Ontario’s First Woman Electrician Tells Aspiring Apprentices to “Just Go For It”

Sheryl Maisonville became Ontario’s first woman journeyperson electrician in 1979.

Sheryl Maisonville, first woman electrician in ontarioLooking back, Sheryl Maisonville doesn’t hesitate to say she has enjoyed her career. “The electrical industry offers a lot of different avenues that a person could follow after their apprenticeship,” she says.

A member of IBEW Local 773 in Windsor from the start of her apprenticeship, Maisonville is also now an employer at Rorison Industrial Electric, and part of the Windsor Electrical Contractors Association (WECA) and Electrical Contractors Association of Ontario (ECAO).

“As an apprentice, I got a lot of extra training from the IBEW – well beyond what most apprentices got. As an ECAO contractor and employer, I can say that the IBEW gives us excellently trained workers.”

Pioneering Steps

“The construction industry as a whole has changed a whole lot since I started—there were not separate bathroom facilities back then, for one,” quips Maisonville.

Sheryl Maisonville, first woman electrician in ontario
Sheryl featured in the Windsor Star.

“The first time I walked into a Ford plant, there were no women on the line, so there were a lot of stares—that has changed now since women are in the workplace at all the plants,” she says.

“I am sure there are still the people that have the old fashioned way of thinking that women don’t belong in construction, but you can’t change the world. Stick your head up high, don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty, and start your career as an electrician!”

With a father in the electrical trade, it’s no surprise that Maisonville announced, as a five year old, that she was going to be an electrician when she grew up.

Maisonville had a fairly typical childhood, however, and didn’t spend time early on learning about electrical work from her father. “Back in those days, when we weren’t in school, we were outside playing. I definitely hated doing chores around the house though.”

In fact, Maisonville didn’t become an electrical apprentice right after graduation. At the outset of her career, she started on a path that many young women followed at the time.

“I had been working at a bank for two years, and found it boring. One night we were all around the supper table and Dad mentioned that the son of one of his friends wanted an apprenticeship application. I said, ‘I want one too,’ and he just said ‘OK’ and that was it. He went back to eating his supper.”

Maisonville became an apprentice electrician in 1975, and recalls that her mother was “ecstatic.” Her father, Leo, and brother, Randy, were already members of IBEW Local 773 working at Rorison.

A Career That Can Take You Places

Sheryl, Jon, and Randy Maisonville
Sheryl Maisonville with her nephew Jon and her brother Randy.

Throughout her apprenticeship, she worked on projects for Chrysler, Ford, BP Canada, Canada Post, and many other commercial and small industrial businesses throughout Windsor.

She loved that, “you were always in different places, doing something different.”

She earned her journeyperson’s certificate in 1979, and learned from the ECAO that she was the first woman certified electrician in Ontario. Unfortunately, by that time, the economy in Windsor had taken a downturn. Looking for other opportunities, she became an electrical estimator in Alberta.

A few years later she returned to Ontario and worked at State Electric for four years. Then she became a Certification and Testing Field Inspector at the Canadian Standards Association.

“This was a great job which involved a lot of travel through Canada, the US and Mexico. It involved inspection of the plants and the manufacturing processes of CSA certified products,” she says.

In spite of the rewards of her travels, the work that had the most meaning for her was waiting back in Windsor. Her proudest moment as an electrician, she says, “Would have been when I joined forces with my dad and my brother as owners of Rorison Industrial Electric.”

Rorison Industrial Electric provides electrical construction services, as well as design, manufacturing, and installation of industrial electrical products and automation control systems. It has earned ISO 9001 certification and has continued to grow and expand.

Today, Maisonville’s nephew Jon co-owns Rorison electric with long time superintendent Michael Hope. But she continues to work there in purchasing and is the Health and Safety lead, ensuring all the training is up to date.

Maisonville reflects that she didn’t have a difficult time because of her gender. “As a whole, I worked with a number of amazing journeymen during my apprenticeship. There were only a few times that I can remember that were particularly frustrating to deal with.”

Mentoring the Next Generation of Apprentices

Outside of her work at Rorison, Maisonville spends time giving back to her trade. She takes an active role in the Essex Kent Joint Apprenticeship Training Council (EKJATC), the group that mentors young apprentices for the IBEW-ECAO.

“We follow all of our local apprentices through their apprenticeship—their schooling and their work (we try to make sure they get a wide variety of training for residential, commercial and industrial). We provide 4 years of night school in addition to the three terms of government school,” she says.

“Just Go For It”

What does Maisonville feel makes a great electrician? “Patience, ability to work with others, and the drive to learn.” She also says that keeping pace with changing technology all comes down to the willingness to attend extra courses which the IBEW offers to journeypersons.

She does not hesitate to recommend the trade to any woman “who has a technical bent, likes working with her hands, and isn’t scared to get dirty. Just go for it!” she says.

 

Further Reading

 

Photo credits

  1. Sheryl at work: ECAO photo
  2. Windsor Star photo
  3. Sheryl with her newphew and her brother: Sheryl Maisonville