Canadian Contractor

John Bleasby   

UPDATE: Orillia high school students begin assembly of a log cabin

Canadian Contractor

Tracking the hands-on projects tackled by the next generation of skilled trades

The torrential rains that blasted Ontario for more than a week have finally subsided. The sunshine and milder temperatures have brought the heavy construction students at Patrick Fogarty Catholic Secondary School in Orillia, Ontario outdoors at last. The students have fenced off their work area behind the school and leveled the foundation. The safety signs are up, the hats and goggle are on, the generators are humming away, and shop teacher Brett Carron has the whole site under control. I’m back to see how the students are progressing on a real job site.

The objective are a series of tight corner joints and minimal caulking

Things are taking shape
Many of the heavy timber logs for the 12 x 16 cabins were shaped and notched during the rainy days of the previous week, but there’s many more to do. While the final shaping is taking place for those cut out indoors, the remaining ‘virgin’ logs have their corners cut on the site itself.  The goal, of course, is a tight fit to minimize any caulking required. It’s a matter of millimeters one way or the other. I also notice there’s more going on at this work site than just the log cabin. The students are also building a mortise and tenon 10 x 10 heavy timber gazebo for placement on their own school property.

It’s a very efficient work site
In total, I count seven teams working efficiently on both projects. I see now-familiar faces taking the lead at each team station. I ask Carron if there is any enforced rotation of duties. He explains that some students take time to get comfortable. “It might take three weeks, and then a student who has been watching more than working will suddenly kick-in,” he says. Carron manages this labour force by jumping from station to station answering questions, demonstrating techniques, offering opportunities to everyone, and encouraging the leading students to mentor and engage their classmates.

Shop teacher Brett Carron helps trim up a corner joint in the log cabin

Grade 12 student Matt tells me that the crazy weather of early May resulted in extra work for the students. “We had a couple of days when we could work outside,” Matt says. “But when the forecast was for rain, we had to bring logs inside the class workshop in order to work. Then when it cleared, we brought them outside again!”


I ask about the roof structure for the cabin destined for Fern Resort. Carron explains that because this new cabin will be linked to an existing building via a breezeway, it makes sense to leave the stick frame roof trussing to the team at Fern itself. In any case, assembling then disassembling a frame roof structure really doesn’t make much sense logistically. Nevertheless, the students are technically capable of building a roof frame and so will be building the heavy timber roof frame for the school’s gazebo.

Bridgette cuts one half of a mortice joint for the new school gazebo,

Time and resource management is the key to the success of Carron’s program
With the sun is shining, time is flying by for Carron. If he manages the schedule correctly the students will complete both projects before the end of class in June. The log cabin will be sent off to the client, Fern Resort, just east of Orillia, and the gazebo will find its home near the school playing field. “The days go by very fast,” says Carron. “On a day like this, the students would love to work all day long on these projects, but they in fact can only work for about 3 hours.” Carron has been through this before over the past several years — keeping the projects rolling so everyone has enough to do but without running out of time before year end.

Canadian Contractor will return to visit the projects in the next week or two, as each starts to take shape.


Read more about this heavy construction program…
High school majors tackle a log cabin
High school students take to the tools to renovate their school library

Want to see live action?
Go to John Bleasby’s Instagram page (below) and see some video of the work underway this week.

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