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May 2, 2018

Construction grads breathe new life into shipping containers

Jon David is a witty young First Nations man who’s already tried his hand at a number of careers. After discovering his strengths, Jon is confident he’s found a groove in carpentry. Originally from Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Jon works close to home on one of the most innovative housing projects in North America.

“I’m grateful to have so much steady work here, and this is not a bad place to have an office,” he says, looking around at the west coast island landscape.

In the picturesque town of Tofino, members of Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation are pioneering new housing construction techniques. They are converting used shipping containers into 21 new affordable rental units for their growing community.

In early 2017, Jon completed an intensive 6-week construction training program at North Island College to prepare for the build. The unique program is supported by Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada and Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. Students of all experience levels emerge from the program with a host of technical skills and safety certifications. They also develop a clearer understanding of housing management, administration and maintenance practices.

“The program really opens their eyes,” says project construction manager Matt Seitcher. “People start to understand the structure and procceses involved in getting the tickets, licences and seals necessary to get ahead in the workplace.”

A member of Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation and an industry veteran, Matt has worked with the band for more than 4 years. He sees the project as an excellent teaching tool.

“When you’re building something no one else has tried before, there’s a huge learning curve,” he explains. “Everyone is constantly picking up new skills.”

Back at the construction site, Jon works on a team with a few of his classmates from the training program. “It’s great that we can stay together as a unit,” he says. When they finish the current project in a few months, there’s already more local work lined up.

“It’s really nice to see what we’ve learned — these skills — stay in the community,” says Jon.

The Container Housing Project is scheduled to be complete in the summer of 2018. Designed primarily for Tofino’s seasonal workers, the units are available to everyone in the community and will be rented through the housing department at Tla-o-qui-aht.

Jon and 2 of his classmates are busy building careers in the industry. Leveraging valuable on-the-job training, they plan to continue their skills development and complete other construction tickets at North Island College.

Several funding avenues helped make this project possible. To learn more, visit: