2016 IW Winners

Tradeswoman of the Year - Red Lake

Heather Willis

Heather Willis

Heather Willis has a straightahead approach to building her career.

“Pretty much if I want something, I’ll find a way to get it.”

As the only woman underground miner at Goldcorp’s Campbell Mine in Red Lake, being labelled a role model isn’t something she spends too much thinking about.

“People tell me I am.” To her colleagues, over the last eight years at Goldcorp, she is more than capable of doing any job she puts her mind to.

“I truly believe Heather could advance to any job position she desires with operations,” said mine general foreman Kevan Bassingthwaite.

Born and raised in Winchester, outside Ottawa, she would often accompany her father, David Willis, an aggregate consultant, to do his pit and quarry inspections.

After graduating from Memorial University with a geology degree, she joined Goldcorp as an underground production geologist.

Four years later, she elected to leave the technical support group and go underground, enrolling in the company’s stope school.

The more tactile nature of the job appealed to her.

“It’s more hands-on stuff and I like the physical part of it. Even when I was a production geo, when I first started out underground, I thought, I’d like to do that but I’ll stick with geology until the time is right.”

Working at a Miner 6 level for the last three years, she’s signed off to work on fork lifts, scoops and trucks, and loves the diversity of work that each shift brings.

“Everything is different day to day. Last week, I was trucking one day, mucking a few other days and sometimes I get to do secondary blasting.”

Bassingthwaite notes that working as a production geologist in underground operations can be a physically and mentally challenging job. In narrow vein mining, there are active headings that need to be seen and sampled daily to make decisions on how mining will advance with the next evacuation.

Willis demonstrated to all that she was up to the task.

Her strong work ethic and ability to learn quickly inspired confidence in her supervisors to start training her on heavy equipment operations.

In being familiar with her surroundings and coworkers, Willis felt no need to outperform others because of her gender.

“I’ve been accepted pretty well. I’m not afraid to get in and do the work,” she said. “When I came to work with them, they knew what I could and couldn’t do. They’re more than happy to let me use the jackleg and set up the wedge and drill or whatever needs to be done.”

Her aspirations are to attain her Miner 5 qualifications where she can be trained in bolting and drilling, and then “work my way up as high as I can get, possibly Miner 3.”

For the moment, she doesn’t envision herself working at a supervisory level or being involved in project planning.

“I like doing the work. I’ve been in the office before.”

In small towns like Red Lake, it’s often difficult to find qualified people willing to volunteer their time to support community programs.

Besides being part of Goldcorp’s mine rescue team, Willis has immersed herself in her adopted community by volunteering with the town’s fire department where she trains for Fire Fit competitions. She is also the commanding officer of the local Sea Cadet corps and serves as its biathlon and marksmanship coach.

Willis coaches the Red Lake District Ski Club’s cross-country ski and biathlon teams and has developed athletes who have competed at a regional and national level, including the Canada Games.

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