My day with Damon BennettCanadian Contractor
A decade as a TV contractor has made Bennett a familiar face. John Bleasby spent a day with the big guy at one of his projects for the Canadian Forces.
It doesn’t take long for the inevitable to occur. It’s just after 7am. I’m sitting at breakfast with Damon Bennett and his wife Chana in a Trenton, Ontario diner, when our waitress returns to our table. She’s in her mid-to-late fifties, small town friendly, and maybe acting a little shy. “Are you Damon Bennett?” she asks.
When you’ve appeared on one of Canada’s most-watched TV renovation shows for over a decade, recognition comes with the territory. Yet Damon, likely the most genuinely friendly person you’ll ever meet, smiles and promises to return with a signed photo that can hang above the cash register with those of NHL hockey players who’ve stopped by for a home-style meal.
Your mission, Bleasby: Try to keep up with Damon!
Damon is in Trenton working on a project that comes straight from his heart; remodelling an under-utilized hall on nearby CFB Trenton’s 8 Wing base into a heritage-themed all-ranks pub, or ‘Social House’ as it’s more formally called. I’m in Trenton to shadow Damon, and to get a feel for what it’s like to work on a Damon Bennett job site.
The next 12 hours are a microcosm of a life pulled in many directions at once. Damon has an agenda that includes juggling site management, liaising with senior base personnel, and yes…doing some tools-in-hand work too, while filming it all for his upcoming on-line video series on the Trenton project.
OK, let’s get to work!
We’re on the job site by 8 am, and Damon needs to speak to Mark Murray from Elite Homes of Burlington, his work force partner on the renovation, setting up schedules and supply orders for the next few days. Today faux brick is being installed on a large feature wall. Damon pitches in for a while, placing some bricks and trimming some excess scratch coat.
But then his cell phone rings, and by 9:30 am, Damon is engrossed in conversations dealing with work back in Toronto. After all, he was never just an actor posing in front of the camera. He’s always been the real deal; a contractor with on-going business.
The Trenton all-ranks pub is a visionary project conceived by 8 Wing Commander Colonel Colin Keiver. When he learned of Damon’s interest in military history and passion for the plight of Forces veterans seeking careers after their service, Keiver asked Damon if he was interested in helping with the renovation. Damon hesitated about 0.5 seconds before heading up what has now been a 12 month commitment of his own time and resources.
Around 11 am, Chief Warrant Officer Darcy Elder (right hand man to the Wing Commander) drops by for a peek at the progress and an update from Damon. All the while Brian Warchol, Damon’s longtime camera man and story editor from his TV days, is shooting video almost constantly.
Re-fuel and re-load!
We break for lunch in the mess at 12 noon. Meals are straight forward and nourishing. But we have only 20 minutes before we’re expected at Air Traffic Control. You see, the whole base is excited about Damon and his project; after all, it’s for them! So in turn, they want Damon to see what they do in their roles as Canada’s first defense.
At 1 pm, we’re in a black Forces passenger pick up, driving over to the big ATC tower next to the main runway so Damon can have a hands-on crack at controlling incoming and outgoing aircraft. As we cross over the big runway, Damon gets a kid’s gleam in his eye:
“Can we drive this vehicle down the runway, just to see how it feels?”
Of course, anything for Damon, so the radio call goes out from our driver….
“Ground, Ops 5, requesting special clearance for Runway 2-4.”
“Permission granted. Call when complete.”
So we ‘taxi’ to the far end, put the pedal to the metal, and race the full 10,000 feet, hitting 160 km with Damon hooting all the way.
Just one more picture , please!
Every Forces team wants time with Damon. ATC has set up some protocols for him to try; the radio techs have an interference problem (a real one) they want Damon to help fix; and IFR Control, the guys in the windowless room watching hundreds of aircraft on radar screens, have a simulation prepared. And that’s not all: The animal control contractor wants Damon to handle the falcons and hawks that keep runways clear.
Damon is having a blast, greeting everyone with his trademark “Hey! How are you, Buddy!”, while the Forces personnel are getting a kick from having him witness and experience the highly trained work they do.
Now it’s after 5 pm. We’re seriously overtime, and we’ve missed our invite to the 4:30 social with Wing Commander Keiver. Damon’s feeling a bit guilty about that. He calls the Commander to apologize, but gets voicemail.
“Sorry we couldn’t make it over, Colonel, but we’ve had a great day. I’ll catch up with you later, Buddy!”
Suddenly, Damon’s face drops into panic as he disconnects.
“Oh no! I just called Colonel Keiver ‘Buddy!’
No one will mind. In fact, the Colonel will probably get a chuckle out of it. After all, they’re all pleased as punch that Damon cares enough to be there.
The September/October issue of Canadian Contractor will carry my full profile of Damon Bennett, as our front cover feature.
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