Canadian Woodworking

Fenelon Falls: On-Site Learning

Author: Geoff Coleman
Photos: Geoff Coleman
Fenelon Falls
Fenelon Falls

14 students get “real life” experience. One Canadian woodworker gets a shop.


When I decided to finally build a shop, I contacted Tom McMorrow, a veteran of the Calgary housing boom, and asked if he was available. Tom had moved back to Ontario and was now a construction technology teacher at Fenelon Falls Secondary School. Although he couldn’t personally com­mit to the project, he mentioned that this was exactly what his Grade 12 stu­dents would love. His class kept busy with small projects in cottage coun­try, but putting up a 24′ x 20′ building would be a ground-up test of the things they had learned during the pre­vious three years of classes.

Up High
Nick Berry, left, and Brock Moore team up to do some work on the roof.

Fenelon Falls

I arranged for a pad to be poured and had materials delivered. Since I live in proximity to the high school, the stu­dents (13 boys and one girl, aged 17 and 18) walked over to my house and put in about 45 minutes a day before packing up and heading back for their next class. The weather cooperated most days from our start date in early May and the roof was on with three days left in the school year.

When McMorrow asked his class on their final test what their favourite part of the course was that semester, they all responded that working on my workshop was the highlight.

Students like Jesse Beers found the experience rewarding, and helped con­firm that he was on the right track with his career choice. “It’s good to see it go from the ground up, and you get to work on all parts of the construction. It gave me a chance to see if I really could do the things I thought I could.” After graduating last June, Jesse is working as a carpenter full-time this year and will start his carpentry apprenticeship next fall.

Likewise, Larry Hope, director of education for the Trillium Lakelands District School Board and himself a hobbyist woodworker, believes oppor­tunities such as these are invaluable to students. “The opportunity for our students to participate in community-based projects like this allows them to see first-hand what customers expect from builders and contractors, and gives them an excellent avenue to not only further develop their skills, but also demonstrate their classroom learning in a real-life setting. Many of our pro­grams offer these experiences, and the feedback from students and community members alike is very positive.”

High schools across Ontario give students similar opportunities, often through the Specialist High Skills Major (SHSM). In a nutshell, SHSM program­ming intends to give students with a specific vocational interest a chance to take courses tailored toward a particular career. SHSM courses start in Grade 11 and students can check with their teach­ers or guidance department for details.

British Columbia students have a similar opportunity with the Secondary School Apprenticeship (SSA) where they concurrently work and attend high school. Students who deliver “sustained and exceptional work as an appren­tice” can apply for a $1000 scholarship intended to assist apprentices with the purchase of tools, equipment, materi­als or post-secondary tuition. Not to be outdone, Alberta runs a thorough learn­ing experience for senior high school students with their career and technol­ogy studies course.

A homeowner who is consider­ing enlisting a group of kids to build something for them should remem­ber that these are still kids. There is the potential for mistakes and work­manship that doesn’t reflect 20 years of on-the-job experience. Having said that, in my experience, I was extremely pleased with the outcome. I had a lot of confidence in Tom as a builder and a teacher. And nothing gets by my build­ing inspector, so quality control was not an issue.

My neighbours are already asking how they can line up the crew.

Geoff Coleman - [email protected]

Geoff splits his spare time between the workshop, an as yet undiscovered classic rock band, fishing, and his family. The only time he encourages his wife to be a backseat driver is when he’s fishing from the canoe.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Other articles to explore
Username: Password: