Tree-planting tough gig for tough people

When Rachel Ravwerda and Andrea Dykhoorn signed up to plant trees for eight weeks in Northwestern Ontario, little did they know what they were getting themselves into.
The pair hail from Chatham, Ont.—the breadbasket of southern Ontario. Both have worked on farms before and thought they were prepared for what awaited them here in the northwest.
“We thought, ‘Sure, we’re planting trees. No problem. I’ve done that before,’” Dykhoorn said with wistful laugh.
The girls are second-year students at Redeemer College in Ancaster, where they will be sharing a room next semester. Like many of the 42 young people currently working for Haveman Brothers Forestry Services Ltd. as tree planters in the Crossroute Forest, they have a strong religious background as well as rural roots.
So they thought the idea of working for eight weeks in a new environment would be exciting, as well as lucrative.
It can be.
“The guy who recruited us said it is possible to make as much as $10,000 up here,” Dykhoorn recalled.
Of course, to make that kind of money, you have to not only work hard, but you have to work smart.
Each year, young people are hired to work long hours in the bush—coping with mosquitoes and black flies—to reforest areas that were cut the previous year.
The crew is replanting a vast tract of land under contract to Abitibi-Consolidated, which holds the cutting rights. Some, like Ravwerda and Dykhoorn, work in pairs while others prefer to work alone.
That kind of labour requires not only a strong work ethic, but also a lot of character—as Ravwerda and Dykhoorn discovered.
This past week, they were working near Bernadine Lake, off Highway 622 in Kenora District. Every square inch of exposed skin on their faces, necks, and arms was covered with bug bites, but they soldiered gamely on—joking about their situation.
“It’s kind of a roller-coaster ride,” observed Ravwerda. “There are times when you hate it and times when you love it.”
“The thing I really like about it is working outside,” Dykhoorn added.
Dykhoorn also had a close encounter with a bear, and both of them spotted a lynx while out planting recently. Dykhoorn found the first event somewhat unsettling while Ravwerda thought the latter was “way cool.”
The one thing about which they were in absolute agreement was the food.
The crew lives in a “tent city” at a camping lodge on Clearwater West Lake. There, they have a complete camp kitchen, staffed by two other students whose full-time job is feeding them.
And that is no small chore. There is no Atkins Diet here. This gang is burning calories like crazy and eat enough food every day to feed a small army.
And that food, said Dykhoorn, is superb.
“Dinner is what we look forward to,” she enthused. “It’s what keeps you going through the day.”
Supplies are brought in almost every day and nothing goes to waste. The day begins around 6 a.m. with a huge breakfast, which always includes porridge, as well as eggs, sausages, fruit, juice, fresh-baked bread, and cereal.
Each planter packs his or her own lunch, which must tide them over until dinner, which usually concludes with a rich dessert.
The target quota for each planter is 1,000 trees per day, but as Ravwerda and Dykhoorn discovered, it’s not that easy—at least not at first. Eventually, with some coaching and experience, the planters get the hang of it and move right along.
Renewal forester Dave Legg, who overseas the project for Abitibi-Consolidated, said although this particular crew works shorter hours than some from years past, it gets as much, or more, work done—even though they do not work on Sunday.
They also take Monday off so that those who bring in the weekly supplies are not required to work on Sunday, either.
The camp is fully-equipped with showers, outdoor toilets, and even laundry facilities. Each planter is responsible for his or her own dishes as well as keeping their own space tidy.
Various domestic chores are assigned on a rotational basis.
The crew is brought to the work site every day on a bus, which picks them up at the end of the day.
Foremen and supervisors are equipped with radios in the event of an injury, but since the most dangerous tools on the site are shovels used to make a gash in the ground for the seedlings, injuries are practically unheard of.
So would they like to come back again next year? Ravwerda said, “Sure,” while Dykhoorn was less certain.
What is certain, however, is these kids have the right stuff—at least, the mosquitoes and black flies think so.