Seven decades on the job . . . and counting
Tireless pipeline construction worker Leonard Lake, 83, an inspiration to his colleagues
If you’ve recently driven the highway near Conklin, in northern Alberta, you might have seen Leonard Lake working as a flagger, controlling traffic or guiding heavy equipment.
Lean and wiry, with a spring in his step, he appears to be in his 50s—but he’s actually 83. And that’s just one of the remarkable things about Lake, a contractor working for Waschuk Pipe Line Construction on Enbridge’s Norlite project, south of Fort McMurray.
“I love working and love pipelines. I enjoy working with the people,” Lake says.
It’s a deep-rooted work ethic Lake learned early in life. Born to Cree and Métis parents, Lake was raised on a farm near Valleyview in northwest Alberta, and chose to leave school at the age of 13. “My dad, who was a logger, said: ‘If you’re not going to attend school, then you’re going to start work.’ And I haven’t quit since,” says Lake with pride.
At first, he was a waterboy, helping firefighting crews in the area. Then, at 16, he joined a railway gang, living in a boxcar and laying track throughout the province. In the late 1950s, he earned his introduction to pipeline construction, stringing pipe near Taylor in northeast British Columbia.
“It was tough work. Back then, you could show up in a pair of runners, a baseball cap and gloves, and you’d go to work – not like now, when you need to wear all the right equipment,” he remarks.
As part of Enbridge’s sustainable supply chain and procurement priorities, we’re engaging our suppliers sooner in our efforts to involve local and Aboriginal businesses in our projects. Lake has been in the workforce for 70 years—with exemplary dedication and work ethic, acting as a role model for youth in the region.
Yogi Freier, an Enbridge construction project manager with Norlite, met Lake 35 years ago. After joining Enbridge, he crossed paths with Lake again during building of Enbridge’s Woodland Pipeline Extension and Norealis projects.
“Years ago you dug crossings by hand. Leonard would dig three in a day, and the other guys would each dig one,” says Freier. “He’s always been proud of what he can accomplish at the end of the day.”
While Lake has always had a strong work drive, what’s truly remarkable is his safety record—he’s never broken a bone in his life. “The secret is to always focus and watch on the job,” he explains.
Brian Fowers, Waschuk’s office manager, says workers on the Norlite construction site near Conklin look up to Lake: “He’s a cool, easygoing guy. Everyone enjoys working with him.”
Former colleagues have commented that Lake is “physically, one of the hardest-working people they’ve ever met,” notes Howie Parks, an Aboriginal liaison contractor with Enbridge. “His story is a good message for anyone: work hard, be committed to what you do, and success will come your way.”
Away from the construction site, Lake is busy co-ordinating visits at his Edmonton home from his 18 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. Ask him if he’s ready to retire after seven decades on the job, though, and he answers with a smile: “Not yet.”
“He’d very much like to come back to work with us on the next stretch of the pipeline this summer – if his grandchildren and great-grandchildren will let him,” Fowers says with a laugh.