Working tirelessly to help communities like Neskantaga First Nations.
Wesley Bova, P.Eng., is one of us. He’s an OSPE member who is helping to develop and maintain infrastructure in remote First Nations communities. His work is inspirational. Much of what he does focuses on establishing systems and advising on policy decisions around clean drinking water, which as he notes, is the foundation for building healthy communities, particularly in remote areas of the province.

OSPE:
Why did you choose engineering as a career?

WES:
I was always interested in math and science growing up. I’m Mohawk and my Dad was in iron work, and so I saw things being built all the time. I was always interested in how things work, how to build things and how to fix them – problem solving.

OSPE:
What do you find rewarding about your work?

WES:
When I moved to Thunder Bay I saw first hand the conditions of First Nations communities, particularly in the remote north, and I got a real appreciation of what needs to be done. It made me thankful for my career and the help I can offer to make things better. I’m currently president of the board of directors of Ontario First Nations Technical Services Corporation, which represents all First Nations across Ontario. It gives me a much wider lens and valuable experience in dealing with the issues that are pretty rampant in our First Nations communities across Canada.

OSPE:
You’re able to give back to the community through your work as an engineer.
WES:
I’ve presented at numerous events and we do some emergency management training through the Ontario First Nations Technical Services Corporation. That has been very successful in enhancing skills and capacity at the First Nations level using a “train the trainer” approach.

OSPE:
Networking and mentorship are a big part of OSPE.

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WES:
I’ve been mentored by some very good professional engineers through my career. I’d like to acknowledge them for their contributions. It’s benefitted me immensely. It’s genuine.

OSPE:
How has your work changed the world, in both small and large ways?

WES:
I’ve been at Matawa First Nations Management since 2004, and so I’ve seen the impact that various government budgets have on First Nations. I’ve participated in a number of studies and engineers’ reports on First Nations drinking water facilities.
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What often happens is funding commitments based on those reports end up being terminated, and those facilities are just sitting there. So water treatment technologies that are in a lot of those communities right now don’t meet Ontario drinking water regulations. So when I think of my own work, I really feel invested to say I want to see clean drinking water in these communities.

One of the communities I work with has been under a boil water advisory for 22 years! It’s mind-boggling that this exists in Canada. Imagine that. And you’re bathing your kids in it. Sometimes it looks like apple juice coming out of the taps… I’ve seen it. It’s just not right and it needs to be corrected. I take pride in knowing that we’re advancing these water plants now. We’ve actually mobilized the materials for construction at that plant this year, and in other areas of the province as well. That’s really what’s driving me now. Many of the people I work with I have gotten to know very well over the years, so they’re no longer strangers we’re helping, but friends. That’s very gratifying.

OSPE:
What’s the end result of the work you do? Clean water for communities that don’t currently have access to it?

WES:
Yes that’s the end goal, but it’s actually bigger than that. We build healthy communities. I find there is a lot of siloed thinking with respect to programs – both in First Nations and non-First Nations communities – so if water is identified as the issue, money is taken from somewhere else to find that solution. I have a hard time picturing being able to build a healthy home in an unhealthy community. It just doesn’t work. The only viable solution is to create sustainable communities, and you can’t just look at one particular aspect to solve the larger problem of community health.

OSPE:
Any final words of wisdom or advice?

WES:
Follow your passion and you’ll derive immense pride. Follow what drives you and you’ll have a career that you love, a job that you love, and you can’t really go wrong. Plus you’re going to meet great friends. It’s a very simple formula in my mind. If you do that, everything else kind of falls into place.
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