Indigenous youth spark interest at Fort McMurray welding camp

How’s this for a summer camp? Instead of sunglasses and swim trunks at the lake, there’s safety goggles, overalls and fountains of molten sparks.

'Students don't get as many opportunities to do this,' says welding camp instructor

Tryston Morin tests his new skills at Fort McMurray's welding camp. (David Thurton/ CBC)

How's this for a summer camp? Instead of sunglasses and swim trunks at the lake, there's safety goggles, overalls and fountains of molten sparks.

Fort McMurray's Keyano College is hosting a four-day welding camp this summer for students from First Nations and Métis communities around the Wood Buffalo region.

Randy Chernipeski, who is with the Northland School Division and assisting with the camps, said the program is a special summer experience for most youth.

"Students don't get as many opportunities to do this," Chernipeski said. "It's probably easier to get an opportunity in this part of the world — especially in Northern Alberta — to do the camping and canoeing thing, whereas this is something out of the ordinary."

The Canadian Welding Association Foundation helps put on the summer camp that this week welcomed 19 students from the nearby communities of Fort McKay and Janvier, Alta.

These two camp attendees are inspecting one of their first projects. (David Thurton/ CBC)

The program lasts five days and the youth learn welding basics. Students are introduced to safety practices, welding symbols, various welding techniques and how they can get their foot in the door to a welding career.

They also get to spark up and melt some metal.

On Tuesday, day two of the camp, students were already using torches and stick welders to make sticks to roast sausages on later.

'Always been interested in more hands-on things'

Tryston Morin, 13, said he chose the program over photography camp and thought it was neat the trade opens doors to underwater welding.

"It pays a lot," Morin said.

Fourteen students took part in the welding camp this year at Fort McMurray's Keyano College. (David Thurton/ CBC)

Autumn Bent, 15, said she's contemplating a career in either welding or as a mechanic.

"I've just always been interested in more hands-on things to do rather than sitting back, relaxing in a job," Bent said.

Same thing for Caleb Lacorde, 15.

"I don't want to sit all day. Sitting in a room, you won't do anything," Lacorde said. "And if you are not doing anything you will lose focus and it will get you fired."

Caleb Lacorde, 15, prepares to shape the handle of his wiener-roasting stick at welding camp in Fort McMurray. (David Thurton/ CBC)

The program started as a pilot project in Edmonton in 2014 as a way of introducing kids aged 12 to 15 years to the trade. The Fort McMurray camp is one of 35 camps across Canada this year.

Keyano College, TransCanada pipelines, Cenovus, and the Northland School Division are also partners in the program. 

Follow David Thurton, CBC's Fort McMurray correspondent, on FacebookTwitter or contact him via email.