Thursday, February 22, 2024

Occupation: Locksmith operator for Parks Canada

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Alan Binder
Alan Binder
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Quebec Yachting

If there is a profession that is unknown, it is the profession of a locksmith. Those who work at the Historic Parks Canada Canals in Quebec have agreed to tell us about their daily lives and let us discover their amazing work.

For some, navigating a channel means year after year rediscovering a familiar contact with the lock operator they have associated with. For others, the presence of the lock guard is reassuring when their boat first enters the lock room; There are many emotions we experience when calling a locksmith as yachtsmen cross the canals. Do you know what the lock operator trade consist of? This unconventional occupation interests boaters as much as beachgoers. Much more than cashiers or canal gate openers, Parks Canada locksmiths are experts in operating waterways, specializing in true safety and customer service, whether in the Saint-Ours, Carillon, Chambly, Lachine or Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue canals. At the start of the season, we present you with a photo of three of our colleagues who passionately pursue this unique profession.

Lock guards ensure that boats are moored in the correct spot. Image credit: Parks Canada.

Traffic control

Indrik Romit, locksmith manager at Canal-de-Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, describes himself to his family and friends as a “marine traffic controller”. It is sometimes a difficult and stressful task depending on the traffic of the day. Sometimes more than 20 boats may be waiting to enter the lock, with captains on board whose boating experience varies as much as the size of their boat. The lock operator positions and guides the boats through the lock as safely and efficiently as possible. This means that he must know the exact size of the lock and the boats to come in order to put it in without making mistakes. Imagine Tetris but by boat! The gentlemen and the locksmiths are contacted by VHF radio, over the phone, or simply by calling them from the quayside with “Black boat, it’s your turn to get in!” Blue boat, it’s your turn! “.

Team Parks Canada are on hand to help steer the boats and make sure the captain is anchored in the right spot. Once the boats are docked we can proceed to the lock before starting again with the boats arriving in the opposite direction. On beautiful summer days, the locks follow each other nonstop, from opening to closing.

Lock in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue. Image credit: Parks Canada.

The profession of a lock keeper… over time

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Did you know that the profession of a locksmith has not changed much over time? Her duties remain essentially the same as 150 years ago, although working conditions have improved dramatically.

Lock guard working capstan yesterday. Image credit: Parks Canada.

For example, in the Chambly Canal, employees lived in a house that their employer provided until the early 1900s. From thawing to freezing.

Capstan running lock guard today. Image credit: Parks Canada.

It was not a matter of counting her hours and it was necessary to show the greatest dedication to rendering such a service.

Cab guards and locksmiths in the Lachin Canal. Image credit: Parks Canada.

Knowledge that is transmitted

When he began working as a locksmith in Parks Canada in 1980, Richard Sorbrinant, chief locksmith at Lachin Canal, noticed that the locksmith at the time looked like he was in his late fifties.

Cabin in the Canal de Chambly. Image credit: Parks Canada.

By rubbing shoulders with them and debating with them, he finally realized that the majority of his co-workers were actually veterans who got this job as an acknowledgment of the services rendered to the country. In contact with them, Richard got acquainted with his new job and many subtleties.

Lock and cabin guards at Canal-de-Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue. Image credit: Parks Canada.

These veterans had an average of about twenty years of experience each and they generously passed on their experience to him. Being a locksmith is not learned from books, it is passed on from generation to generation.

Lock guards in the Canal de Carillon. Image credit: Parks Canada.

Required profession

The beginning of the eighties was a particularly busy period, when it was not uncommon to lock up more than a hundred boats per day during the month of July in the Canal de Chambly; The work schedule there was particularly demanding. Needless to say, locksmiths spend much more time with their co-workers than with their immediate family members.

Hand-operated lock guard No. 9 lock in Canal-de-Chambly. Image credit: Parks Canada.

Although the automation of the majority of workstations today makes the job easier and work days shorter, the job is still a requirement. In addition to carrying out shutdowns, it is also necessary to take care of all site maintenance tasks. No matter what the day’s weather is, business never fails!

Pontier 1 operating bridge in the Canal de Chambly. Image credit: Parks Canada.

