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BACK TO BUSINESS: Pandemic dries up welding work in Norman Wells

A reduction in client calls in Norman Wells has given welder Pete Rose more time for smaller projects like making aluminum sleighs for snowmobiles. photo courtesy of Pete Rose

Oil rigs have kept pumping throughout the pandemic in Norman Wells, but many of Pete Rose's industrial projects dried up.

His one-man operation Pete Rose Welding saw about half of its business decline overall since the Covid-19 pandemic arrived last March.

“It hurt a lot. When it started in March all of my projects were shut down completely and my wife got laid off from the Esso camp. We were both basically unemployed for a while so we spent a month in the mountains,” Rose said.

Rose came to Norman Wells almost 31 years ago from Newfoundland. He launched his welding business in 1999.

His client base includes the Town of Norman Wells, GNWT public works and industrial companies. Most of his work is in the oil town, but he'll do jobs in other parts of the Sahtu when needed.

Fall, rise, and fall again

He wasn't told or forced to shutdown his operations last spring, however when his clients halted their projects he had little choice but to hang up his welding gun.

In June, business began picking up.

“The town started doing a little work. That really helped me quite a bit,” he said. “And GNWT had a few reasonable-sized projects, by my standards.”

The slump returned in November and work has slowed down since then.

Some of the complications of pandemic regulations caused business to lag as well.

“One client this winter offered me a big job but I had to turn it down,” Rose said. “I would've been working in a camp with rotational workers from the south. They told me I wouldn't have to isolate on my time off. I didn't want people questioning my wife, and asking, 'Your husband is out working in a camp, maybe he caught Covid?' I figured it wasn't worth the risk.”

Small is beautiful

But Rose sees a silver lining amid the decline in business.

For one thing, the downtime has given him the opportunity to do smaller projects like building aluminum sleighs for snowmobiles.

“I've been been getting quite a few orders and inquiries. Unlike the fibreglass these sleighs can last forever, and can be repaired. ” he said.

His first sale will be a sleigh he calls the Sahtu 9 HD that he sold for $2,140.

He's considering building boats too.

Slower, better life

Rose appreciates the slowdown because it has helped him and others to “go back to basics.”

“You learn to cut back where you have to. I've had more time for hiking and to go to my cabin in the mountains. We grew potatoes for the first time in 40 years. When I was a kid, we used to always plant potatoes.”

Even though he and his wife have received their second doses of the Covid vaccine, he doesn't foresee business returning to pre-pandemic levels for at least six months.

One change he would like to see is being able to isolate in Norman Wells after returning from travel outside the NWT.

“I'm from Newfoundland and I usually visit home but I couldn't this year. We'd love to see our family. Maybe we can visit after the summer. I think we should be able to isolate in Norman Wells. I can't afford to isolate in Yellowknife.”