This is a story about an 88-year-old man’s passion for construction—a passion that hasn’t waned since he started working the tools in the 1930s.
Charlie’s weekly visits caught the attention of PCL
Regina’s Health, Safety and Environment
supervisor Patrick Rideout.
Charlie Wickenheiser’s passion for construction has
lasted long into his retirement from the industry.
Charlie was presented with a white
supervisor’s hard hat and a title to go
with it: PCL’s Sidewalk Superintendent.
Charlie Wickenheiser became a laborer on the Canadian prairie in Regina, Saskatchewan, during the Great Depression. They were difficult years, so he set his sights on becoming a carpenter for added “job security” because it meant he wouldn’t get laid off in the winter.
“I enjoyed being a carpenter,” Charlie, now 88 years old, said. “It made a good living for me and my family.”
In 1964 he decided to go into business for himself, specializing in the construction of small apartments and warehouses. His projects generally ran six to eight months, requiring crews of 20 or more.
It wasn’t easy work. Son Claude says the trades would draw straws to see who would deliver the lumber to their father’s projects because they had no such equipment as a crane or a lift in those days. “The guys had to hand-bomb the lumber up to us on the second story. Floor trusses were the hardest.”
“When you work for yourself, you work twice as hard and it doesn’t seem hard at all,” Claude said. “If you enjoy what you do, it’s twice as easy.”
Charlie hasn’t worked the tools since 2000, but he’s proud of the fact that sons Claude and Kurt have followed in his footsteps as developers. Despite Charlie’s “retirement,” Kurt said it hasn’t stopped their father from dropping in on their construction projects over the years to tell them what to do.
Old habits die hard
For Charlie, there is truth in the saying that some old habits die hard. Last summer he started visiting the City of Regina’s new Mosaic Stadium project site, watching quietly from the fence line as PCL poured the piles and footings, and then erected the steel. For this long-time builder, seeing the steel go up was the best part because he liked watching all the cranes swinging in the sky.
Charlie’s weekly visits caught the attention of PCL Regina’s Health, Safety and Environment supervisor Patrick Rideout. Patrick says the stadium’s construction team couldn’t let Charlie’s loyalty go unrewarded, so he presented him with a white supervisor’s hard hat and a title to go with it. Charlie is PCL’s Sidewalk Superintendent.
When asked how that made him feel, Charlie said simply, “Proud.”
The voice of experience
When asked, “What does it take to be a good builder?”, Charlie answered simply, “You have to want to be good.”
With a wisdom that expresses a greater truth, in the style of baseball legend Yogi Berra, Charlie also pointed out the value of good trades. “They have to know how to read a plan, and know that the lumber they need to do a job has to be on the job.”
With all his years of building expertise, what advice would Charlie give to PCL today on the new Mosaic Stadium?
“Add one more nail to make it sturdy.”
Spoken like a true builder, Charlie. We’ve passed on the message!