June 1, 2023

Featured Face – Octavia Holden; Rigger, Red Seal Carpenter, Gold Seal Superintendent

Octavia Holden started with AFDE in January of 2022, and is currently working as a Rigger at the Headworks.


When she’s not at work, Octavia spends her time outdoors.  She loves being in the mountains; kayaking, hiking, mountain biking – and she is also an avid rock-climber.  In order to pursue these recreational passions, she found herself living and playing in Canmore and Banff, Alberta.  And it was because of her love of the outdoors that she got her start in construction.


Octavia knew that she wasn’t suited to work in an indoor environment.  She started to pay attention to some of the residential construction in Banff and Canmore, and one day she decided to give it a shot.  She borrowed a friend’s toolbelt and visited framing job-sites until she got hired on.  She loved the physical aspect of the work, being outside, challenging herself to pick up new skills, having to work with her head on a swivel – and being a rock climber, functioning at heights was never an issue.  It wasn’t long before she got herself registered as an Apprentice, and in 2011 successfully completed the program to become a Red Seal Carpenter.


In addition to enjoying the work, she found that the combination of a good wage and time off – either between jobs or on rotation – gave her the freedom and independence to do the things she loves to do outside of work.  She worked in the Oil Sands for 3 years, then found herself in other industrial settings and finally ended up working on Highrise construction in Calgary.


In addition to the skills she was applying on-the-job, she started supplementing her learning with additional courses.  Octavia is a certified NCSO (National Construction Safety Officer).  She also started taking on leadership roles, and soon became Site Superintendent on a number of projects.  The combination of skills learned through her apprenticeship, additional coursework, and her leadership experience resulted in her being recognized as a recipient of the Gold Seal designation by the Canadian Construction Association.


After six years, she found that the company she was working for turned towards subcontracting most of their work rather than self-performing it.  She missed the constant interaction with her crews, but still wanted to work on large concrete jobs.  There aren’t many jobs with more concrete than our GSS Project, so she decided to reset, pick up the tools again, and join AFDE.


After working on a Carpentry crew at the Headworks for about 6 months, Octavia took an opportunity to work as a Rigger.  She is very hands on, so she took it upon herself to work with the Operators, climbing up into their machines in order to gain a better understanding of how they functioned and what the Operators saw from their perspective in the seat – all to help her become more effective at her job.  She notes that most of the AFDE crane operators have many years of experience, and truly values the knowledge they have willingly passed on to her.  And she has nothing but praise for the rest of her rigging crew who have also been great mentors.

Octavia acknowledges that even though great strides have been made to improve the working environment for women in construction, there is still a long way to go.  But she has a unique perspective – she is well-travelled internationally, so she has experienced cultures where women have extremely limited opportunities in life.  This fuels her motivation to make the most of every opportunity that comes her way.


For anyone considering a career in construction, Octavia has two pieces of advice: “Just get out and try it!  You may not like what you originally thought you would, but especially on large projects, you’ll be exposed to other trades that might be a better fit.” and secondly, “View yourself and your employment as a contract – You are investing your skills and effort to the company’s benefit.  In return, you get paid….but the ‘contract’ is that they are also investing in you through upgrading skills and specialized courses that you ultimately pay forward to your next project or employment opportunity!”