I've tried sending you a couple of emails through the replant.ca site but it doesn't seem to be working. Hopefully this one makes it to you...
Great job on your site, it has become an excellent resource! My name is Russ Malcolm and I'm the owner of Ranger Silviculture. In the past, I've always hired by word of mouth only. However, that is changing due to the labour shortage and the growth of my company. Could you please help me out by posting my info in your "Chapter 4" list of companies? Also, could you perhaps start a blank thread for Ranger in your "Companies in the Silviculture Industry" category in your forums? That way people who have worked for me can provide some feedback if they wish. I'm sure you're very busy these days; there's no hurry, just whenever you get a chance. Thanks for all your hard work on the website. Have a great season out there...
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There is no date information on this article. It's a cool article, though.
A Community In The Cut
photos by Ben Fox
words by Adrien Sala
It was during a casual conversation with Russ Malcolm that I first became aware of the multi-cultural element of the Forestry industry. Having not ever set foot on a cut block in my life, I was surprised to hear Russ discuss the micro-community that exists within his company. He hires mainly Canadian-based Africans, men from countries separated by miles but connected by a continent—men from places like Mali, Zambia, Cameroon, and Senegal.
Officially based in Victoria, Ranger Silviculture (Russ’s company) is run from various outposts in BC. Capable of an array of skills, he and his crew predominantly work in the brushing business—they enter the cut block after the tree-planters have been in and use weed whackers with saw blades fashioned onto them to clear away competing brush, thus ensuring the survival of new trees. It’s tough work that necessitates head-down determination. If one person’s work ethic starts to wane, it can bring down the group, and so Russ is quick to sift out the bad seeds. More often than not he finds the African workers have that determination, although he is quick to point out that Canadian-raised workers are just as capable. “Anyone can do this job,” he says, “you just have to really want to.” He even jokes that I, a 155-pound writer, could pull it off, though I have my doubts.
Of the crew of eight men, six are originally from Africa. They all live east of BC, in Montreal for the most part, and each of them has been in Canada for multiple years. Their ages vary widely—from 20 to 55 years old—yet all, it seems, have come to work in the bush for the same reason: money. Unlike many other companies, the crew of Ranger Silviculture is paid a day rate relative to how long they’ve been working and how fast they go. The rookies, Chekesani Phiri, 23, and Mulinde M’Hango, 20, both from Zambia and both students at the University of Manitoba, are naturally at the lower end of the pay scale, while the foreman, Koné (full name El Hadji Daba Koné), 53, from Mali, makes the most. It’s a system that keeps the crew working together, rather than competing against each other for pieces of land to work.
When we first arrive in the small British Columbian community of Castlegar to learn more about the crew, Russ comes to meet us (the photographer and I) at the bottom of the mountain they are currently working on (the road up to the cut block is six kilometers of partly washed-out, well-rutted road of southern Kootenay mountains running along the US border that our vehicle is in no condition to climb). During the half hour trip up we talk about the crew, the different personalities working that day. We’re told to keep an eye out for Issa Camara, from Senegal, the oldest of the workers whose technique is haphazard and unpredictable, but incredibly efficient. Unlike the others, he follows no pattern when attacking the brush. He jumps from bush to bush, then doubles-back on himself and cuts downhill—a definite foul—before swinging over to the next area.
Our first introduction in person is to Chekesani, the rookie worker who has been nicknamed Dr. Evil by Russ, because, as he put it, “He’s just about the nicest kid possible.” He is experiencing a problem with his saw, something to do with the idle, and after a brief exchange of pleasantries he and Russ go straight to work trying to fix it. From there we zig-zag across the block, introducing ourselves to the rest of the crew. We find the three oldest men working the same section, with Issa tearing in and around them. I speak with Koné, the foreman, who motions to the newest addition to the group, Cheickna Keita, 53, from Mali. Cheickna has just returned from Africa and has been working with the others for only three weeks, but has spent many years doing the same thing in Quebec. He offers us a quick wave and then, like all the others, gets back to work.
Over the next few days we spend afternoons and evenings talking and relaxing with the crew at their “residences”—a large dorm used by the local college to house students. Usually running on a four-on/one-off timetable, we’re lucky to catch them during a day of rest that happens to fall on the same day as the France versus Italy soccer game. The group watches together, and through the jovial ribbing that takes place amongst them we are quick to discover that soccer is a common theme throughout their lives (Koné told me later that he played for the national team as a teenager, before his mother pulled him out to the country to save him from a life of sports).
Beyond soccer, religion plays a big part of daily life, and whether it be due to this or simply a choice made for other reasons, the usual bush-worker recreation of drinking alcohol has been replaced with watching movies (Chekesani is obsessed with Shrek II), emailing wives and children, and discussing soccer. The crew has become a community within themselves that, over the space of a few days, we are permitted to invade. These photos offer a small slice of this period, a quick glimpse into the lives of a group of men who will be traversing across BC for the next few months, clearing brush so our trees can grow.
Folklore, 2011: http://tinyurl.com/anl6mkd
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