Have you ever wondered who keeps Ontario Parks so clean? Who is it that ensures everything is working properly? At Balsam Lake Provincial Park, Robert Wires makes sure the parks maintenance program is running smoothly. He is the Maintenance Foreman who manages the team responsible for the park’s daily up-keep.
Robert began his career with Ontario Parks in April 1998, at Balsam Lake. He had been working at the Trent-Severn Waterway when the opportunity came up to switch careers. He knew Balsam Lake was a place he’d like to work and this new position gave Robert an opportunity to use his construction background. Although he has been at the same job for ten years, he says, It has changed quite a bit. I enjoy it.
As a Maintenance Foreman, Robert is responsible for a variety of daily duties. “There is no typical day,” he says of his job. He arrives early in the morning to begin his work, which includes checking the water plant and driving around the park to get a sense of what needs to be done. Robert also checks in with the early morning cleaning crew, ensuring their day is going smoothly. He takes a look at the work orders which include requests from campers, and divides up the jobs between his staff. Throughout the day, Robert and his team take on tasks that can range from site cleaning, tree removal, fixing the roads, and dealing with plumbing or electrical problems. “It could be just about anything,” he says. “We try to do most things in-house. We’ve got a really talented bunch of people around.”
Robert also has the opportunity to work with students during the summer, an aspect of his job he enjoys. Many students return each summer and they begin to take pride in the park. At the end of a work day, the students are never too anxious to leave. “A lot of times they will sit here and talk about their day for a little while,” Robert explains. Robert says he also values the opportunities for problem solving and seeing how things work, adding that he enjoys working under deadlines and figuring out the best way to get the job done.
One of Robert’s most memorable moments happened during his first year working at Balsam Lake. That June, before the busy camping season began, there was a windstorm. Afterwards, the park was in disarray and it took days to clean up. This experience not only gave Robert the opportunity to exercise his leadership skills and prioritize what needed to be done, but it earned his team praise from the Park Superintendent. As he was still in the early stages of his job, this experience made Robert realize, “I think I’m going to be ok.”
Years later, Robert is still enjoying working at Ontario Parks. “I’ve always really appreciated the support that Ontario Parks gives their employees,” he says, noting that he especially values the training programs provided as they bring both safety and confidence to the workplace. At Balsam Lake, there is an open-door policy for communication with all staff which creates a pleasant working environment. “All the employees here end up taking a real interest in the place,” Robert says.
Due to his history with the park, Robert names Balsam Lake as his favourite. He has been to a variety of Ontario Parks, because each fall he takes his staff out to visit other parks to observe their maintenance program. During his time off, Robert often uses the bike trails at Balsam. However, even then work isnâ€™t entirely absent from his mind: “My wife says she wishes I’d quit looking around for things that need to be done.”