28. February 2012 · Comments Off on Meet The Crew: Sean Coté · Categories: Meet The Crew

When asked about the Red Antiquities Building, Sean Cote nods his head with enthusiasm. “Sure, I knew the house,” he says as he recalls driving past the big red building year after year. “I remember seeing that antique sign rotting away and the old dusty mirror in the window.” A big smile spreads across his face. “I never thought I’d be a part of bringing it back to life,” he says. “What a great experience.” Sean has been involved with the Red Antiquities Building project since its very beginnings. He reminisces over the things he’s seen over the last year and speaks of the historic significance of the property. Words like beautiful and significant pepper his descriptions of the staircase, the walkway arch, the original doors, all things that have been meticulously restored. “I’ve never worked on a restoration project before,” he says. “There’s a proper technique to everything we’ve done and that can be very challenging”

Tall and clean cut, with a perpetual boyish grin, Sean is a good natured man who has the perfect combination of easy going charm and a strong work ethic. He is no stranger to challenging experiences either. Growing up in London, he learned very early on the value of a dollar as well as the value of a hard day’s work. “If I wanted something, I earned it.” he says.  “That’s something my parents always taught me.” From his first paper route at seven years old to picking rocks out of his neighbour’s field, Sean has approached each and every challenge head on. “Oh, I’ve done just about everything,” he recalls. “Retail, dishwashing, landscaping, you name it.  I just didn’t find anything that fit.”  Hired by a well known London company to deliver drywall, Sean found himself fascinated by the work being done all around him and quickly realized he’d found his calling.  “The other delivery guys would be taking breaks, but I’d be watching the construction crew, asking questions, seeing if I could help out.”

Once his eyes were opened to this new found interest, he didn’t look back. Over the last few years, he’s gained experience framing houses, apartment buildings and working with concrete as well as earning certificates in heavy machinery and specific truck driving licenses.  After moving around from Kitchener, to Sarnia and everywhere in between, he found himself across the table from a Job Developer at Pathways Skill Development Centre.  It was during this meeting that the Red Antiquities Building was mentioned.   Sean jumped at the chance to be part of such an important and meaningful project. “This has been so much fun to work on,” he says.  “But it’s definitely hard work,” he adds.  “Before rebuilding the foundation, we were out there, in the freezing cold last winter digging under the house from one end to the other so they could slide beams underneath,” he says.  “It was tough but I learned so much.”  Sean has been part of each and every step of the restoration and has watched the slow progression with a genuine sense of pride.  “I have a new appreciation for this old building,” he says.  “There was no insulation in the original walls.  Can you imagine how cold it must have been back then?”   Sean explains how far we’ve come in terms of building structures like these: “Now, we just slap the drywall on there and pull out the nail gun,” he says. “When I started with the project, I saw walls made with little two inch strips of board, every single one nailed in and every gap filled with plaster.  It must have been a ten day job just to finish one wall.”  He speaks of pulling out chunks of this hundred year old plaster – complete with horse hairs.  “They put horse hair in the plaster to make it stronger and it must have worked,” he says. “because all that plaster was still intact after a century.”

Among other things, Sean was part of the team responsible for replicating the siding, those big red boards that have come to represent the very nature of the building itself.  “It was a big job,” he says.  “We took each of those boards, cut them just right, filled all the holes, sanded them down and painted them that bright, shining red.” he remembers.  “It was a great feeling seeing them all go up onto the house, knowing I’d made them myself.” he says. That was one of many learning experiences presented to Sean during the course of this project.  “This is such a great opportunity for me,” he explains.  “Everybody here has a different background but they’re an easy bunch of guys to get along with.  We work really well together.”

Although Sean is committed to seeing this project through to completion he has an exciting opportunity waiting for him when he’s done.  Due to his experience and skill, he was recently recruited to join a construction crew in Edmonton, Alberta and is slated to leave in the beginning of May.  “It’s another chance for me to learn and to grow,” he says.  This is a true brand new start for a young family as Sean’s girlfriend, a registered nurse, and their 18 month old baby boy prepare to embark on a new adventure..

“I’m so thankful for this awesome opportunity,” he says.  “I will definitely keep in touch with all these guys.”

We hope he does.

Kara James

10. February 2012 · Comments Off on Meet The Crew: Phil Caudle – Site Foreman · Categories: Meet The Crew

Phil Caudle has been involved with the construction of the Red Antiquities Building since August of 2011.  As foreman, he takes on a great deal of responsibility at the site on a daily basis.  He smoothes the cracks, puts out the fires and makes sure at the end of the day, everybody walks away smiling.  As the site Manager’s right hand man, Phil is also partly responsible for training and mentoring the men who join the project looking to enhance their level of experience and skill.  “Everybody has a story,” he says with the gruff vocal cadence of a man who means business. “Everybody has a different reason for wanting to be here.”  Phil is all too happy to describe the young men who come to him for guidance as they polish their new found construction skills. “I’m happy to pass on my knowledge,” he says. “There’s nothing better than to take a young guy who isn’t too sure of himself and see the look of pride in himself at the end of the day.”

That look of pride is all too familiar to Phil, a proud Londoner for close to 30 years.  “When I was a boy, living in Elmira, I took woodshop in grade 8,” he says.  “Everybody did.  No big deal.”  He leans forward, his voice falls a bit as he describes the beginning of what would become a lifelong passion.  “I decided to build my dad a triangular shaped foot stool for Father’s Day,” he says.  He smiles as the memory comes flooding back.  “I drew the plans and laid it out, I even had the girls in Home Ec teach me how to sew so I could put a nice little cushion on top.”  Phil describes the look on his father’s face when he presented him with that footstool and it’s easy to see where this love of woodworking, of accomplishing something with his own hands began.  “You know, he still has it somewhere,” he says.  “Even after all these years.”

