September 26, 2023

WHEN TOM SIGURDSON approached the executive board of the BC Building Trades (BCBT) about the possibility of launching a quarterly magazine for its members 25 years ago, he wasn’t sure what the outcome would be.

It was a tumultuous time for the construction sector, and something needed to be done to reflect the Building Trades’ contributions to the industry. Sigurdson had just taken on the role of executive director and thought a magazine might help.

“When I started in 1997, there were all kinds of conflicts between the building trades and the ICBA, the  Independent Contractors and Businesses Association. And essentially the ICBA was doing a narrative of the Building Trades, all of which were quite frankly, fabricated,” said Sigurdson. “Other people were telling stories about us and some of them were downright derogatory. We were doing lots of good work, lots of projects and we
needed to tell our story.”

There was initially some pushback from the executive regarding a “central” message going out to their respective memberships, but this was addressed by agreeing to focus on the crafts and what people brought to the trades.

“The stories were about the people and not about the unions, necessarily,” said Sigurdson, although the magazine would cover some local union news and events. It was this focus on trades workers and what they do that really gained attention and earned the magazine some degree of distinction.

Not only would the magazine profile tradespeople and their stories throughout its 32 pages, it would also show them doing their work in full colour on the front page. The first issue, produced in the spring of 1998, profiled an ironworker doing structural work.

The magazine clearly hit the mark because it wasn’t long before other union locals were wondering when they might get their stories in “the hopper.”

“We had a lot of ideas for stories because there were an awful lot to tell,” said Sigurdson.

He credits Leslie Dyson of Face-2-Face Communications for carrying much of the writing load during the early days, with Shane Dyson helping to secure advertising to fund the magazine. The fledgling team got the magazine off the ground and eventually more writers and advertisers came on board.

That first edition set the tone with eye-catching headlines like “Setting out to counter vicious attacks: Tommy Douglas Foundation ready to take on Fraser Institute.” It pointed out Labour Code changes that were desperately needed after a long period of neglect. It brought global issues like the Multilateral Agreement on Investment to the table. It highlighted accomplishments and also looked to the lighter side, as Sigurdson put out a call for cartoonists to add much-needed humour.

Future editions would continue to deal with major political issues of the day at both the federal and provincial levels. Sigurdson said the magazine advocated for full-scale trade certification in the mid-2000s when the apprenticeship system was nearly wiped out by the BC Liberal government. Tradetalk began a regular apprenticeship information pull-out to promote the trades at a time when neither the industry nor the province was getting the job done.

“We talked about the need for the industry to attract women into the trades,” said Sigurdson. “We were talking about sexism at a time when it was not being discussed in the industry.”

“The magazine really became a focus of pride for everybody that was involved in the BC Building Trades. It also became an organizing tool. We were able to tell the truth about the good work we were doing in areas like workers’ compensation and health and safety,” he said.

The work that was started by Sigurdson and his small team more than two decades ago has paid off and the magazine is now recognized as one of the best in its field. Tradetalk won awards in 2022 for the best overall regular print publication and an honourable mention for best print layout and design of a regular publication from the Canadian Association of Labour Media awards.

Brynn Bourke, who became BCBT’s executive director in 2020 and contributes to the magazine, said Tradetalk is “truly unique” in Canada’s labour landscape.

“It’s incredible that we have 25 local unions that send this magazine out to their members every issue. It goes out to more than 45,000 unionized construction workers,” she said. “It’s not about the leadership of the unions. It’s about the incredible people who go to work every day and build British Columbia and the stories that we’ve covered over the years really speak to that.”

“Some of our greatest stories showcase the work that was done around protecting the rights of temporary foreign workers during the construction of the Canada Line or … the rebuilding efforts led by Building Trades members after the atmospheric river [in 2021],” she said.

And Bourke believes the magazine’s focus on workers is its winning feature.

“We really try to capture the craftsmanship that our members are executing on a daily basis by having high quality photos, photos taken on actual construction sites with actual members where they’re performing their craft,” she said.

“I cannot count the number of stories that have been related to me about how happy members are to be in the magazine, how proud they are to share those stories with family and friends. So often when projects are built we see the fancy photo of the building or the school or the hospital, and no one ever talks about the people behind the project. And that’s what Tradetalk does,” said Bourke. “What makes it really special is that it captures the workers, and their role in the work and it showcases that work to the world.”

By Megan Terepocki