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Nunavut Mining: From pickups to bulldozers and haul trucks, Ola Arnaquq has learned to operate massive vehicles

Sometimes at 5:30 a.m. sometimes at 5:30 p.m., Ola Arnaquq climbs up into giant bulldozers to begin her 12-hour shift at the Mary River iron mine, 160 km south of Pond Inlet.

Iqaluit’s Ola Arnaquq stands next to one of the enormous bulldozers that she operates at Baffinland’s Mary River iron mine. Extensive checklists are required to be completed before and after using the vehicles, she says.
photo courtesy of Ola Arnaquq

She’s also capable of operating massive rock trucks and haul trucks.

“I was in awe of (these vehicles) and knew as soon as I saw one on site that I’d love to learn to run them,” says Arnaquq, who has been working at the mine for six years. “(It’s) different getting into the seat of one for sure, a bit tense to start but it got easier. Seat time is what helps confidence with operating equipment. Remembering how that feels definitely helps coaching newcomers.”

Click here for other stories on Nunavummiut involved in the mining industry: Nunavut Mining 2020.

Prior to starting work with Baffinland Iron Mines, the largest vehicle Arnaquq had ever driven was a pickup truck.

Beyond size, the biggest difference between driving a pickup and operating a bulldozer or a haul truck is the elaborate safety precautions for the latter, she says.

“We ensure that we take responsibility in our safety by going through an extensive and thorough pre- and post-operational checklist to ensure that equipment is running smoothly and safely. Mine traffic patterns and mine safety is key,” says Arnaquq. “There are lots of brake systems for safety. A dozer is completely different altogether – it runs on tracks and has a joystick or paddle controls.”

Baffinland has also employed Arnaquq in human resources and administrative capacities. While her family and friends encouraged her to find her way in the industry, there was some apprehension among them over her taking on rotational work at a remote location, she admits.

“It took lots of adjusting in the beginning but once you’re used to it it’s hard to imagine going back to a 9-5, five days a week and only two days off,” Ola Arnaquq says of working in the mining industry.
Hark Nijjar Photography

She recalls arriving at the mine for the first time and spotting some familiar faces. Overall, she’s been treated well in the workplace, she says.

“It is very much a field dominated by men in numbers, but there are lots of women now. I’ve always felt very much protected by peers that I work with,” says Arnaquq. “My crew is awesome and are most definitely my work family, not just co-workers. We look out for each other.”

Arnaquq has sought opportunities to build upon her knowledge in the workplace. For example, she started volunteering with the emergency response team shortly after being hired.

“I now have my advanced medical first responders certificate… the training that’s provided for people that can volunteer here is a definite asset that we can take with us anywhere,” she says.

Baffinland ensures that employees feel at home, as much as possible. There’s a kitchen where they can bring in country food, which is a nice perk, Arnaquq says. There’s a cultural adviser on site who organizes sewing groups, qulliq-lighting and other traditional activities as well as providing counselling. Social events are held on a weekly basis “so that’s fun,” she says.

Her previous work experience included a number of office jobs for non-profit organizations and government. She also toiled at a flower shop and served as a cabin crew member for an airline, so she knew what it was like to be away from her home in Iqaluit. She’s travelling even farther these days as she resides in Kelowna, B.C. when she’s not at work.

However, mine life brings two weeks at site followed by two weeks off, which means additional sacrifice.

“My daughter lives with her father. It’s definitely hard at times but I know he’s a great dad and she’s safe. My significant other also works at a mine in B.C. so we are both very understanding of the nature of our careers,” Arnaquq says, adding that the two weeks away from work allows employees to enjoy a wealth of options. “It took lots of adjusting in the beginning but once you’re used to it it’s hard to imagine going back to a 9-5, five days a week and only two days off. Missing people is always tough, but there’s different ways of communication nowadays that it makes it easier. Providing necessities for life is (my) key focus and that’s what I need to keep me pushing through it.”