As a young girl, Renee Roy would visit her dad on construction sites and watch in wonderment as he went about his job operating heavy equipment. She knew back then that one day she’d follow in his footsteps.
Today, at 43, after working for years as a civil engineer and foreperson, she’s finally living that dream. A few years back, she opted to pursue her passion, took the necessary training and became a heavy equipment operator.
“I just love the work and being outside, that’s what it’s all about for me,” she says. “I just like being in an environment where I’m digging in dirt and constructing things. I always like creating something new.”
She’s worked on just about every type of job involving heavy equipment, from pushing dirt on building sites in downtown Toronto to building pipelines.
“I don’t want to live in dirt, but I like digging in dirt,” she says. “I just like a big sandbox to me.”
In many ways, Roy was destined for the trade. While her dad, the late Emilien Roy, was an operator, two of her uncles also ran heavy equipment.
“It was always like a family thing and I always liked construction, just building things. I’d always rather be hands on. I was always fascinated by machinery and always wanted to run them.”
She didn’t get into the trade, though. Her mother was against it because she was a woman, says Roy
Roy did work on small construction projects as a teenager in New Brunswick. While working at a campground, she built trails around the park. She used a farm tractor to do the work.
She went on to college and took civil engineering technology, the next best thing to actually running equipment, and remained in that vocation for 10 years. Although it was an office job, she’d still go out on construction sites.
For a while, Roy worked on designing projects. She managed the build of a flea market. Later, she went to work as a foreperson at a diamond mine in Sudbury before moving to the U.S. for a few years.
Roy later separated from her husband and returned to Canada. All she had was a duffle bag.
She went to her uncle’s house and slept on his couch for a while. She concluded it was time to do something for herself.
Eventually she enrolled in a heavy equipment training program and began her second career — the one she’d wanted to pursue all along.
Roy was the only female in a class of 60.
“When I saw that I had an opportunity to get into that field, I felt more at home, more at ease in that job. It was more of my calling than being a technician.
“I went right to the pipeline with Clarkson Construction in Hamilton and I was there for a couple of weeks before I got a phone call to work in Toronto,” she recalls. “I was oiling on the pipeline and I did a little bit of operating because I was an apprentice when I was there.”
She also worked as a rock truck driver with York Excavating in Hamilton, hauling material in rock trucks for building a new subdivision.
Roy has also worked with Crosslinx Transit Solutions on the Eglinton Crosstown light rail transit project, and with PCL. She’s worked on foundations for high-rise buildings and a parking garage at Markham Mall.
Recently, she was working as a hoist operator on residential and commercial high-rise buildings. The last four and a half years have been spent working in and around Toronto.
Roy has now learned how to operate many types of heavy equipment. She prefers working on dozers and excavators.
Working in a male-dominated field isn’t easy, she notes, and there are still issues on worksites.
“Over the years, I’ve just kept telling myself I’m stronger than that and I’m not going to let them direct my life. You’ve got to keep strong, believe in what you want and keep going for it. You can’t give up. Anything worthwhile having is tough to get.”
Roy says she’d like to work underground in a mine or tunneling job on her next venture.
“I’d like to get into the mining field, to be honest, or back to the pipeline. I want to get back into digging.”
Although she’s worked on many jobs, Roy says she still has a lot to learn and wants to get more seat time on heavy equipment.
“I don’t want to get into a spot where it’s overwhelming and I don’t know what to do. I just want to get more into it like digging and excavating.”
Away from work, Roy enjoys spending time with her two grandchildren. She has a six-year-old granddaughter who’d originally expressed interest in being an operator but now wants to be an astronaut.
She still has hopes that her three-year-old grandson, though, might follow in her footsteps.
“My grandson has a little excavator at home for the yard and he just loves it. I keep telling my son, ‘Maybe you’ll lose your mechanic and he’ll be an operator.’ ”