In a trades show, Shelsea Hill discovered a love of welding. Then he discovered that he could do it underwater.
I grew up in Six Nations of the Grand River, a First Nations reservation. He was quite a shy boy and always preferred to be outdoors. There was a big forest behind my childhood home, so I spent a lot of time walking there, touching the trees. I also loved swimming, whether it was in our backyard pool or in rivers and streams. In high school, I really had no idea what I wanted to do, but I ended up at Mohawk College in computer science. When I finished that program, I suddenly realized that I didn’t want to spend any more time sitting behind a desk.
That’s when I saw an ad in the newspaper for a six-month introductory trades program run by Grand River Employment and Training, an indigenous non-profit organization that has been in Ohsweken since 1992. It said you could try carpentry, welding, heavy machinery, things like that. I applied for the financing, I was approved and immediately loved it. They took us to all the different locals. [trade unions] in Ontario to test them. I didn’t like carpentry: too many splinters. But I thought soldering was cool. I mean, you can melt metal and work with fire.
Around that time, I learned that the Ogwehoweh Trades and Skills Training Center (OSTTC), which is very close to my home on the reservation, had a women in trades program that specifically focused on welding. Having the program so close to home was wonderful. It was amazing going to school in a place where everyone knows me. Looking back, I think it definitely helped me get on with the show. I felt like it was somebody. They all really wanted me to do the best that I could.
I especially bonded with my welding teacher, Richard Green. I remember struggling with vertical welding, but he was always very patient, he walked me through every step and reminded me that I can do it, it’s just practice. He felt like a father figure to me, something I never had. We stay in touch to this day.
After that show, I spent two years welding at a trailer company in Hamilton, which I liked, but then I saw a video of someone welding underwater on social media. I remember thinking: that’s great. I want to do that. I got my open water certification and had my first scuba experience. My strongest memory is how amazing it felt to breathe underwater. It felt like having a superpower.
I moved west to beautiful Vancouver Island to pursue my dream of welding underwater, and at this point, I’m almost there. I’ve been a commercial diver for about four years, mostly supporting fish farms, fixing nets, and making sure everything is good for the fish. I still love the magic of being underwater, surrounded by thousands of fish. I just found out that my company is looking into a welding project soon, and that it could be a part of that, which would be a dream. I have all the experience I need in diving and welding, so it would be perfect for me. For now, I am so happy that I was brave enough to pursue what I want. As he told Liza Agrba
This article appears in print on the Maclean’s 2022 Canadian Schools Guide with the title “Deepening to fulfill your dreams”.