fun hobby and you can build whatever you want.”

Carpentry was it for her: “Carpentry is the things you can see; it is part of the design.

“I’ve been interested in carpentry since I was a little girl when I built a fort behind my Auntie Mary’s house,” says Dawson. “I didn’t have a hammer – I had a flat rock to pound the nails – and that fort is still standing.”

She finds it interesting that her father, Howard MacIntosh, is a Red Seal carpenter, too.

Having decided, she joined Yukon College’s carpentry program. In the middle of her training, she took time off to give birth to her son, Riley, who is now four years old.

“The guys in the class would be telling me about all of the fun things they did on the weekend, but I had my priorities straight.

“I just put my face in those books and studied as much as I could. Meanwhile, my baby is crawling all over me.

“It was a struggle for sure, but any parent could understand that. But, honestly, just looking at my son and wanting him to have a good life was all the inspiration I needed.” Moving up the ranks at Canyon City Construction, Dawson is acting as the general on a duplex the company is building in McIntyre subdivision.

In this role, all of the sub-trades come to her with their questions. “We have plans, but sometimes you have to wing it,” she says.

The younger generation works well with her because, Dawson says, they were brought up differently.

Some guys are set in their ways, but they know tricks she needs to learn, so, “It is really cool to work with them.”

But, what she considers “really, really cool”, is going back to Yukon Women in Trades and Technology and talking to 40 young women about carpentry and contributing to the “really good support team.”

If she inspires just one young woman, she says it is worth it.

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