Words: MASONRY Magazine
Photos: Matthew Williams
Editor’s Note: In this edition of MASONRY Magazine GEN NXT, we sat down and spoke with Matthew Williams, a Stonemason and Bricklayer at Norwoods Masonry in Ontario, Canada. Since high school, Matthew has been working within the masonry industry and is excited to see what the future holds for him. We’d like to thank Matthew for taking the time to speak with us and JagClamp for continuing to sponsor this important series.
MASONRY Magazine: Tell me a little bit about yourself?
Matthew Williams: My name is Matthew Williams. I’m 25, I work at Norwoods Masonry, and I’m a bricklayer/stonemason.
M.M.: How long have you been at the company?
M.W.: About four years now.
M.M.: How did you get started in masonry?
M.W.: I applied to the Algonquin College Heritage Masonry Program in Perth, Ontario. After apprenticing there, I applied to Norwoods Masonry upon reference and great reviews from the company. That kicked things off; I did a lot of side work as well with my original mentor and teacher.
M.M.: Is that a trade school? Did you enroll immediately after high school?
M.W.: I did a lot of dabbling around after high school, but I wanted to learn a trade. I thought masonry was the best trade, and I always wanted to learn, so that’s why I went to Algonquin for it.
M.M.: While you were there, did they have you go through an apprentice program where you tested the waters in the field?
MW: There was a lot of hands-on work, which falls around the curriculum of level one, level two, and level three of the apprenticeship program. So you do a lot of fundamentals and a lot of stone. Just understanding tools and everything to start, and then you do brick veneer. You do a run for a fireplace, and we did a lot of repointing. We did some artwork. Just getting a good understanding of the trade itself, and we touched pretty much all the elements. After you tried to think of a good way to sum it up, it’s an all-encompassing program.
M.M.: Do you have any family members in the masonry industry?
M.M.: How long was the program? What did the program look like at the school?
M.W.: So the program was one year, and it broke up in three semesters; that was the 47-week program. It follows the apprenticeship style, so I’m currently apprenticing right now. I’m going to Kingston — well, I’ll be in Kingston [Ontario] in March for my apprenticeship as a follow-up to my schooling pretty much. It’s for the St. Lawrence College; it’s a recognized apprenticeship for masonry.
M.M.: Very cool! Where do you see yourself in five to 10 years?
M.W.: I’m continuing to take it as far as I can, to be honest. I love the company I work for; I’m very passionate about what I do and just take on as much responsibility as possible, to be honest. I want to bring the trade to what I want it to be and how it works for others, and maybe mentor some people as well in the future.
M.M.: What’s your experience been like working with older guys in the industry?
M.W.: It’s been amazing. We’ve got many older guys at Norwoods Masonry, and the experience that I’ve learned is unmatchable. It’s crazy. When I first started, I didn’t understand it, and I may have taken it for granted in the first couple of weeks. I learned to humble myself, and I came in all high strung and excited, but I learned masonry skills fast and these guys are just years and leagues above everything I know. My first foreman just put me in my place and I just learned to take all the tricks and every little detail. It’s mind-blowing things that they know and they’ve learned over the years. I just take it; it’s worth millions. I just love learning, and I love everything they have to teach me, and they’re happy to help. That’s just been wonderful. Sometimes they’re giving you a hard time, but they just want you to learn and understand it in the way they have. But also, they know it, and they want to teach it to you. So if you’re willing to listen, they’re there for you.
M.M.: What is going to keep you interested in the masonry industry moving forward?
MW: To be honest, I liked seeing younger guys. Not that I don’t love the old masons, I love seeing people, older guys, and women, seeing them fall in love with the trade. Working on some of the bigger job sites and more popular job sites, we have quite a few guys in the company, but you don’t see too many people coming up, learning masonry, and taking pride in their work. It’d be nice to see other people my age, or a little bit younger, taking something out of the trade. We’ve got a couple of guys laboring for us, and I would love to see them take hands-on work and take experience from it.
I think the main thing is that I would fall in love with it every time I see somebody learning it just like I did, and it’s nice to see someone passionate about it; that’s what keeps me loving it, just watching the trade grow, to be honest. There are other things that I’ve noticed, too. I’m just the pride there and being able to see what you can accomplish in your career span is always good to hear. But the main reason I found that I’ve continued is it’s a hard trade, but it’s something if you are passionate about it, it just doesn’t stop. It doesn’t stop giving back.
M.M.: Can you tell me about some challenges you may have faced in the industry thus far?
M.W.: I was lucky with a lot of direction when I started, but I can imagine it would be tough to find direction in the industry. One of the big things for me was getting started and getting on the wall and using my practical skills. Navigating the industry is one thing, but also practical skills. And if someone isn’t lucky enough to have somebody with a lot of experience or one of the older guys, it’s tough because it’s such a finite craft that you need to learn. Good craftsmanship is very undervalued and it’s overlooked. Sometimes people push out and learn the craft. I thought I was good when I started, but then you see some guys and they just work so well. Finding the craft was one of the hard things, but getting proper experience was one of the big things, navigating how to get that proper stance.
I faced my challenges, mainly in getting started, to be honest. Like when I left school, I was a little lost, but a lot of my teachers helped me along the way. To be honest, they kind of pushed me to look for something near my area, too, because there’s just so much beautiful stonework in Perth. Just navigating the industry, to be honest, was a little difficult start.
M.M.: Did you have a mentor, or do you have a mentor that you still talk to or work with closely?
M.W.: I’m pretty lucky to have a lot of them. Both my bosses were adamant about teaching me the craft right off the start, and my teacher Darrin McDonald was fantastic as well. Adam and Luke Norwood were amazing. My first foreman was Jerry Jordan. He was awesome, too. I guess he drilled it into my brain to practice. I got the best training and I lucked out.
M.M.: So, what does your daily routine look like?
M.W.: I wake up at 4:00/4:30 A.M. every morning. I get to the shop around 6:00 A.M. I load the truck and make sure we got everything, check in with my foreman via loop, and see what we need for the day. I normally have a good list compiled for that. We head out to Tim Hortons and then head to the site — we should be around there at 6:45 AM, but it depends where we’re going, to be honest — organize everybody and get a batch (mortar) on the go. Laborers are pretty good about that; it should be ready by the time we hit the wall.
M.M.: Can you tell me a bit about some of the projects that you’ve worked on?
M.W.: In the school, we did plenty, some small some major projects during the program. During school, we pointed up a church. Made a rumford fireplace which was beautiful. We did a dry stone walling project, which was nice. I love doing that and that was in Stittsville, I think it was a monument for a dog park. I did some work outside of school, some nice chimneys, some nice pointing work. But at work, I think some of my proudest works can be found around Perth and done with Norwoods Masonry including Lanark Lifestyles, a building in Perth. I did some nice chimneys in town as well, a lot of residential, residential has become my favorite, but we did a nice job on a school in Amherstview, that was gorgeous, it was done with cultured stone.
M.M.: Do you have any advice for anyone younger than you interested in getting into the masonry industry?
M.W.: Listen, that’s what I need to learn the hardest because the only way you can learn is just from people who have done it for years and understand the trade and have figured and found that path to the trade that they just persevered, and learn; it’s time for you to learn. Mainly just listen; don’t get a little bit frustrated because that encourages you to learn, but don’t get too frustrated and navigate your way. Persevere. Take your time. Make it look good. Make it clean. Cleanliness is one of the top priorities. Be safe. 100% of people tend to be too reckless, but it’s not worth it. Don’t forget to make your joints look good!