“Jobs of the Future” is a series focusing on career paths, local job opportunities, programs, and tales of success that highlight North Bay's diverse job market.
2021 was a record year for building in North Bay. Year to date construction values came in over $105 million as reported in November of last year. Those figures bode well for someone whose job it is to design buildings. President of Bertrand Wheeler Architecture Inc. Marcus Wheeler says it’s a good time to start your career.
“For people who are local there is a new school of architecture in Sudbury that’s about six years old and it’s bilingual with an emphasis on indigenous studies as well,” says Wheeler.
“We’ve gotten two hires from that school and we always have co-op students from there. I think that’s a good opportunity for anyone that wants to get into this field. And it’s great for us because we could certainly hire more people if we could find experienced staff. Finding qualified staff is a tough thing and this school really helps us in those searches.”
Wheeler says there are many ways to get interested in architecture, as there are a lot of skills that the job combines.
“You have to have an eye for design, and an interest in the building environment. A lot of people are interesting in engineering, but architecture gives you a little more freedom and creativity,” says Wheeler.
Wheeler says you have to be crafty and you have to be a bit of an artist as well as have math skills and a basic understanding of structures and physics.
“If someone in high school was looking to get into this then I would suggest you stick with your math but also make sure you have a creative outlet as well.”
He adds, “No, we don’t do bridges and fun stuff like that, but we do most of the building that people live and work in which I think is just as important.”
There are many remarkable buildings within North Bay that Wheeler and his company have designed.
“Some of the local projects that I’m most proud of are HANDS the Family Help Network, Bethel Chapel, and Community Living North Bay. Community Living was a redevelopment behind the Seymour industrial park. That was interesting in the fact that we took an industrial building and made it into an office complex. I really liked doing that project. Reinventing buildings is kind of my niche,” he says.
They also helped design and manage the Harris Learning Library at Nipissing University with Diamond Schmitt Architects and were primarily responsible for the North Bay Regional Health Centre.
“Our office, and Brian Bertrand, in particular, worked extremely hard on that one as it was a huge undertaking to get that project done,” says Wheeler.
The efforts earned Bertrand the recognition of being named a Fellow of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada in 2019.
Originally born and raised in Newfoundland, Wheeler says his family did a lot of building, but he didn’t know that building design was an industry you could work in as a career.
“I did grow up around a family that was always building things and I was a part of the crew that helped put those things together. I did have an interest in drawing and design and I went to university as a physics and math major,” says Wheeler.
“When I looked into pursuing a profession, engineering was the natural progression but something about it just turned me off. So, I went to a career consulting firm and they asked me, ‘have you ever considered architecture?’ And they suggested that I try the school in Halifax.”
Wheeler would graduate from the University of Nova Scotia and coincidentally he says, “my business partner, who is originally from Sturgeon Falls, also went to school there in the 1980s and so as far as I know, we’re the only two graduates of that school in North Bay.”
Upon graduation, Wheeler headed west to Ontario and found some work in the Greater Toronto Area.
“I was always employed, but never steadily employed. I stayed there for three years and started a young family. But it got to a point where I started to feel like I was in traffic more time than I was spending with my kids and being from that small town in Newfoundland, it just wasn’t what I wanted to be doing,” he says.
Wheeler says he had a contact who attracted him to the North Bay area and after three years, the firm of Critchley, Delean, Trussler, Evans, Bertrand brought Wheeler aboard.
“Brian invited me to become a partner in the firm which had been around since 1956. The firm eventually closed and Brian and I have redeveloped our firm as Bertrand and Wheeler. My first day was actually the day after their 50th anniversary party,” says Wheeler.
Their firm helps design and build buildings and he says it’s a pretty standard process in how it happens.
“A client will come to us and say they need a renovation or they need to look at space for a new build. We then try to get them to hire us based on the work we can do for them while coming up with a solution to their problem,” says Wheeler.
“We then bring on a design team with engineers and contractors and get that job done for them. Throughout the process, you do everything to make sure it's all adhering to municipal by-laws and Ontario building codes and any other authorities that might come up.”
Wheeler adds, “Sometimes the client will come to us with a loose idea, but a lot of the time they just come to us with an open-ended question and we have to dig a little deeper and figure out what they need and want and figure out a way to make it work in their budget.”
Wheeler says one of the things he enjoys most about being in this industry in northern Ontario is the diversity in the designs and builds.
“Our line of work in northern Ontario is usually more general than it would be in a bigger centre. We get a lot of different clientele and building types and so rarely does anything get repeated. Some ideas and styles may get re-used, but it’s very rare that two buildings that we do will look the exact same.”
Wheeler says having an impact on the cultural and aesthetic identities of the city you live in, is truly one of the rewards of working in this industry.
“It's nice to be so well involved in our city. To be able to drive around and walk around town and see your work as part of the makeup of your city,” he says.
Bertrand and Wheeler currently have a staff of nine people including architects, interior designers, technologists, and clerical staff. Wheeler says being able to provide jobs in the community is something he is very proud of.
“It’s important for me to be a good employer and a good citizen. I’m in Rotary and Brian has been involved with the Kiwanis Club and it’s one of the things I just love about North Bay is that it’s a small town, but it's not too small. You get to know the people really well and you have a chance to make an impact and influence things and you don’t get lost in the shuffle.
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