Born to be a bricklayer


Bob Hunter is 76 years old and has been a bricklayer since 1965—yes, almost 60 years. And he’s still going strong, seeing no reason to stop working.

“I was born to be a bricklayer,” Bob says. “You get into it when you’re young, and you like doing it. In this trade, you can go by a building years later and see the work you did and it still looks like new.”

You can see Bob’s handiwork all over towns in the West Kootenays. The stone pillars along the riverfront on Esplanade Avenue in Trail. The Rossland courthouse. The RCMP building, Columbia Power building and the casino in Castlegar. In Nelson, the courthouse, city hall, Hall Street plaza, and the Nelson Commons building where Kootenay Co-op is located.

And that’s just scratching the surface, you could say, of all the construction Bob has completed over the past six decades.

Years of experience

Ken Laren owns Brikcon Masonry Ltd. His crew, including Bob, have been working on our building renovation in downtown Trail, most notably the elevator shaft that will allow access to four levels, from the basement up to the rooftop garden.

“It’s pretty specialized now. When I started we did everything. We were basically general masons. We did ceramic tile, brick, stucco, stone, cement,” Bob says. When asked if they still do all of those different types of masonry, Ken and Bob say yes. It’s the young people entering the trade that tend to specialize more.

However, they also note that there are not a lot of new people entering the field. The work is often seasonal, and unless you’re in the union there are no benefits or pension. Stucco is dying out. Metal chimneys have replaced brick chimneys and fireplaces. It’s challenging as a trade, they both say.

“Our trade is the oldest trade around. And it’s still working. They’ve made everything so strong, they’ve gotten so smart, they’ve forgotten their past,” Bob says.

Ken explains that old brick mortar is limestone. It gives elasticity to the structure. If it cracks, it mends itself. Today, construction is engineered to use cement which is not as forgiving. Ken’s dad was a mason, and that’s how he got into the trade more than 30 years ago. He drives by work that his dad did and it looks like it was done yesterday.

And still learning

The day we talk, Bob is filling in the finishing gaps around the elevator in the Skills Centre’s new building. Kone, the company from Vernon that installed the elevator, were amazed at the quality of brickwork on the elevator shaft. They told us that the work Bob and Ken and their crew did to create the four-storey elevator shaft was in line within 1 millimeter at one end and 6 mm at the other—that’s better than they get from manufactured slab elevator shafts.

Bob and Ken spent about a week on each floor of the elevator shaft. They acknowledge that there aren’t many elevator shafts in the area for them to work on which perhaps makes their precision even more impressive.

Their modesty is equally impressive as they give credit to the contributions from the crew at Hil-Tech Contracting, the general contractor on our building renovation.

Even after all these years, Ken and Bob both say you can learn something new every day.

“Working with different trades, you see how they do something and you learn from it,” Bob says. “It’s been a very good trade for me.”