Posted on January 26, 2017 at 9:45am
While many people would feel intimidated sitting behind the steering wheel of large trucks or other behemoths, Elizabeth “Liz” Wilkenson is quite accustomed to them, having spent her career driving and operating large machinery.
Francis Racine, The Journal
Born in Nova Scotia, she moved to British Columbia when she was four and then Yukon when she was 19. There, she worked in a mine, alongside several men… and women. “There are a lot more women in the mines than people think,” she said, smiling. “It was a dangerous job though.”
There, she drove a 170-ton piece of equipment. This in turn led her to be quite at ease around heavy machinery. “The tires on it were much bigger than I am,” she recalled.
But like many other mines, the one where the woman worked at eventually closed. “It happens to a lot of mines,” she said.
So how did Wilkenson end up driving snowplows in Cornwall? “My husband and I used to work for Marathon Drilling in Greely, so we had to move and we wanted to get a place close to our work, but not too close,” she said.
“At the time, I worked in Toronto and drove back and forth,” added her husband. “I used to always stop in Cornwall. It’s a great town and I always loved it.”
Wilkenson started working for the City in the summer with the hot asphalt. “It’s hard, hot work, but I like it,” she explained. Coincidently, she also might very well be the first woman to hold the job. “I’m not sure about that,” she said laughing. “But I haven’t seen any other women.”
From there, Wilkenson decided to try her chance with snowplowing. “They welcomed me with open arms,” she said. “They were very nice during my training and they continue to be supportive.”
During her training, she had to sit next to another snowplow operator in order to learn the ropes of the job. Finally, she was given her chance to shine. “On my very first run, I was nervous,” she admitted. “But later on, it got easier.”
Considering it’s Wilkenson’s first winter behind the wheel of the snowplow, she’s been tasked with cleaning the streets overnight. “The shifts are from 11 at night to seven in the morning,” she said. “But I love it, because there’s a lot less people on the streets.”
The woman cleans off some of the busiest streets in Cornwall, such as Sydney, Pitt and Cumberland Street, to name a few. Her biggest challenge consists of motorists who park their cars on the road, despite the warning from the City not to do so. “I just can’t understand why some people still park on the road, even in a complete snowstorm,” she said. “The fines don’t seem to scare them.”
When there hasn’t been any recent snowfall, Wilkenson and other snowplow drivers haul snow from several areas and clean up around parking meters.
The woman stressed that streets can be slippery, even for the huge plows. “It’s all a matter of taking your time.”
But even though Wilkenson is the first female driver to plow the streets of Cornwall, she’s quite humble about the whole thing. “Some city workers are very happy about it,” she explained. “I just don’t like attracting too much attention.”