Although she’s never had to leave her home and family behind to find work, Bonnie MacDonald knows what it’s like and she’s certain it’s not the life she wants.
“My father’s been working out west for as long as I can remember. With seven kids in the family, he really had no choice,” she says. “It’s extremely stressful on my Mother – as you can imagine – and difficult for all of us.”
“I want to build a life in Nova Scotia and know that I’ll be home for more than a couple of days at a time.”
Bonnie decided the province’s growing marine sector offered her the best chance of realizing this dream. She enrolled in NSCC’s Marine Engineering Technology program at the College’s Nautical Institute, located at the Strait Area Campus in Port Hawkesbury. She knew it would mean spending every other month at sea, but it would also mean the chance to launch a career and make her home in Nova Scotia where she could one day raise her own family.
There was just one hurdle: Bonnie had no experience working on boats or with engines. “It was definitely intimidating,” she recalls. “I felt like I was the worst at everything. During the first month, I wanted to quit.”
It was her instructor, Chief Marine Engineer Clint Muise, who changed her mind.
“A lot of students feel that way when they first come here, but for Bonnie she was facing challenges on all sides. She was shy – you have to be outgoing in this field – and she was entering an exceptionally male-oriented career,” he says. “But I always tell students ‘give it time, wait until you go out to work.’”
“I’m so glad I stuck with it,” says Bonnie, who spent eight weeks of her summer at sea with 20 men. She worked alongside the ship’s team of engineers, earning the respect of her shipmates, some of whom weren’t quite sure what to make of having a woman on board.
“I knew that being a female you have to not only do the work, you have to show everyone that you’re more than capable and that you want to be there, so that’s what I did. I stuck up for myself and I loved the job.” Bonnie adds that it was her dream of building a life in Nova Scotia that helped her persevere.
Her hard work and positive attitude paid off, explains the ship’s Second-Class Marine Engineer, Dana Hansen. “She always gave 110 per cent…putting in long hours right alongside the other crew members. I’m sure there’s nothing Bonnie can’t accomplish.”
After graduation, Bonnie plans to work her way up to become Chief Mechanical Engineer and buy a house in Cape Breton. In the more immediate future, she’s looking forward to the spring when her Dad returns home from working in Saskatchewan.
“The first grandchild in my family was born in August and my father’s been away for most of the five months since, so we’ll be spending as much family time together as possible.”