Weird and wonderful

🕔Mar 09, 2006

So, how do you see your job? Is it simply a means to retirement? Are you identified by what you do? Do you hate it? Love it? How many of us do what we must just so we are able to live in this amazing region of the province?

As you might imagine, many of the occupations here in the North are in primary industry: fishing, logging, mining, and farming. People have taken up jobs that their parents did, or they work at the sawmill that supports their town.

Statistics Canada lists jobs under only the most general of titles. But what of the folks who have carved different paths? What sorts of jobs allow people to stay in the rural areas they love and still make a living? Which jobs make people say, “What?! Somebody actually does that?”

In my quest for the really weird monetary pursuits, I came across an interesting cross-section of work. From the really odd to the few and far between, from revivals of old skills to jobs that have been dead for years.

We no longer build and maintain telegraph lines, and the railway has been in place for decades. The old shipbuilding dry docks in Prince Rupert are long gone, as is the steamboat traffic up and down the rivers.

All that remains of the old pole camps around Moricetown are photos at the Bulkley Valley Museum: vast piles of poles and the First Nations women in dungarees who transformed the trees into their more usable form.

Lake Kathlyn once formed ice up to 12 feet thick. The ice was cut into large blocks and loaded directly into boxcars, ready to be shipped where needed.

Times change: global warming, refrigeration, and new methods of transportation. But these aren’t really weird jobs, just different and out-of-date.

I asked around and discovered there are as many opinions about what’s odd as there are people. Local professional oddities people mentioned included farriers, filmmakers, organic bakers or farmers, tree toppers, jacks/janes-of-all-trades. One fellow does research in artificial intelligence. I don’t think of these jobs as particularly weird though. Unique, perhaps, but well known. I wanted the truly bizarre.

A rumour had me following a rather titillating lead: a person in the Northwest specializing in electrolysis (hair removal) for transsexuals. What fascinated me was that there could be an actual market for this in a small, northern town.

A search through the Yellow Pages can reveal the most interesting services, such as corn and callous removal. Hmm. No doubt this ugly problem exists in the North as well. Leaping to stereotypes, I picture an elderly population or lots of men in need of such a service. Difficult however to wrap the mind around the image of a burly logger making an appointment with a pedicure institute to rid himself of those pesky callouses caused by steel-toed work boots.

Houston once boasted its own practitioner of vermiculture. Apparently, a couple lived in a mobile home built over an enormous basement, which, in turn, had been filled with compost-laden freezers. Eventually, the lady of the house gave the ultimatum “me or the worms,” and lost.

I found a resurgence in jobs that would have been common in the past: a cobbler in Smithers who hand-makes boots, a bookbinder on Haida Gwaii, a fellow who makes farming and hunting tools by hand to sell at the Fall Fair, shamanism. Ah, I can hear you saying, “Shamanism? A job?” Consider it a profession. And perhaps we don’t see so many shamans around anymore, outside of select cultural groups, but their knowledge has been passed on to a new generation of naturopaths, homeopaths, holistic healers and healing groups.

Both Kitwanga (“The Nesting Eagle”) and Terrace (“Nirvana”) boast metaphysical and healing centres, places where body, mind, and spirit may be restored to health in combination, not treated as completely separate entities.

The story of China Nose Mountain had me researching gold panning and prospecting. Most people with mineral claims in this region pan or dig as a hobby, but the mining companies are the ones that pull enough out of the ground to survive.

But what of the Chinese man who worked for the railway all those years ago? As the tale goes, he would disappear for days or weeks at a time into the mountains south of Topley, eventually returning to work with a small bag of gold. When asked where he found it, the man would tap his head with an index finger and simply say, “China knows, China knows,” referring to himself.

Other men tried to follow him but lost the trail every time. Thus, I am told, the mountain with the sharp cliff face is now called China Nose. What I’d like to know is why the heck he came back to work on the railway if he had all this gold stashed away? Now that’s weird. But I digress.

So, tell me about your strange occupations or those of your neighbours. I want to know why you do what you do, what makes you work at the weird and struggle with the strange so that you can stay in the Northwest. In the next few issues we’ll feature the cool and the bizarre workers that makes this region tick.

Contact me at with “Weird Work” in the subject line. Or drop me a note c/o Northword Magazine, Box 817, Smithers, BC, V0J 2N0.