Nerves of steelworkers: Crews pose (safely) atop Edmonton's tallest building

The aerial photo-op captures the unassuming manner of aerial workers doing what their land-bound counterparts might consider an unthinkable task.

Photos were taken at over 200 metres above downtown.

A steelworker poses atop construction on Stantec Tower, already the tallest building in Edmonton at over 200 metres. (Building Trades of Alberta / Local 720 Ironworkers)

A heart-stopping collection of photos captures a crew of workers assembling the steel skeleton of a giant of the Edmonton skyline.

A group of workers from Ironworkers' Local 720 pose atop the construction of Stantec Tower, already the city's tallest building at over 200 metres.

"It's exhilarating to be at that height," said Keith Stevenson, a business manager with the union and a veteran ironworker. "You realize that you're witnessing something that's incredible because you don't normally get those views."

The pictures, posted to Facebook, quickly garnered comparisons to the iconic "Lunch atop a Skyscraper," a shot of workers perched on the unfinished Rockefeller Plaza in 1932, the fledgling Manhattan skyline hazy behind them.

From left to right: Justin Pytel, Sam Counter, Shawn Beregon, Kearin Damm , Lara Russell, Chad Wegenast, Al Rogers, Warren Storey. The photos of steelworkers working on Stantec Tower quickly garnered comparisons to the iconic 1932 photo of workers perched on the unfinished Rockefeller Plaza. (Building Trades of Alberta / Local 720 Ironworkers)

The photos have some notable differences — the Manhattan steelworkers smoke cigarettes and eat lunch without the assurances of harnesses or hard hats, while the Edmonton crew opted for a simple pose with their mandatory safety equipment firmly attached.

But both sets of photos capture the unassuming manner of aerial workers doing what their land-bound counterparts might consider an unthinkable task.

"When you're up there and you're working at height, a lot of time you're not really looking down or looking at the ground," Stevenson said. "You look at the work you're on and the pieces you're on and you sort of learn to tune it out just so you don't get distracted."

The tower will be the largest in Canada outside Toronto when crews finish construction on the 251-metre mammoth.

Stevenson said one of the pleasures of the work is the chance to see your labour assume its place within the urban landscape. Rogers Place and the Walterdale Bridge were both assembled by workers from Local 720.  

"It's tangible," he said. "The things we put up are going to be monuments. They're going to be there for a lifetime."

Steelworkers assemble beams on Stantec Tower, which will top out at 251 metres when construction wraps up. (Building Trades of Alberta / Local 720 Ironworkers)

The awe-inspiring view from above the skyline also has its share of risks.

Workers have to maintain their balance when gusting winds sway the tallest beams, the ones not yet fully torqued or supported by other columns. In the winters, the workers have to be wary of ice-clad iron underfoot.

"You're definitely at the will of the elements," Stevenson said. "You have to pay attention all the time because it is quite a dangerous job. You can't afford to make a mistake."

Despite the inherent risks, Stevenson said working closer to the sky was often a serene experience.

"It's awfully quiet on top normally, if it's a still day. It's very peaceful," he said. "But, really, it's a fantastic job."

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