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Canada North Environmental, Employee highlights

George Duff, Drafting Technician

As of November 2017, George Duff will have been drawing maps for 50 years. George started drawing maps for the provincial government in 1967 when he was hired by the Wildlife Branch to do land inventory maps for deer, moose, etc. in the province. That initial job gave him the skills to continue in the field.

When George received work from the company that formed the early incarnation of CanNorth, he was working as a freelance drafting technician and was asked to assist with various projects. One particular project that George remembers from those early days is having to draw by hand a depth map of Waterbury Lake, located adjacent to the Cigar Lake Mine. This project took several months, eight hours a day, mapping out the depth contours until the complete lakebed was plotted. After that, one project turned into another, and soon George transitioned from working freelance to working full time for the company. "They couldn't get rid of me," George joked. "I grew roots and a chair."

In this way, George is officially the longest-standing employee at CanNorth; he started even before Peter Vanriel, the General Manager of CanNorth, and was one of the few original employees who stayed on from CanNorth's predecessor company to when CanNorth was formed in1997.

At CanNorth, George serves as a drafting technician and is responsible for creating maps, graphs, and figures and for uploading and downloading GPS waypoints for field crews, among other duties. Around the office, George also serves as the unofficial go-to problem solver of software and program issues. George's ability to resolve software glitches and anomalies might stem from his resolute approach to computers: "I've always felt I couldn't be beaten by a machine." Many staff can attest that George has not been beaten yet!

In addition to George's excellent drafting skills and reliable computer SOS support, George also contributes to the greater CanNorth workplace with his characteristic punchy and sometimes selfdeprecating sense of humour. For example, when asked about his favourite childhood memory, George quipped that he had "no memory of childhood because it was so long ago." Also, when asked about what he finds challenging about his job, George, without hesitation, responded with a laugh: "Just getting up and getting here." George's quick wit is definitely a valued quality.

That George is an integral part of CanNorth is demonstrated in his response to the following question. When asked about his favourite part about working at CanNorth, George answered openly, saying that the best part of his job is "working with all of the different people. Most of them are young enough to be my kids and even grandkids, so it's more of a family thing." But never serious for too long, George broke the thoughtful tone by adding with a smile, "I'm just the old guy."

George Duff, the longest-serving employee at CanNorth, is undoubtedly a well loved employee who is appreciated by all.

Matt Tokaruk, Biologist

For Matt Tokaruk, a Biologist at CanNorth, most of the fall of 2016 was spent quite differently from colleagues actively engaged in fieldwork during one of the CanNorth's busiest periods. Instead of spending days and weeks on field trips of various kinds, Matt loaded a work truck with books, pens, a laptop, and sampling equipment and made a 22-hour trip north to the small community of N'Dilo in the Northwest Territories where he taught a five-week environmental course through Eco Canada's BEAHR training program.

The BEAHR program, according to the ECO Canada website, was created in 2006 to help "Aboriginal communities develop technical environmental skills and foster rewarding environmental careers." When CanNorth was invited to participate in the BEAHR program by Margaret Erasmus of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, Matt became an obvious candidate to assume the role of instructor. A CanNorth employee since 2015, Matt comes to the program with significant teaching experience. Matt previously worked as the Supervisor of Ecology for the Wascana Centre Authority in Regina, Saskatchewan, and taught programs such as the Homeschool Environmental Program and the Junior Naturalist Program. Matt would be the first to say that his teaching experience with the community and students up north was a great experience and very rewarding.

The course, which started in mid-October, was divided into two parts: Environmental Core and Environmental Monitoring and Research. The first course introduced the 11 students, who ranged in age from early twenties to mid-thirties, to general environmental practices and site safety with an emphasis on traditional knowledge, while the second course focused on environmental monitoring, fish and wildlife management, and aquatic health. At every point, Matt and his teaching partner, Angus Charlo, a respected member of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation and Traditional Knowledge Instructor, strived to make the information relevant and applicable to the students' lives and experiences. The program also focused on the exchange of information through storytelling and personal experiences. The group also engaged in team building by sharing lunch together weekly, often cooking outside over an open fire.

In addition to class instruction, which took place in the community building in N'Dilo, students spent much time outside engaging in hands-on exercises and putting classroom discussions into practice. The students gained experience completing site assessments and winter track surveys, operating water sampling equipment, and orienteering GPS units. By chance, the BEAHR educational program coincided with another CanNorth project taking place nearby. The students were able to learn proper sampling techniques and to participate in a larger research program as they gathered needed samples of rosehips, Labrador tea leaves, and raspberries for this project. These samples were then used for an ongoing human health risk analysis by CanNorth's office in Markham, Ontario.

When asked about what he gained during his time up north, Matt answered that his respect for First Nations culture and people, especially the Yellowknive Dene, has grown even deeper and that he was grateful to have been able to share time with and participate in an exchange of knowledge.