My Adventure

Heidy Gaitan (+Video)


It’s been ten years since I last stepped into my safety steel boots as a Soil Technician up in Fort McMurray. There, I learned many things that I never imagined before, particularly when I was a Preschool Teacher back in Colombia educating three-year-old children.  


I am originally from Colombia, and in 2006 I joined Walmart in Vancouver.  Then I had the opportunity to move to Fort McMurray in September 2008 with the same company. After two weeks in this new city, one of my customers offered me a job for a company specializing in soil and water analysis for the petroleum companies located near Fort McMurray. I knew it was an extraordinary opportunity. 

My adventure started from the moment I was hired as a Soil Laboratory Technician.  My work was very interesting and challenged my mind. Using one kilogram of soil samples, I analyzed the moisture content and sieve analysis of clay, gravel, sand, and the strength of concrete. The test results helped the engineers to study the terrain designated for new construction. In that career, I learned many things that I never imagined before, especially when I was a Preschool Teacher back in Colombia making sandcastles with three-year-old children. 

After I assimilated all the techniques in the laboratory, I was sent to the field to become more knowledgeable about new procedures in places under construction.  For my safety, I had to wear personal protection equipment from top to bottom: a hard hat, safety glasses, coveralls, leather gloves — and these safety steel-toed boots. The boots are camel-coloured and are very cushioned for working long hours. Their shoelaces are as black as coal from Colombia, and they have a strong solid sole with an excellent grip. 

When I wore all my protection equipment, I possessed the power to speak with all the Petroleum Managers, Supervisors and Superintendents because my steel boots made me feel safe, strong and secure, “Like a steel shield that protects a knight in armour.” I walked in them step by step, day by day, for six and a half years. 

My days began with a two-hour drive from Fort McMurray to the petroleum companies under construction. Many times, I had to sit and wait in my 4×4 truck until the terrain was compacted. I was allowed to enter the area with my tools, including a rod guide/scraper plate, drill pin, four-pound sledgehammer, and a pin extraction tool together with my machine named Densometer to be able to read the compaction on the soil.  Carrying my tools was hard and heavy, and I was grateful for my protective boots. 

I enjoyed my position for many reasons, especially driving to places far away from the city to the middle of nowhere. I drove many gravel roads and numerous miles each year in all weather conditions, all in my steel-toed boots. My reward was to see and photograph bears, moose, foxes, and deer eating grass or crossing the roads. 

My weekly schedule was between forty to seventy hours; I often worked twenty-one consecutive days. Sometimes I was overwhelmed by my fatigue, but my supervisor told me: “By the end of the month, your paycheck will make you very happy,” and she was right. My job gave me financial stability, and I was able to pay my debts and save some money. 

HEIDY GAITAN immigrated to Vancouver from Bogota, Colombia, in March 2002. Heidy was a Preschool Teacher in Colombia and has earned a certificate in Office Administration. She received her Canadian Citizenship in April 2008, the same year she moved to Fort McMurray. She arrived in Canmore in March 2015, where she enjoys the natural environment: hiking, cycling, swimming and taking photographs. This is her second time participating in The Shoe Project.

Watch the Performance

Read Other Stories from this Author

My Angel


Carmen Maria was elegant, distinguished, sophisticated and a very smart woman. When I first worked with her, she was...

More Stories from Canmore 2019