Desk jockeys need not apply.
If you like the comfort, safety, and consistency of a 9–5 city job, you probably won't love this line of work. But if you're an adrenaline junky, prefer mountains to movie theatres, and thrive on challenging yourself physically: read on.
Canada is the second-largest landmass in the world, yet has a smaller population than the state of California. Needless to say, there's no shortage of wildlife and remote areas, which means lots of remote work. Industries are booming in the lonely corners of our country and they pay well. As long as you're the type for adventure and hard work, there are plenty of jobs to go around.
Scott Trew is a self-professed adventurer. He currently works as a project manager for Geophysics Limited, a company that does airborne geophysics surveys. The road he took to get there was wild. Literally. Graduating from his police foundations course at 20, Trew found that he was too young to be hired. The average age they hire is 27, so he figured he had a few years to kill. When someone suggested that he head out west to BC to try tree planting, he jumped at the opportunity. It was a bit of a rough start, though.
You expect to make a goldmine in the first year you do it. That did not work out, Trew recalls, as the wages didn't end up meeting his expectations. But after hearing the wild stories about Trew's experiences, his friends convinced him to give it another shot, and they decided to go. The following summer, they were hired by a company and planted trees for half the season. After a few months, the company had run out of trees to plant and told Trew's crew to come back in a week because there would be a well-paying job waiting for them. They took a mini-vacation to BC and came back to find their boss gone. Also, no jobs. They were stranded away from home with little money and no work. So they started brainstorming.
"One of our guys went online and heard about this thing called 'seismic'," Trew says. "So we find this company and give them a call and they said 'come on down and we'll see if you get a job.' ...So we jumped on a Greyhound bus and headed to Calgary for another job we knew nothing about."
This was when Trew discovered what he had been born to do. Upon arrival, they found out that their job was, in simple terms, to walk all day in a straight line through the woods and mountains, unpacking equipment and setting it up. "You'd walk 30 kilometres a day, 13 hours a day, every day. You would work 35 days straight, and then take four days of paid vacation," says Trew. "But that's when the craziest things happened."
In the time he spent working in the wild, Trew witnessed things most people never see, including the birth of a moose. (Yeah, you read that right.)
"Those are the types of things that just change your view on life ... It was a once-in-a-lifetime precious thing that I'll never forget," Trew says. In addition to witnessing the live birthing of a moose, Trew has confronted a bear, scaled the sides of mountains, and traversed summits virtually untouched by anyone. "There are places you'll go that maybe 20 people have ever touched. You're just sitting on top of a mountain waiting for a helicopter to pick you up, taking in the view, and getting paid well to do it," Trew says.
Trew may have had some good fortune finding the right jobs at the right time but you don't necessarily have to risk travelling across the country, hoping to get hired wherever you end up.
"If you're an engineer or are looking to get involved in trades, cementation might be interested in what you have to offer. As one of Canada's top 100 employers, you can be sure that they take great care of you when you're sent on a remote project."
Roy Slack, president of Cementation, says the bunkhouses in which their workers stay look more like hotels and have all the amenities you might be used to enjoying in your own home. "They usually have exercise facilities, internet connection, TV, and quite a range of food to choose from," says Slack. "Of course, this is all paid for as part of the job. It doesn't come easy though, so be prepared to work 11- or 12-hour shifts every day."
For all the hard work you'll be doing and pleasant accommodations you'll be enjoying, the experience is the most valuable benefit. "The amount of experience you gain in that time is a lot more than you would on a normal placement, and it benefited me in my career," says Slack. "In my first few years, I got a lot of field experience and I saw a lot of different things, which was very beneficial in helping me move up the ladder."
They don't just send anyone to remote areas of the country to do work, though. You'll need a bit of experience. If you're skilled in the trades, your chances of making it on a remote project are better. There are always opportunities for mechanics, welders, and electricians. But that's the catch-22, isn't it? You need experience to go, but the best experience you can gain comes from going. Fortunately, cementation has an engineer-in-training program, where they rotate engineers fresh out of school through different placements.
At the end of the day, your experience can only get you so far. It would be foolish to argue that experience is not important, but a good attitude can take you a long way. According to Slack, getting the attention of some of these companies is as simple as letting them know you think hands-on experience is important and you would like to get out on a project as soon as possible in your career. "They're always looking for people who have that inner motivation and love for the job. It's a lifestyle choice. We respect experience, but we get excited about potential."
