CREE CARPENTRY INSTRUCTOR’S DREAM GUIDED BY KICHI MANITOU, THE GREAT SPIRIT
To an outsider, it would appear opportunities have presented themselves to Wilfred McPherson too often to be called coincidences.
And McPherson — a Red River College grad who’s returned as an instructor following a lengthy career in the trades — is more than happy to share the credit for his success.
“Some people call it being at the right place at the right time,” says McPherson, when asked about his career path’s natural and organic progression.
“It’s like an invisible hand that guides things along… [that of] Kichi Manitou, the Great Spirit.”
McPherson graduated from RRC’s Carpentry program in April 1986. He was the only Indigenous person in his class. He is a member of the York Factory First Nation, originally located on the north shores of the Hayes River, approximately six miles inland from the coast of Hudson Bay.
York Factory was established as a trading post in the 18th century, but when the trading post closed in 1957, McPherson’s father moved his large family to Churchill. His father held various jobs in the community and supplemented the family’s income and meals by hunting and fishing.
They spoke Cree in their home, and McPherson credits his father for giving him the tools to be successful.
“We never went hungry,” he says. “My dad was a very positive influence in my life. I saw him working hard for his family.”
McPherson carried on the impressive work ethic he observed in his dad. “Wherever I went, nobody [was] going to work harder than me. They might work just as hard, but no one will work harder. I followed that religiously. It’s never failed me.”
In the early 1980s, McPherson decided to leave Churchill and come to Winnipeg to attend college.
He had already been working in carpentry for a few years, but after his father’s death he found himself re-examining his life.
“I wanted to do something positive with my life that was going to benefit my family long-term,” he explains.
He had a wife and two young children at the time; it was with their support — and their futures in mind — that he made the decision to move to Winnipeg to receive technical training in carpentry and become Red Seal-certified.
After graduation, McPherson moved back to Churchill, where he was offered a well-paying job with a company that offered him opportunities to advance. But he knew he wanted more for his family — in particular, more opportunities for his children — so he moved to Alberta, then in 1995 to Winnipeg, where his carpentry career really took off.
In addition to his role as an instructor at RRC, McPherson’s other career highlights include developing the accredited Carpentry program at the Centre for Human Resource Development (CAHRD) in the late 1990s, and then building the ramp, deck and stairs in the Winnipeg Children’s Museum infrastructure gallery with his students in 1999.
Despite his reputation as a skilled mentor at RRC, he humbly credits his colleagues in the Carpentry department for his success.
“It’s a dream job — like winning the job lottery,” he says of his position.
“It’s a community in the trades. Carpentry has a proud tradition and history. I like to teach students to learn and respect that tradition and to carry it forward.”
“Trades is the best career decision I’ve ever made in my life.”
Profile by Julia Lafreniere (Creative Communications).