PICTOU – Paul Barton and Jimmy Nolan, both from Ireland, have been working on the roof of the Pictou County Justice Centre for the past few months.
But for these two, not even the luck of the Irish or the shamrock on Barton’s desk could spare them from one of the harshest winters in recent memory.
“Oh God, it was really difficult sometimes,” said Barton, the site foreman. “The wind was the worst. You’d set yourself up because it was blowing one way, then it would change direction.”
The men hail from Fethard-on-Sea, County Wexford, on the Hook Peninsula in the southeast corner of the island. They’re roughly 2,500 kilometres from home, and this winter it felt that far away.
Barton has been working in Nova Scotia since 2011 after going from job to job across Ireland. His last project on the island was a new terminal at Dublin Airport dubbed T2. By 2011, however, the Irish financial crisis was in full swing and work became scarce.
“I saw an ad in a newspaper from Flynn Canada looking for sheet metal workers and applied,” said Barton. “About six weeks later I had the job and was Nova Scotia bound.”
After a project along the South Shore, including a school in Lunenburg, hospital in Liverpool and high school in Bedford, Barton started work in Pictou at the justice centre October 2013. The throes of a Maritime winter weren’t far off.
“You can imagine working to replace a roof while snow and ice are falling around you. But we got ’er done, thank God.”
Flynn Canada is Canada's largest building envelope contractor with 3,000 employees in 19 offices from St. John's to Victoria.
According to Keith Courage, vice president Atlantic Region, Flynn employs over 100 foreign workers across the country.
“We make a couple of recruiting trips overseas each year to hire experienced, skilled workers in all of our disciplines,” he wrote in an email. “That is how we met Paul.”
Nolan, who arrived in Pictou in January 2014, said winters in Ireland were much milder.
“Maybe -3 or -4 C at most,” he said in a thick Irish accent. “It was just awful at times and a real shock for me.”
Living on a peninsula on the Irish coast has its similarities with the birthplace of New Scotland and the surrounding areas. Fishing boats and salty winds are the norm. The Hook Lighthouse, located near where the pair grew up, is one of the oldest in Europe. They also have bagpipes.
“The uilleann pipes are not the same as the Scottish bagpipes for two reasons,” said Barton. “One, they’re smaller and, two, they actually sound good.”
Both were amazed to look out and see the Northumberland Strait covered in ice.
“I couldn’t believe it,” said Nolan. “For salt water to freeze, it’s not something I’ve ever seen before. It took me a few minutes to realize that people in huts on the ice were ice fishing.”
While the weather was cold, the welcome from locals was decidedly warm.
“People are very friendly, it’s like I’m back home,” said Barton. “I’d often strike up a conversation with a stranger in the Tim Hortons.”
He is currently in Nova Scotia on a temporary worker’s permit and is trying to get his permanent residency. The goal is to live in the province some day as a Canadian citizen.
“I want to live here,” Barton said. “I think Nova Scotia as a whole is probably the closest you can get to the feel of Ireland.”
On Twitter: @NGNewsJohn