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Town of Outlook Spotlight: Graham Thomson, Public Works Laborer

Making the switch from casinos to town labour sees Thomson gaining knowledge every day.
Public works laborer Graham Thomson, with a long background in casino security management, has been soaking up everyday knowledge like a sponge. Photo by Derek Ruttle.

OUTLOOK - Graham Thomson's work history with the Town of Outlook might only be a little more than a year and a half, having started with the public works crew in September 2022, but he's been soaking up the knowledge and the experiences that he's had like a sponge.

Thomson, originally from Regina who moved here with his spouse Erin in 2010, has tackled a number of different tasks since he started working for the Town.

"I started out in this position, and then I've taken on a variety of extra tasks as I gained more experience and knowledge," said Graham, sitting down with this reporter. "It's a laundry list of tasks. Snow removal is our big priority in the winter, and I've received training and some schooling in water treatment and the tasks that go along with that. In the summertime, maintenance of green spaces is a priority, upkeep of the cemetery. That'd be a small snapshot of what we do."

By now, readers of this special series looking at the work that staff members do may be familiar with the questions that this reporter will ask those people. As it turns out, Thomson was, as well.

When it comes to what a typical day may be like for him, he offered a very similar response that this reporter has heard time and time again.

"Yeah, you've asked everyone that same question, and I'll give you the same answer!" he said, aware of what this reporter was going to ask in our interview. "There is no typical day for us. It really depends on what the weather is throwing at us. This time of the year, we're obviously looking ahead to the patching of our roads, once things dry out and warm up enough. It's going to change every day, based on what's happening around town. Weather is just a huge factor."

Doing what Graham does for a daily living in focusing on the tasks that need to be carried out day-to-day, when something goes wrong, it can present challenges for town crews. The state of everyday equipment can often be relied on, but when something fails or breaks, it can force staff to implement some creative resolutions to make sure that things can still get done around town.

"Troubleshooting when equipment fails would definitely be one," he said, discussing challenges. "Sometimes, emergencies can come up and there's not always an easy solution. And I'm not pretending that I'm the lead in that regard, as I follow Luke (Lockhart) and Kelton's (MacDonald) lead. Those are challenging days. Yesterday, for example, we had a pump at the water plant fail on us. We have backups, so it doesn't affect the quality of water in the community, but those days are challenging. With water treatment, there are contingencies in place because there just has to be. You can't rely on a single pump, as it wouldn't be safe. We try to have contingencies for those scenarios, but you can't have a contingency for everything. We lost our grader a few weeks ago and there was no contingency plan in place because there's really no such thing as having a backup one on hand in case your other one breaks down. When that happens, you hustle and make do with what you have. We have other pieces of equipment, as the guys used a plow blade on the loader and made do with it. It's not as effective, it's more time-consuming, but it beats nothing. Snow still has to be removed somehow."

On the flip side of that coin, the benefits that Graham has enjoyed on the job are what he tends to remember most at the end of the day. Meeting and talking with people while he carries out his work is a nice perk, and gaining more knowledge of the tasks that are required to allow the community of Outlook to fluidly operate every day has been something he doesn't take for granted.

"Oh, there are lots," he said. "Since I started, it's been a great learning experience and I've learned a lot of new skills. My knowledge of things like water treatment and how wastewater is managed in a community, or how a landfill operates; these were things that I'd always taken for granted. There's more to it than we realize. There's science behind this stuff, and these guys take pride in those services and treat it with the importance that it deserves. The knowledge is certainly a benefit. Another benefit is meeting people. I love chatting with ratepayers. Having someone come out when I'm clearing compost from the back alley and they thank me; you get to meet someone new and have a pleasant conversation, and I love that. Working with the guys is fantastic. We have a good team. They work hard, but they have fun while they're doing it. You get treated well by the Town, and it's been fantastic."

Before working for the town crew, Graham was on the road a lot more in his daily job as he worked for over a decade in casino management. But the changes that came as a result of the Covid pandemic were something that didn't appeal to him and inspired him to seek a change.

"I walked away from a 15-year career in management at the Dakota Dunes Casino," he explained. "I was the security manager for a long time. The reason I walked away was the casino had restructured after Covid, and all managers were put into a new role, and not the role that we had originally applied for. I give credit to SIGA for adapting with that difficult time and restructuring, which allowed us to remain employed, but instead of being the security manager, my final role at the casino was being in charge of the bus/shuttle service. I had no desire to do that, and I wanted to be closer to home, so this opportunity came up and I jumped all over it."

It's the behind the scenes work that's being routinely carried out and all those little 'nuts and bolts' type jobs to help ensure that services are provided in a seamless manner that Thomson says the public might not see, especially when it comes to the water that everyone uses on a daily basis.

"The amount of work and the amount of care that goes into water treatment might be one," he said. "It's taken very seriously and Luke and Kelton are the leads in that regard. They have the most training and experience, and it's not something to be taken lightly. Making safe and clean drinking water is a process, and a fairly intensive one that involves a lot of moving parts. At the user's end, it's just turning on a tap and 'Voila!', but there's a lot that goes into it from the source to that tap. It's quite a sequence of events."

Prior to working for the Town, Thomson says he didn't put a whole lot of thought into what staff members did every day whenever he'd see a Town of Outlook truck driving around the community. Now, being one of those workers, it's opened his eyes to the level of work and detail that staff carry out each day.

"It's been eye-opening with regards to how hard these guys work," he said. "In the past, when I would see a town truck go by, I'm not seeing the work, I'm seeing them in transit to where they would DO the work. It certainly never occurs to most people to follow that town vehicle and see what exactly it is they're doing. It's also been eye-opening with regards to just how many aspects of town infrastructure we interact with, service, and repair. There's just a laundry list of things that we handle."

Outlook becoming known as a community that welcomes people from all over the globe has been something that has struck a nerve with Graham, who says he's been nothing but impressed with how inclusive and welcoming the riverside community is with people from international walks of life.

"I'm probably going to sound like I'm throwing out cliches here, but I felt from the time that I moved here that it's a friendly community," he said. "It's a welcoming community, and not just to my wife and I when we moved here, but I've seen this community become more diverse in the 14 years since we moved here. I see new Canadians moving here and I see them treated well, and I think that's fantastic. New Canadians are arriving and they look happy, comfortable and grateful to be here. That really stands out. I think back to last summer, the town-wide garage sale, and people at the Lutheran Church were serving Afghani street food. I think that's a feather in our hat as a community."

When it comes to the public that Thomson works to serve each day, he says he's grateful for any interaction that takes place between town crews and Outlook ratepayers.

"I enjoy meeting you and I enjoy working for you," he said. "I'm grateful for the way I've been treated by the public. People welcome me into their homes, like if I have to change a water meter, and those are great interactions."