Heavy equipment operator discovered passion through OPG’s hydro projects
When Kyle Matthews first saw a heavy equipment apprenticeship opportunity on a large hydro project in northern Ontario, it was his step-dad who encouraged him to apply.
“He told me to give it a shot,” Matthews explained, speaking about his first experience working on an OPG project, the Lower Mattagami River Project (LMRP), which took place north of Kapuskasing, Ont., from 2010 to 2015. The project, a partnership with Moose Cree First Nation, saw a total of 438 megawatts of clean power added to OPG’s hydro complex on the Lower Mattagami River.
Matthews, who is a member of Taykwa Tagamou Nation, decided to take his step-father’s advice, but had no idea this would be the first step to discovering his passion in the construction industry. Since the LMRP wrapped up, he has gone on to work on OPG’s Peter Sutherland Sr. Generating Station project, a new build on the Abitibi River, as well as working and living in Toronto, Nunavut, and places in between. He is now a licensed heavy equipment and mobile crane operator.
“Big construction is very interesting,” he said. “It turns out that I seem to have a knack for it. It’s a lot of fun, you get to work with very interesting people, and there’s a huge variety in the work.
“I never would have known I had this passion if I hadn’t been given that first apprenticeship opportunity.”
Lately, Matthews has been working closer to his home community of Cochrane, where he lives with his spouse and step-son, as he has been hired once again to work on an OPG project, the Little Long Dam Safety Project on the Lower Mattagami River. The project will see improvements to water control structures at the Adam Creek spillway, and other nearby dams.
Working with construction engineering company, Kiewit, Matthews is back to doing what he loves, operating a wide variety of heavy equipment, including a crane, front-end loaders, backhoes, and forklifts.
“Working with OPG and Kiewit, there is always a high level of professionalism,” he said of his experiences. “The safety culture is huge. It’s something that’s very important to the organizations, and it’s really important to me as well when I work on a project.
“Quality of work is another big one for me,” he added. “It’s great to work on a project where everyone shares the same values.”
Of his experience on the Little Long Dam Safety Project, he admits that camp life can be challenging, having to be away from family and friends, but it’s also extremely rewarding. With the amount of experience he now has, Matthews says being recognized for his work is very satisfying.
“It feels great to be the ‘go-to’ guy, to be able to safely operate the equipment and be recognized for the work you do, it’s awesome.”
Matthews also provided some insight for those who may be looking to get started in the industry or may be looking at upcoming opportunities.
“It’s definitely hard at first,” he said. “I had never done a camp job before and it was challenging, but it’s not impossible. Especially today, with technology, it’s easier to communicate with family.”
He added that taking a chance on something unknown unlocked a future he didn’t even know existed.
“I had hidden talents I had no idea I had. I found my passion. The more uncomfortable something is, the more you grow from it.
“That’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned from all of this.”
Construction on the Little Long Dam Safety Project began in March 2020, with all gates expected to be in service by September 2023, and demobilization taking place in August 2024.
Click here for more information on the project.