We as a sector are proud of the deep rich history that comes from generations of hard-working forest workers. While we are so lucky to have years and years of generational forestry knowledge it is not as often that we hear about new young companies popping up in the sector. This interview is a reminder that forestry isn’t something that you have to be born into; you can find passion through your love of the outdoors and just really great mentors.
It is a beautiful sunny, Spring adjacent February day in St. Margaret’s Bay. I am meeting with a brother duo that look just a little different than the normal demographic of forestry contractors. Connor and Ian O’Brien are owners of Rumcache Forest Solutions Inc. along with a great technician and friend Devon Wilkins. These three forest workers decided in the midst of a global pandemic that it was time that they join together and start a business. As crazy as that seems, the three of them are dedicated, passionate, hard-working Nova Scotians who, with the help of a stellar crew, are still working hard today.
As I approach the young twenty something year old O’Brien brothers, who aren’t from a forestry family, I ask when they were growing up what they wanted to do.
“I wanted to be in the RCMP.” Connor, the eldest brother, answers. “My old man was an RCMP officer for 30 years and it was something I admired.”
“I wanted to be a Rally Car driver.” Ian, the younger of the two, says laughing. “Then I realized it’s probably too dangerous for the amount of money you would make and didn’t want to do that anymore.”
So, I, probably like you at this point, am wondering how these two career choices lead them to working in the woods.
“My dad told me I had to try something else before I went into the RCMP so I decided to apply to UNB.” Connor states. “I went to a college fair at school and the line up to the UNB booth was super long so I walked around and there was no one at the Maritime College of Forest Technicians booth so I went and talked to the guy there. He did a great job and changed my mind. So, I applied to MCFT, got in, and then was hooked.”
“Ah, dumb luck.” Ian says laughing. “I moved out West after school and I met this guy, Melvin Schlamp, who was nice enough to take me under his wing and put me in the seat of his machine. He showed me what the industry had to offer and then taught me how to be a good operator.”
As most of the people we have interviewed so far are at least a second generation forest worker, I ask if they have felt at a disadvantage without the support of generational knowledge to support them.
“No.” Connor says bluntly. “But only because I have great mentors. When I worked out West I had wonderful mentors in Chris Gilbert and Shane Baker and then when I moved here I always had, and still have, support from Craig Hartlen and Marcus Zwicker. Not to mention, the sector is full of great, well-educated, passionate people that you can lean on for answers or support.”
“I feel like in the East I am at a disadvantage because of my lack of access to generational knowledge and that could just be because I had such a strong support system of third generation loggers out West.” Ian adds.
Knowing Ian had once been an operator and is now the accountant at their company, I ask about the different hats of forestry.
“Oh, there is so many.” Ian says. “I mean I went from living in logging camps as an operator to being able to work at my kitchen table as an accountant. I basically worked at either ends of the spectrum but there are so many different jobs in between the two. Honestly, the opportunities in forestry are endless.”
Because of age, I ask if there had been any struggles trying to get into the industry, especially during a global pandemic.
“Money.” They say in unison.
“It’s harder to get money when you don’t have an extensive background in the sector to support you.” Ian states.
“That’s another reason that having such a supportive industry and sector is so important.” Connor adds.
As a group of three individuals who did start a successful business during a global pandemic, I ask what advice they would pass on to others in their position.
“Find good mentors.” Connor says without skipping a beat. “You’ll find within the sector that there are like-minded people and you need to seek them out and make connections. And get great business partners who communicate. I work with two of the best individuals on the East Coast and we talk daily. We are always able to bounce ideas off of each other and are open-minded to new ideas as the sector seems to always be changing.”
“Find a great, tight-knit crew.” Ian adds. “We probably have the best crew in the province. They work hard, they work well together, and they are eager to learn. They never say no to a new challenge. They also just love being outside. Most of them on the weekends are outside even after being in the woods all week.”
I ask my favorite question. What is your favorite part of your job?
“That’s hard.” Ian says. “I like a lot about my job but if I have to pick I would say the freedom.”
“I would say it’s the people we work with.” Connor answers. “We have a sector full of genuine people that share a strong passion for forestry.”
Lastly, I ask if there is anything that they wanted to say before I left.
“We need more young people in forestry.” Ian says very matter-of-factly. “The future of our sector needs young people to stabilize it.”
“Just that forestry isn’t a negative thing.” Connor adds. “Forestry is something that you can take pride in and be passionate about and people can see that as a result.”
I leave this interview feeling very hopeful for our sector as it is blindingly evident that there are young people who are passionate and driven for the future of our forests.
For more information about Rumcache Forest Solutions Inc. and their crew please follow this link!