My friend, and talented photographer Guillaume Simoneau had a great opportunity a few weeks back and I asked him to give me an early look.
A growing number of forest workers in the northern Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region of Quebec province come from West Africa. This photo was recently taken at a camp 120 miles north of Quebec City I visited with journalist Michel Arseneault.
The camp is run by Aménagement MYR, which hired its first African employee, a man from Ivory Coast, in the late 1990s. Now, 60 per cent of the camp’s 90 employees are African-born, and the company is training two dozen more. Another local company, Foresterie DLM, is also staffed mainly by African immigrants and refugees.
The workers use German-made brush cutters, power saws that look like oversize weed whackers but roar like motorcycles, to “thin” the forest – removing small deciduous trees, usually birch saplings, to allow commercially valuable spruce and fir trees to thrive. It is physically demanding work, similar to what traditional loggers did before they traded their chainsaws for massive harvesting machines, and unlike anything these men did in Africa.
Most of them speak a polished French that indicates urban middle-class backgrounds and university educations. But those qualifications often are not recognized in their new surroundings, and so to pursue their Canadian dreams – or simply to survive – they take on the punishing forestry jobs that old-stock, white Quebeckers no longer want to do.