Octavia Holden: A woman's journey in construction

March 8, 2021

Octavia’s number one driver for inspiration and motivation is the outdoors. From sailing to New Zealand with her family and working as a bike courier, to planting trees in northern BC, to rock climbing and hiking in the Rockies, it’s no surprise she sought a career that would keep her active and outside. But the road there wasn’t easy. Aside from riding her bicycle to get to Alberta, she’s faced several challenges being part of the 2-4% of women in the trades in Canada.

After doing some landscaping in Canmore in the early 2000s, Octavia picked up an old tool belt and went looking for some carpentry work. During this time she was working long days doing residential framing around the town, and then rock climbing immediately after, hardly having a second of rest. But this “go, go” attitude is how she made a name for herself:

“In my experience, if you have a strong work ethic and continue to prove yourself, people will notice, and they’ll want to work with you.”

In addition to working hard, Octavia credits her beginnings in the industry to her early mentors:

“I didn’t get here on my own. I got here because people were willing to teach me. I asked a lot of questions early on, and that’s one of the most important pieces of advice I give to people starting out.”

As she kept advancing in her career, she soon realized the roadblocks ahead. Without the proper certificates and formal training, it would be difficult to keep moving forward, and people kept questioning her abilities.

“It was difficult when I’d go to a new company and my experience wasn’t enough. I had to keep proving myself over and over.”

Upon returning home after travelling overseas, Octavia realized how many more opportunities were available in Canada, and that many women she saw during her travels weren’t as fortunate. It was then that she decided to pursue formal education as an apprentice.

After receiving her Red Seal Endorsement in 2011 and having the formal education to back up her experience, she was finally at a place she had been working towards for more than a decade. Seeking some new opportunities, she made her way into the oil sands and the camp environment. There, Octavia was one of only a handful of women. But there was a strong safety culture and she recalls it as a rewarding experience.

The best thing she has been able to pass on to the next generation of women in the trades is her mentorship. While working on the recently competed Peaks Hotel in Banff last year, she met a young woman who was at a crossroads of where to take her career, not unlike her own situation many years prior. Octavia enthusiastically encouraged her to go to school and start as an apprentice, and even gave her a bunch of old tools to get started.

“I could see myself in her, and I knew from own experience that it only takes one person to inspire you. It was emotional for me, and I felt really proud that she took that step to advance herself.”

Octavia joined CANA in 2015 and has been a key team member on several projects. Aside from her Red Seal Endorsement, she also holds her National Construction Safety Officer designation and Gold Seal Certification. Her dedication and ability to manage projects makes her one of our strongest superintendents.

Thanks, Octavia, for your hard work, and for inspiring women in the trades all across the country.