Logging genes: Q&A with TLA past president Jacqui Beban
By Maria Church
Jacqui Beban is a fourth-generation logger on both sides of her family. She grew up with stories of logging around the dinner table. She is now a shareholder and vice-president at Nootka Sound Timber on Vancouver Island and a well-known advocate in the coastal logging community. She is the immediate past president of the Truck Loggers Association (TLA), and is set to become president of the Pacific Logging Congress (PLC) in 2022-23.
CFI: Logging is your family business, but did you always know you wanted to be in the logging industry?
I grew up in Nanaimo. I’m fourth generation on both sides – my mom and dad’s families. I never knew anything different. Dinner at my grandparents’ house was always talking about the forest industry and logging. My parents owned Frank Beban Logging and had logging operations all over the coast.
My mom was going back through some of her stuff and she found a picture that I drew in Grade 1. The teacher printed: When I grow up I want to be. And I put underneath: A logger. And I had this horrible drawing of somebody with an axe and a tree. We had a good chuckle about that.
My first job for our company was cleaning crummies when I was 11 years old and working in the cookhouse. Crummies are what we call the pickup trucks that we use to travel back and forth to the bush.
My dad passed away in 1987 when I was 12. There was a lot going on in our business and in the industry – it was a very difficult time. And it was difficult for a lot of people because my dad employed a lot of people, a couple hundred, and was admired by a lot of people in the industry and the community. There was a minority shareholder who took over the operations and my mom put a management team in place to run it.
After high school I started working in the office of another family member’s logging company. I left there and did some travel and volunteer work, and then I started with my mom’s company. I worked in the shop as a parts girl – ordering parts, cleaning the shop, cleaning the bathrooms, running around picking up parts and making runs to camp. I was learning all the different ins and outs of the operations and the office.
In 2011, Frank Beban Logging started a new company with a partner and that’s Nootka Sound Timber.
CFI: What do you enjoy about the job and the industry?
I’ve run just about every piece of equipment – but I use the word run very, very lightly! I’ve jumped on and experienced every piece of equipment that we own, but I’m not productive by any means. We have an amazing crew and the opportunity to go learn from them and hang out with them for the day is something that’s always been appealing to me.
I like the people and I think, really, that’s what it comes down to. This industry attracts good, hardworking, fun, caring people. We have this image of a logger being this tough, burley guy, but some of the best people I’ve ever met are some of my crew.
We just had that big rally in Victoria to promote the forest industry and that’s what came out of it: how respectable and proud the people are. It’s just a really good group of people that work in the bush.
I like that the industry is multi-generational. Myself being fourth-generation. And my husband, Justin Durning, is also in the industry. He’s a falling contractor and he’s fourth generation as well.
CFI: Were there particular people who encouraged, supported or mentored you?
Definitely my mom, Dolores, was a huge support throughout. She’s been my biggest help along the way and allowed me the freedom and gave me the opportunity to learn the business. When my dad first passed away, I was only 12, so she wasn’t looking at me thinking I was going to be the one to step in, but as I progressed she wasn’t really surprised.
I had a great mentor in the parts shop when I started who worked with me and taught me a lot – he’s an amazing person, Tom Corsie. We rebuilt an engine together once. One of the things that stand out for me was that, when I started I didn’t know the difference between a wrench and socket, but when he asked for them I’d have to stop and think about it. He said, “Jacqui, I’m going to tell you how to remember the difference. The wrench is what you hit your boyfriend with when he’s in close range, and the socket is what you throw across the room at him!” I thought, wow! But it stuck with me for over 20 years!
We have really long-term employees, our camp manager, Greg Kennedy, has been with us for about 37 years now. He’s the person I would go hang out with when I would go to camp. I would drive around with him and try to move some pieces of equipment and play on them. He would take me to the different operations and through the different procedures and techniques, and dealing with the crew. Greg was very patient with me and he definitely had a huge impact on my ability to learn and feel like it didn’t matter who I was – he was just there to help me.
CFI: Do you find there are particular challenges or hurdles for women in the industry?
I get asked this a lot. I was always around loggers growing up, so I never really felt like an outsider to them. I didn’t feel like I was one of the guys, but I didn’t feel like an outsider either.
When I went on the TLA board in 2006, there had been two other women on the board before that, and I became the first female president. As cool as that was – and I was super honoured and excited to be the first female president – I actually think it meant more to everybody else than it did to me. I just hoped I was the right person to do it.
I do know there were some people who really struggled with it, that were outside of the board, and maybe they weren’t ready for it. But the people at the TLA never made me feel like I was a woman and couldn’t do something because of that.
I don’t feel that I experienced a lot of challenges that were related to me being a woman. I mean, our industry is challenging and it can be really tough, but I never thought my challenges were because I am a woman. I do understand and appreciate that there is that out there. It’s not that I was sheltered from it, I just never thought that the issues I was dealing with was because I am a woman.
CFI: Any recommendations for how companies can address challenges for female loggers?
Companies will have to address it. We’ve got a huge shortage of workers in our industry and in any resource sector. I think companies are going to have to look at their cultures.
Having the ability to tap into women as a resource for employment is going to be huge moving forward.
It’s going to become more important than ever for the businesses to adjust and be flexible and perhaps change their culture to allow for women to feel comfortable entering these types of industries.
It’s going to be out of necessity. If they want to survive they are going to have to adapt to having women in the workplace.
There are challenges with being in a remote location with things like bathrooms or dry rooms. There are some logistics to be figured out so it’s a little more accommodating.
CFI: What advice do you have for women interested in a career in logging?
There has definitely been more women entering the industry. I’d say more on the professional side, so engineering and the foresters, but we are starting to see more equipment operators and truck drivers. They’re great people and hard workers – that’s one of the things it comes down to.
My advice is to surround yourself with people who want to work with you, uplift you and encourage you. There are a lot of people in our industry that are a great resource and if they feel you are serious about something, they will go out of their way to help you.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
This post is part of CFI, Pulp & Paper Canada and Canadian Biomass’ Women in Forestry project celebrating International Women’s Day on March 8. Find more content here and follow on social media with the hashtag #WomeninForestry, as well as #IWD2020 and #EachforEqual.