Squamish's Célina Poirier is one of those people who epitomizes why stereotypes should not be trusted.
The slight, French-Canadian mother of five is not who most would envision if asked to conjure up a snowplow driver. But that is what she is — and she loves it.
She works for Miller Capilano Maintenance Corp., which maintains the Sea to Sky Highway from West Vancouver to Whistler. The Chief caught up with Poirier to find out what drives her and why she loves to be on the road.
What follows is an edited version of that conversation.
Q: When did you move to Squamish and why?
A: We moved to Squamish in October 2017. I wanted to move to B.C. for a long time, and in 2017 my husband found a job here, so we decided to make the move. We never regret it.
Q: How often do you currently drive the snowplow?
A: Forty hours a week. My schedule is: Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 4 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
But I am also on call if there is a storm or someone cannot come in. For example, on Dec. 26, I was called to come in.
Q: Tell me the details of the truck you drive, like what brand and how big?
A: I usually drive an International 7600. It is a highway gravel truck fitted with a snowplow in front, a wing on the side and a salter/sander in the back.
Q: Before you drove the plow, you drove semi-trucks commercially, correct? Where and when?
A: I started driving a truck in 2003 after I went to driving school in Quebec. I drove for Challenger Motor Freight as a company driver from 2003 to 2007, then I bought my own truck and I stayed with Challenger as a broker until 2012. That means that I had my own truck and was pulling the company’s trailer.
I drove across all of Canada, from coast-to-coast, and all of the U.S. also from coast-to-coast. The only place I did not drive was Alaska. I even brought a load of water to Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. I did all of this alone.
Q: What interested you in driving large vehicles in the first place? Did you want to do this when you were a little girl?
A: As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to drive trucks; I was never interested in Barbies like my cousins. I wanted to play with Tonka trucks. Even as a teenager, the posters in my bedroom weren’t of singers or actors, they were of trucks.
Q: Tell me how you feel when you drive the snowplow?
A: I feel useful and I always feel good behind the wheel of a truck. For me, driving a truck is easy. I always feel comfortable; driving a truck always makes me happy!
Q: Tell me more about what you like about it?
A: I have the 'power' in my hands. We sit up high and can see stuff that other smaller vehicles can’t see. I am very proud to be a truck driver.
Q: It is a male-dominated career, are people surprised that it is a woman driving? Why do you think more women should pursue these kinds of jobs?
A: Yes, people are surprised. It is funny to see their faces when I tell them what I do for a living — especially when I wear a dress. Then, they thank me.
I think that a person should do what they like, “traditional” or not. When you do what you want and like it is so much easier, and it does not feel like work.
Q: You must see a lot driving a snowplow on the Sea to Sky Highway. Tell me two things that people might be surprised to know that you see while driving?
A: We can see a lot of beautiful scenery, but what surprises me the most is how people are impatient, they want to pass us as soon as possible, putting themselves and others in danger. They can even put me in danger. I am there for them: so that they can arrive safely. I find their impatience a bit hurtful.
The other day, a vehicle passed me and ended up in the ditch not too far ahead of me because it was icy.
A lot of people pass us on the right, which is prohibited and very dangerous. Some even go over the double line to pass us — in all kinds of weather conditions.
Q: What will you do once winter is over and a plow isn't needed?
A: In the summer, I still work for the same company. I drive a tractor-trailer that hauls the material to do micro paving.
So, in my trailer, there is gravel, oil, and water, all in separate containers. We transfer that to the paver, which does the asphalt.
Q: Is there anything I didn't ask that you want to say?
A: Working on the roads all the time, we see a lot of people who think we are in their way. We are only there to help, so when you see road workers, please slow down, we have families too who are waiting for us at home. Just slow down, it won't hurt you and you might save a life.