by Ruby Littlechild and SNC-Lavalin
(July 2020)- SNC-Lavalin is a diverse company with diverse staff and clients across Canada and the world. The company has a history of partnering with the Indigenous peoples of Canada, and sharing knowledge and experience on a wide range of projects. One such client is the Ermineskin Cree Nation in Alberta. From March 2018 to December 2019, SNC-Lavalin worked on three projects for the nation.
The first project was the design followed by construction support for two municipal wastewater liftstations, which included the above-ground buildings. The ultimate product is a huge improvement on what was there before. Alistair James, project manager and principal geotechnical engineer with SNC-Lavalin’s Calgary office, explained that originally, Ermineskin’s water technicians had to work outdoors raising the pumps and performing maintenance in all weathers. With no wash facility, once technicians were done with maintenance, they were wet and exposed to the wastewater and had to head back to the office or home without cleaning at the site. Now, the technicians have wash facilities, the pumps can be raised and lowered, and much of the maintenance can be done inside or at least under cover.
The second project was a geotechnical investigation and topographic survey, lead by Alistair as well, for a residential expansion. While smaller in scale than the other two projects, it was no less important. The SNC-Lavalin team’s findings helped the Ermineskin Nation make expansion decisions informed by a solid knowledge of the site and its requirements for the third project, the Ermineskin Elders Village Southeast.
Lead by Dirk Scharbatke, manager of the geoscience and materials group at the Calgary office, with Alistair working on the geotechnical aspects, the SNC-Lavalin team provided design and construction support for deep utilities for the first phase of the Ermineskin Elders Village. The Elders Village is designed with the houses circling around a central backyard, so the Elders can connect and do things together. The road—and with it the water and wastewater services—circles the houses, making it quite a challenging design. It was very satisfying for Dirk and his team that they were able to design the services following the circle of the road, so that the Elders Village could keep its unique form.
“The First Nations treat their Elders with respect, and we were able to contribute to that,” Dirk says, mentioning especially the trust he felt from Anne Wildcat, Director of Infrastructure for Ermineskin, and also her wonderful sense of humour and the obvious care she feels for her community.
Beyond the technical and management aspects of the work, both Dirk and Alistair enjoyed meeting and working with those who did the work and their managers, who are all “hands-on” people, according to Alistair. The Ermineskin technical services team are a close-knit group of people. They know their stuff inside out and work hard to deliver, maintain, and improve services to their community. Getting to know them, and also the community members who would benefit, made the personal side of the improvements apparent and meaningful.
Alistair notes that people were generous with their time and “forgiving of my terrible pronunciation and vocabulary getting slowly better” as he practiced Cree and learned more about the culture and traditions. Getting teased over hockey became another highlight. The Bruins decals on his truck elicited friendly taunts from the Oilers and Habs fans, and some cheers from one of the technicians, Donna White, a fellow Bruins fan. Donna went to the trouble of making Alistair a hand-stitched and beaded Bruins medallion: “I was so appreciative receiving the medallion; there was a lot of emotions from knowing the time, skill, and acceptance that I felt came from that moment amongst the team. I felt honoured and humble.”
Ultimately for SNC-Lavalin and our people, these three projects, and many others like it, are about delivering better services to all communities. It is core to what we as a company do. Our official Commitment to Indigenous Peoples, signed in June 2019, solidifies our commitment to establishing and maintaining mutually respect and meaningful relationships between Indigenous communities, our clients and our company. Collaborating with communities like Ermineskin Cree Nation and seeing the direct benefits of our work is all the reason our professionals need for doing what they do to the very best of their abilities.
Alistair sums it up really well: “This is the kind of work I got into civil engineering to do: help people have better lives and to make it last for many years.”
Founded in 1911, SNC-Lavalin is a fully integrated professional services and project management company with offices around the world. SNC-Lavalin connects people, technology and data to help shape and deliver world-leading concepts and projects, while offering comprehensive innovative solutions across the asset lifecycle. Our expertise is wide-ranging – consulting and advisory, intelligent networks & cybersecurity, design & engineering, procurement, project & construction management, operations & maintenance, decommissioning and sustaining capital – and delivered to clients in four strategic sectors: EDPM (engineering, design, project management), Infrastructure, Nuclear and Resources, supported by Capital. People. Drive. Results. www.snclavalin.com