On the Shambly Channel, there is still a rare profession: the profession of a bridge operator. The canal is the only one in which the bridges spanning it or lifting it always rotate. The bridge operator operates the bridge and manages vehicle traffic when boats pass. For the bridge operators, who are used to always working on their own, isolation ended up weighing after a few months and the end of the season didn’t come fast enough for some.

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The complex and fascinating profession of lock operator deserves to be better known and the experience of those who practice it deserves to be appreciated. As for Parks Canada, locksmiths will be happy to tell you more about their jobs and about the National Historic Site you are visiting. The invitation has been issued. If this is something that is interesting to you, the federal agency seeks to hire new locksmiths each year. Stay informed by following us on Facebook (Tweet embed)!

Miriam Koppel. Image credit: Parks Canada.

A portrait of a locksmith, Myriam Kobal

Miriam is fortunate to be part of the team that operates this “recreational boat lift” at the Canal-de-Saint-Ours National Historic Site in Montreal. In this team, she finds the satisfaction of being a part of Quebec’s waterways history. Lock guards become ambassadors for these places by continuing to maintain them and maintain lock operations.

Myriam has worked as a locksmith in Canal de Saint-Ore for five years. According to her, to practice this profession, one must like to work in the fresh air, endure hot summer days and live with bad weather. Special attention to unparalleled customer service is required as well as an interest in teamwork focused on safety and continuous improvement. Throughout the tenure of Lock Keeper, Lock Keeper Assistant, Parks Canada provides quality supervision and extensive opportunities to develop technical and personal knowledge.

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Every summer, Miriam marvels at boats of all kinds. Boaters provide unforgettable experiences, often fun and festive, and feel free to introduce their family and pets. By sharing their sailing stories, they can enable locksmiths to travel with them. In general, the public is interested and surprised to learn that the waterways of Quebec are still made up of functional locks.

The lock guard welcomes the boat to Canal-de-Saint-Ours. Image credit: Parks Canada.

The canals welcomed the first woman into their ranks in 1985. Since it was a job traditionally reserved for men, boaters made all kinds of comments, sometimes completely inappropriate.

Treasurer opens the dam gate. Image credit: Parks Canada.

From the start, this pioneer was able to count on the support of her colleagues and found a way to persevere, paving the way for locksmiths like Miriam. Today, there are as many locksmiths as locksmiths in Parks Canada.

Left to right: Indrik Romit and Robert Lister, keepers of the lock. Image credit: Parks Canada.

Portrait of the lock keeper, Indrik Romit

Working as a locksmith at Parks Canada on Channel Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, for Andrek, is a fascinating and dynamic job, although it brings with it challenging and sometimes breathtaking times. This lock is the busiest in Canada! The relatively short transit time to cross the lock and the popular attractions on both sides of the canal contributes to the increased traffic on the canal.

Working as a lock operator has many benefits, including the ability to be outdoors in good weather, interact with pleasant visitors, and enjoy beautiful scenery and sunsets. Finally, all Parks Canada Fellows are good company and are there to help each other, making business even better!

Richard Surprinant, Locksmith’s Keeper. Image credit: Parks Canada.

Portrait of a lock guard, Richard Surprinant

Richard Sorbrinant, locksmith manager at Lachin Canal National Historic Site, began his career at Chambly Locks in 1980. In 2013, he joined the Lachin Canal team where he continued his career. He had to update his knowledge there, because the work is done in a different way, and each channel has its own characteristics.

42 years later, Richard is still passionate about his job. What was initially meant to be a student job eventually turned into a real profession. It is clearly a profession unknown to the general public, but happily he will take the time to explain to you what his job entails. According to him, the profession will always need to influence and this will come in large part from those who practice it with passion and dedication.

In the Lachine channel, locks are automated. Image credit: Parks Canada.

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By Sebastian Noel, Communication and Partnership Officer
In collaboration with Myriam Coupal, Indrek Romet and Richard Surprenant, Locksmiths
Waterways of Quebec, Canada’s Gardens

* This article was published in the Digital Journal Flight. 45 No. 2 Quebec Yachting. Subscribe for free!

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