Editor’s Note: This week we’re running our favourite people features of 2021, a reminder that even in difficult years good things happen. This one first appeared March 25.
Katie Courchesne says her summers spent on the St. Clair River helped set a course for her dream job.
“My family has a cottage on Stag Island and I drove the ferry there for three summers,” said the Corunna native and LCCVI grad. “I just loved being on the water.”
That opened the door to a career in the Canadian Coast Guard; she joined at 18 and immediately fell in love.
“It’s a very dynamic job. You never know what the day is going to bring,” said Courchesne, who over the past decade has worked her way up the ranks aboard the CCGS Samuel Risley. The icebreaker and Great Lakes buoy tender is a familiar sight in and around Sarnia.
“You get these wonderful opportunities, like going to the Arctic, or ice-breaking the St. Clair River,” she said.
This month, Courchesne is making history as the first female Bosun in the Great Lakes fleet.
It’s a one-month ‘acting’ gig as deck boss, Courchesne explained, but the significance of a woman doing the job isn’t lost on her.
“It’s such a male-dominated industry,” she explained. “When I started back in 2011 the ratio of men to women was 20:2.
“It’s a lot better now. It’s really nice to see more girls getting on deck on the big ships.”
In her role as Bosun, or ‘Boatswain,’ Courchesne will oversee all deck operations, including buoy tending, the loading and unloading of cargo, deckhand supervision, and safety.
She boarded the Risley in Sarnia last week, headed for icebreaking operations in Midland, Ont.
During the winter months the Risley — which can move through ice up to two feet thick — keeps the water open from Port Colborne to Thunder Bay.
And during the navigation months (late March to late December), the Parry Sound-based vessel places and removes buoys, services radio and radar beacons, and resupplies and maintains light stations.
In 2018, Courchesne was among 25 officers and crew aboard for the ship’s maiden Arctic voyage, joining an annual summer resupply mission to Thule Air Force Base in Pituffik, Greenland.
“Everything is amazing about this job,” Courchesne said, adding she hopes more young women will consider a career in the Coast Guard.
“Navigating a male dominated field can be challenging but there’s lots of inspiring women I get to work with.
“I want to see more girls here — to find their passion and watch them fly.”