Valley Line West: Celebrating women on Edmonton’s largest infrastructure project

The women helping to build the Valley Line West LRT are also helping to break the bias against women in construction. 

“The best part is seeing the evolving progress of a project of this magnitude,” said Marisol Kirk, who is an Environmental Lead with Marigold Infrastructure Partners, the City of Edmonton’s contractor on Valley Line West

“The level of effort that goes in from conceptual design to completed construction cannot be overstated,” she said. “Working with a diverse team affords us a lot of opportunity to be effective.”

As of 2020, women made up 13 per cent of the almost 1.5 million people working in Canada’s construction industry and 5 per cent of tradespeople on construction sites. In Alberta, tradeswomen accounted for 7 per cent of all trades people employed in the construction industry.

Here are some of the women who work for Marigold Infrastructure Partners (MIP).

Adrian Allen, Field Coordinator

A successful career in construction takes determination and grit. Adrian Allen went to the University of Calgary to become a geologist and worked in a lab as an asphalt quality control technician in the summer.

“While working as a lab tech, questions were often directed towards my male co-worker and I struggled with being taken seriously in the field,” Allen said. 

“After finishing my degree in a male-dominated industry, I gained knowledge and techniques to help myself persevere in the construction industry.”

Adrian Allen is now a Field Coordinator. She’s in charge of tree maintenance and makes sure protected trees stay safe. Where necessary, she coordinates work for tree removal and stump grinding. Allen also measures the vibration and noise levels from construction activities, including piling, utility works and paving, to make sure the work satisfies the City of Edmonton’s bylaws and regulations.

“I enjoy this scope of work because I am a Field Coordinator for the civil team, but my work scope also crosses over into the environmental side,” Allen said. “As a geologist, I really enjoy the work that I do.”

There are bumps in the road for a woman in construction, Allen said, but “the endless potential to lead and inspire other women alike, and to bring a different perspective and skillset,” makes the work enjoyable. 

“It feels really exciting to be involved with building such a massive piece of infrastructure,” Allen said. “As a born-and-raised Calgarian, it is a great learning experience to work on a historic project of this size, in a different city than my hometown.”

Allen’s favourite construction tools are “linesman” pliers and a knife.

Van Huynh, Project Engineer

Van Huynh is excited that the Valley Line is Edmonton’s first LRT project to incorporate  Sustainable Urban Integration (SUI).

SUI means the LRT line is integrated into communities to reduce noise and disruption and to create safe spaces that are pedestrian and bike friendly. Community members are involved in choosing design elements that best suit their neighbourhoods.

When Van decided to pursue engineering, she got support from her husband and her parents-in-law. At the time, she lived long distance from her husband and her eldest son to attend Lakehead University in Thunder Bay.

“Sometimes during the construction season, I do not feel like I have enough time with family, especially my young children,” Huynh said. “A big project often requires big commitments, long work hours, high stress, but it also offers big rewards in terms of experience in the end.” 

Huynh has worked on several large transportation projects, including the northeast leg of Anthony Henday Drive, the Valley Line Southeast and the Stoney Trail’s southeast portion in Calgary. 

Huynh is proud of the Valley Line West, and is fascinated by its complexity. 

“Working together to solve issues when they occur is the key to helping the project hit the milestones on time,” she said.

Christine Marleau, Project Coordinator

“I always really liked science, math and manually building things, so construction just made sense,” said Christine Marleau.

“I am very fortunate to always have had a very supportive family and great coworkers and things just slowly came together.”

As a Facilities Senior Coordinator, Marleau plans work for the construction season and coordinates activities with subcontractors, superintendents, designers and other colleagues.

“I love having an office and field work balance,” Marleau said. Construction is home for many extroverted employees with big personalities. Marleau said it can be tough for women on the quiet or shy side to fit in at first.  “One advantage would be that since there aren’t that many women, we often stand out more and people often remember you easily,” she said.

Marleau reminded women getting into the field to be confident in their abilities, set ambitious goals and to speak up to make their voices heard.

Jennifer Sheehan, Stakeholder Relations Lead

How does the project team inform the neighbourhoods and the public about what’s happening on the project and receive feedback from residents and businesses along the route? 

Jennifer Sheehan is part of the answer. Sheehan is the Stakeholder Relations Lead. 

“I aim to be kind, empathetic, respectful, but, most importantly, direct,” she said. “Construction is a temporary nuisance, and my goal is to be clear about the impact it will have over the coming years.” 

No two days are alike for someone whose job is to meet people where they are. Sheehan attends stakeholder meetings online, meets with residents on their properties and has given  construction updates in a church basement.

Being a point of contact for the community is essential.  “[Individuals] appreciate being able to build a rapport and talk to a real person about their concerns,” Sheehan said.

In the industry, communicators pick up a lot of construction and engineering jargon. It’s the aim of Sheehan and her team to explain the work so residents and businesses know how construction will affect them.

“While no one wants to be disrupted due to construction, everyone I’ve dealt with has been respectful, amenable and willing to work with us to have the best possible project outcome,” she said.

Marisol Kirk, Environmental Lead

An important part of ensuring success on a construction project is monitoring the environment to protect Treaty 6 lands, ecosystems, residents and workers along the route.

As an Environmental Lead, Kirk helps to manage waste, erosion, dust, drainage, contamination, wildlife conflict, tree and vegetation protection and archaeological discoveries. 

“The natural aspects of landscaping are often overlooked, and it is fulfilling to restore an area with native vegetation and wildlife features to help preserve and enhance habitats for natural plant and animal species,” she said. 

Kirk delivers training sessions to help teammates understand the environmental requirements outlined by the City of Edmonton. For Kirk, who has also worked on the Valley Line Southeast, the most interesting part of the job is the naturalization and reclamation work in areas such as Groat Ravine, Muskakosi Natural Area and the MacKinnon Ravine. 

(On the south side of Stony Plain Road near the MacKinnon Ravine at 147 Street to 149 Street there will be a shared-use path, a thin strip of naturalization, and also a naturalized area on the slope around the bus turnaround. Naturalization re-establishes native plant communities and habitat.)

Binoculars, which give Kirk a “front row seat” to view wildlife in their habitat, are her favourite tool to use on site.

Kirk set her sights on construction after university. 

“When I graduated, there weren’t many entry-level environmental positions available, and it took me a few years to make my mark and get into a role where I could develop as an environmental professional,” she said. 

Once you’re part of the industry, there are many opportunities for growth and development, she said. 

“The culture is changing and so are expectations,” she said. “The growth of inclusion and diversity is good to see,” adding, with a smile, “but finding a pair of work boots in size 5 is pretty tough.”

One way to #BreakTheBias is is to learn more about women working in male-dominated industries. Thanks for reading about some of the talented women on this historic build for Edmonton’s future. Photo shows barricade being installed near West Edmonton Mall, July 2021.

Valley Line 

Last year, Marigold Infrastructure Partners started construction on the 14-km Valley Line West, which will take five or six years to build. When finished, the Valley Line West will connect Lewis Farms to downtown Edmonton, and, then, to Mill Woods via the 13-km Valley Line Southeast line, expected to open this summer.

Editor’s note: the pic at the top of the post shows Valley Line West utilities work on 156 Street in September 2021. Ahead in our coverage we’ll continue to spotlight the #BreakTheBias theme of this year’s International Women’s Day by focusing on female City of Edmonton employees working on the Valley Line West.