Keeping Our Roads Clear—Rain, Shine, or Snow
/ Author: Nathan Koslowsky
/ Categories: Guide magazine, Locals, Local 52 /
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Keeping Our Roads Clear—Rain, Shine, or Snow

The roads of northwestern Ontario are long, winding, and steep. They can quickly become treacherous in rain or snow, so proper maintenance is vital to ensure people and goods can move safely between eastern and western Canada. That’s where Local 52 members employed by AEL, a Division of Emcon Services Inc., come in. They keep these roads clean and maintained 365 days per year.

In the spring and summer, approximately 40 members maintain the roads and ditches of 1,624 kilometres of highway and 950 kilometres of municipal road. They repaint lines, grade roads and shoulders, sweep and repair roads and bridges, maintain parks and rest areas, install signs, clean up debris, and even deal with beaver dams.

In the winter, over 150 members take care of those same roads—patrolling, plowing, sanding, and salting the surfaces, or working at one of the shops fixing and maintaining equipment. 

The members operate out of three main hubs in Emo, Kenora, and Dryden, as well as nine satellite yards. The Dryden hub features a full mechanic shop, while the Emo and Kenora shops each have one mechanic.

The mechanics fix everything from weed whackers to snowplows. Their main challenge—road salt doesn’t play well with electronics or metal.

For the operators and plow drivers, the main challenge is often other motorists—particularly large trucks.

“They have a shipping time to meet, so sometimes they’re trying to pass us in the middle of the night on blind corners,” says Thomas Martin, a plow driver. “Our biggest fear is that we’ll have a collision with them. But we still go out there and we get those roads clear.”

For the members, keeping the roads safe is the best part of the job. “It’s the gratification of knowing that we’re keeping the highways safe for everyone,” says Jason Foster, an operator and steward. “I also enjoy operating big machinery, and working with the guys here. It’s a good company to work for.”

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