Phil took that love of working with his hands and as a young man, paved his way across our nation.  From cutting out switchbacks up the mountains of B.C. to fixing boats on the rocky shores of the East Coast, he’s always taken enormous pride in his accomplishments.  “I take a great interest in everything that I do,” he remarks.  “I love to learn and then I love to pass it on.”  That’s exactly what he’s doing each day at the Red Antiquities Building project.  “If these guys want to learn, I’ll teach them,” he says.  “I can be strict, sure, but it’s because I want them to give me one hundred percent.”  He describes the tremendous opportunity this particular project has given him: “I’ve worked on heritage projects before,” he says. “Blackfriars bridge, heritage homes on Dufferin street, I love the fact that you can take an old building and bring it back to the way it was in the beginning. It’s a labour of love.  It really is.”

Yet, make no mistake, according to Phil this building is a very different project with a steep learning curve.  “It’s not a new construction nor is it a renovation or a restoration.  It’s a combination of everything, really,” he says.  “These guys working with me are getting the best training there is. Hands down.”

Walking past the job site, it’s easy to tell which one is Phil.  With the yellow hard hat, steel toed boots, rough exterior, he’d be easily cast as Construction Man #2 in any TV movie of the week.  But, underneath the hat, he’s a devoted family man, married for over 20 years. He glows with pride when describing his two almost grown kids who are busy carving out lives of their own right here in the Forest City.  “I’m also an avid reader,” he says. “I’ll read just about anything.” He’s also a proud Legion member and definitely knows his way around the kitchen.  “I do all my own canning,” he says “Pickles, relishes, jams, you name it!”  Again, Phil brings us back to that passion for creating something with his own hands.  This is no doubt what makes him happiest.  “Anything you build, anything you make, it’s the same feeling,” he says as he searches his mind to find the right words. “It doesn’t matter what you’re making.  If you were to sit down and knit a sweater,  that feeling you get, that you’ve made it yourself.  That’s what I’m talking about.”  He smiles and leans back in his chair, imagining the accomplishments that still lay ahead of him.  “A piece of the Red Antiquities Building will stay with me.  Always” he says.

We hope so.

Kara James

03. February 2012 · Comments Off on Meet The Crew: Barry Primak – Site Manager · Categories: Meet The Crew

As we drive down that Soho stretch of Wellington, our eyes automatically wander over to the Red Antiquities Building.  We’re compelled to visually take in the changes and marvel at the progress that’s been made.   It’s not just the brilliant red boards and detailed construction that catches our eye.  We also see the hard working construction crews high up on the rooftops or bent over hundred year old bricks enduring the cold, the rain and the heat of the sun.  Without these men, committed to the significance of the project, there would simply be no project at all.

It’s our pleasure to introduce The Red Antiquities Construction Team in a continuing series called:  Meet The Crew

Meet Barry Primak: Site Manager

Barry has been involved with the Red Antiquities Building since the early fall of 2011.  As site manager, he is responsible for every single detail of the project, managing 12 crew members, sub trades, organizing and scheduling all aspects of the project to fit within tight deadlines and budget constraints.  When asked why he chose this type of work, a broad smile spreads across his face. “It’s what I’m good at,” he says.   Originally from Burlington, a carpenter by trade, he learned early on that working with materials was in his blood.  “It’s my passion,” he says.  “It’s what I love to do.”

This passion for construction has taken him outside of Ontario and across the world.  Six years in South Africa, building high end custom homes not only gave him the experience and training needed to further his career, it also allowed him the chance to pass his knowledge on to others.  ‘In South Africa, after a while, I found that I was training people,” says Barry.  “Even when I was dealing with a definite language barrier, I realized I liked helping others reach their potential.”

The travel bug still in his system, Barry jumped continents again for his next adventure: Afghanistan.   Committed to following his passion for working with materials and construction, he assisted the Canadian troops, as a civilian, in a supportive role.  “Again, I found myself training others, overcoming language barriers,” he says.  He describes the experience as fantastic and life changing.  Now, a family man situated in London with a wife and two growing children, the Red Antiquities Building project seemed the perfect opportunity to further his passion for building while planting roots in a city that has come to mean so much to him.  “I’m fascinated by the structure of this building,” Barry says.  “As a carpenter, I’m especially interested in seeing the work that was done all those years ago.  I’m immersing myself in all the different aspects of the building so we can restore it to its former glory.”

This has not been an easy project and one which has held many challenges and intricacies.   Barry is quick to point out that the dedication of the crew is the force that drives all of them to keep going.  “The best part of this job is the people I’m working with,” he says.  “All these guys, they don’t have to be here but they show up, every single day.”  Due to the nature of the Job Creation Partnership, Barry has had the privilege of working with several young men who come to him with very little experience.  “I see these young guys come in, and I watch them learn and develop new skills,” he explains.  “I find out what they’re good at and then I watch them grow.  They put their heart into it and I can see it becoming a passion in them like it is in me.”

Barry describes his foreman and the crew members with a genuine sense of camaraderie and respect.  “They all realize the historic significance of the building,” he says.  ‘They want to be there to see it through to completion.”  As the sound of hammers, drills and saws continue in the background, Barry straightens his hard hat, stands and looks toward the door as if signalling that he’s got a full day ahead of him and needs to get moving.  “When I think about this job,” he says.  “The Red Antiquities Building is bigger than a job.  This is bigger than all of us.”  Amidst the noise of the restoration and renovation going on around him, he continues. “The RAB was here before us and it’ll be here after us.  How lucky am I to be part of its history,” he says. How lucky indeed.

Kara James

Stay tuned for more in the Meet The Crew series and be sure to like us on facebook and follow us on twitter for updates.