Maybe mining isn't the type of career you're dying to dig your nails into. You don't have to be the type to fight bears, scale mountains, or help construct mines in order to make money and explore the country. If you're a people person and don't have any aversion to fish, you might find yourself suited to working at a remote fishing lodge.
A remote fishing lodge is essentially a four- or five-star accommodation in the middle of nowhere. Many of them are located in Haida Gwaii, (formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands in BC), and need friendly, hardworking staff to run the place.
Matthew Clive, vice-president of sales and marketing at Great River Fishing, worked at a fishing lodge for nine seasons growing up. He worked his way up from being a dishwasher to breakfast chef, then sous chef, until he finally became the head chef of the lodge. He attended school in-between seasons, which he never had a problem paying for because of the money he made at the lodge.
"It was common for me to come back with 12 grand (including tips) after one summer of dishwashing. When I was head chef, I came back with about 20 to 25 thousand," says Clive.
Of course there are the usual difficulties of working in remote areas for any extended period of time. Long-distance relationships are hard to maintain, and it's not always easy to get away from the drama that inevitably surfaces. But if you're able to keep your head on straight, you can end up having a pretty memorable experience.
"The guests who come there are paying approximately $1,000 per person to experience the Queen Charlotte Islands, hoping to see a black bear or whale. You're immersed. People plan this as a once in a lifetime opportunity," says Clive. "And there are tons of jobs depending on what you're looking for. Essentially, any job you can do in a hotel you can do at a remote fishing lodge, in addition to all the work found at the dock."
The networking opportunities are another great perk of the job, as the guests are quite diverse. One hundred guests fly in and out every week. "If you're coming out of school and are not quite sure what you want to do, you can get a lot of ideas from talking to people," says Clive. Who knows? You might just make some connections that can launch you on a career path you never imagined.
Some people love the idea of a challenge, which is exactly what most remote work offers. If you want to pursue a career that is as challenging as it is rewarding, you might want to look into becoming a search and rescue technician (or SAR tech, for short). It's a long and difficult road to becoming an official SAR tech with the Canadian Forces but, for some, it's completely worth the journey.
If you've already served in the military, you'll have a head start on the rest of the competition. Being a SAR tech requires that you serve a minimum of 3 years in the military, and become a corporal before you can even apply. Even then, you're not guaranteed entry. Sergeant Dwayne Guay became a SAR tech back in 2002 when he graduated from the Canadian Forces School of Search and Rescue. Sergeant Guay applied for three years before he was accepted into the program, so the selection process is no walk in the park.
"They stress everybody out on purpose because—to face reality—our job at 2 a.m. is stressful," says Sgt. Guay. "They're trying to weed out those that are willing to quit or willing to forget about it. At 2 a.m., we only work in teams of two. If I can't depend on you and you can't depend on me, what kind of team are we?"
The stress doesn't end after you've been selected. In fact, as a SAR tech you can expect some high-stress scenarios almost consistently. The majority of the time you're working in the dark, since that's when most of the incidents happen. Your circadian rhythm is out of whack because you're forced to fight the elements when everyone else is in their beds sleeping. You're also heading into the unknown, as the information you receive when you're on call isn't always so cut and dry.
But the stress isn't insurmountable, and Sgt. Guay says that a lot of it is self-induced; if you have the tools to deal with it, you can master it. "It's just being able to recognize it and taking actions to deal with those stressful situations and make a positive out of a negative."
The stresses are plentiful, but the sense of reward is worth it for Sgt. Guay. When someone is hurt and down but not out, it's the SAR tech's job to give them a second chance at life. Every profession out there, there are people who want to do it and there's people who do it. Search and rescue isn't an easy job, but it's extremely rewarding when you can take someone and return them to their family. I've done that and there's nothing like it.
"Working in remote areas of Canada is challenging, but with tough work comes great rewards that include once-in-a-lifetime experiences and the satisfaction of accomplishing great things. Our country is beautiful, and getting paid to see it is an offer most wouldn't refuse. And all it takes is the drive to pursue it and the belief that you can. There's no mountain too tall. If you really believe it's possible, it's possible," says Sgt. Guay. "There's going to be naysayers out there who will tell you you can't do it. Well, you can do it... If you believe you've got it in you, odds are you're going to be successful."