Major MileSTONES

Bricklayer Nina Widmer has been accomplishing major life goals – both personally and professionally.

In September 2017, Nina Widmer became a mom to daughter Isabella, and then a few weeks later was named Apprenticeship Manitoba’s Journeyperson of the Year – Urban.

The daughter of German-born master craftsman Alfred Widmer, Widmer knew what she wanted to be early in life. Since she was nine, Widmer has been working at her father’s side on historical restoration projects. They’ve been employed at Alpha Masonry Ltd. since Widmer was 17, and throughout her apprenticeship. Widmer was the first female bricklaying apprentice to graduate from Red River College, back in 2014.

In the years that followed, the Widmers have worked together on such projects as the University of Winnipeg’s Wesley Hall, the A.A. Heaps Building (Bank of Nova Scotia), and the Union Bank Tower – soon to be RRC’s Paterson GlobalFoods Institute.

When Widmer learned she was expecting her first child, she was both ecstatic and cautious. That’s because elements of her job posed health risks to her unborn child. Despite her initial concerns, she found her employer to be supportive and accommodating.

“A majority of my work is the restoration of historical masonry buildings,” Widmer says. “Alpha allowed me to choose my work and when I worked. Gus [Kotoulas] was very understanding that I could not do a majority of the work since it involves heavy lifting, chemicals in the mortar and concrete that creates birth defects.”

While Widmer was hesitant to continue working, with a bit of compromise and help from her colleagues, she was able to continue with her craft.

At 6 months pregnant, Widmer was subcontracted to work with B &F Masonry Canada, using her specialized crew skills on a dream job — the restoration of the masonry walls on the Confederation Building.

“I was again able to alter how I worked and what kind of work I did,” Widmer explains. “I basically lived in a respirator mask in the heat of summer which wasn’t fun, but I was pretty stubborn because I had wanted to work on this building for a long time!”

Whether it be her persistent personality or passion for her trade that made her press on, Widmer says that the tasks she chose to do were safe and the decision to continue working was ultimately up to her.

“It’s super hard to say that all women can continue working in their respective trade because all trades have so many different elements to them,” she says. “Unfortunately, a lot of things like chemicals, heights, heavy lifting and machinery are considered dangerous for a pregnant person. It really depends on how their jobs can be altered and what their bosses are willing to do for them.”

For Widmer, it’s been a positive experience working with Alpha Masonry and B & F Masonry.

When Widmer goes back to work after her maternity leave, she is looking forward to living up to her new designation: Journeyperson of the Year – Urban.

“It is surreal to have been nominated and awarded the title of Journey Person of the Year – Urban. There are so many talented and deserving tradespeople in Manitoba that it is truly an honour to have won,” says Widmer. “I am looking forward to continuing my craft while finding a new balance between career and motherhood.”

Widmer was nominated by the chair of Manitoba Women in Construction and Parkwest Project’s Safety Coordinator, Teri Urban.

“Nina is an excellent mentor to the apprentices that she works with and gives so much back by promoting the skilled trades to others who would have never considered a career in construction,” explains Urban. “Nina loves her craft and empowers others by sharing her experiences on how her trade has excelled her professionally and personally.”

Widmer is a role model to people across the province looking to succeed in a construction trade, and now she’s the ultimate role model for her sweet baby girl. Perhaps Isabella will follow in her mother’s footsteps, just like Widmer did in her father’s, and join the increasing number of women working in Manitoba construction.

This article first appeared in Issue 4, 2017 of Upword magazine.