We live in an incredible rainforest. Part of the wonder of our local geography is the amazing old-growth trees that we can still find with a little effort. These standard bearers anchor the woods and record history in their sustained growth. They seed the future and protect younger trees that spread their roots and take their grip on the world. Strong, massive trees that are scattered around Vancouver Island should be cared for, treasured, and respected for their resilience and stories.
Trees are also a resource, and the use of timbers in construction is both historic and a common practice in the present building environment. Log accents or a complete custom timber frame home casts a spirit and atmosphere over living spaces that is unmatched by painted drywall and concrete surfaces. On many contemporary homes you will see a timbered entryway, or impressive outdoor timber frame kitchen, and even a vaulted timber frame great room. Our community needs skilled tradespeople to create these specialty structures, just as we need the quality work performed by plumbers and electricians.
Working with wood is a noble trade, and those in the business value sustainable forestry and healthy ecosystems as much as anyone else—our vocation depends upon it. Much of our daily work satisfaction comes from the texture, smell, and character of the materials. We dedicate our years to making quality houses for people that will last longer than the trees cut down for the structure. Passing on that love of tradecraft is equally satisfying to those with enough scars and bruises to share our experiences with younger folks.
Quietly and steadily, professional timber framers in the Comox Valley have been working with students of School District 71 on timber frame projects that are improving our community, and showing students the rewards of carpentry trade. Historically, students have had opportunities to take courses that teach standard stick frame construction. We mix in applied mathematics and demonstrate the importance of both aesthetics and craftspersonship. Some students grow more effectively outside of the conventional classroom model of education. The satisfaction youth receive from working alongside adults and on a project that will last is invaluable. Somewhat unique to this trade is the focus required on fundamental structural issues as well as how the results will look and feel to our customers.
During past years students have had the chance to work on several interesting projects that now stand in public spaces (thanks in large part to a good working relationship with CVRD Parks Department), in particular the CVRD Joe Walker Park Shelter, the CVRD Royston Seaside Trail BBQ Shelter, and the CVRD One Spot Trail Bridge. Another notable structure is the new fire pit shelter at the Tribune Bay Outdoor Education Centre on Hornby Island, raised in the fall of 2018. In addition to local professional mentors, the students worked with timber framers from all over North America that traveled here to be part of the multi-faceted educational event (a Timber Framers Guild rendezvous). Similar events happen a few times a year as our artisan Guild works in many communities sharing an appreciation of craft.
Sharing skills doesn’t only benefit the student; we grow as professionals when we take on the responsibility of training others. An old maxim is really true in the trades—to improve your own competency, teach it to someone else. Timber framing requires a wide range of discrete skills—both physical and analytical—and the ability to plan for a large scope of work. Exhibiting the value and necessity of continuous learning also has an impact on young people in our care. Another eye-opener for us has been the supportive, constructive response throughout the school system. Students usually volunteer for these special programs and need to work with other teachers to keep up in classes. As we move into the new BC Education curriculum, a large part of career education is making connections and learning outside of our schools. These cooperative heavy timber construction projects exemplify some of the great training opportunities available in our evolving school curriculum.
Young people in our community are our resources for the future. We need them to be excited about medicine, computer repair, politics, carpentry, and countless other areas. As seedlings, they all deserve a chance to grow into pillars of society or industry—to be champions of the future who will grow tall, straight, and solid like the giants of the forest.