It’s just after daybreak on a Sunday morning in February and crews are preparing for a lift that’s being made by two massive crawler cranes at BMO Field in downtown Toronto.
Local 793 operators Brad Bowers and James Armstrong, both working for Mammoet Canada Eastern Ltd., are ready to roll.
Brad is at the controls of a Terex CC2400 440-metric-ton crawler. James is in a Terex CC2800 660-metric-ton rig.
Together, they’ll be hoisting a 400-metric ton, or nearly 900,000-pound canopy structure, up and into its resting place over the south stands.
They’ve spent the better part of a week preparing for the lift, getting the rigging ready, double-checking everything.
Now it’s showtime, literally, as spectators and media have gathered in a nearby parking lot to watch the spectacle.
Brad is at one end of the massive structure. James is at the other. They’ll be working in tandem.
The weather is good, especially for February. Temperatures are above freezing and there’s only a slight breeze.
Just after 7:30 a.m., the lift begins.
The mammoth steel structure is raised, slowly but surely. Forty-five minutes later, it’s roughly 85 feet off the ground, hanging from huge straps.
The job, however, is only half done.
For the next hour, Brad and James carefully maneuver the structure sideways until it’s in position for the ironworkers to secure.
Not for Brad and James. Neither is fazed. They’ve been making big lifts like this for more than two decades.
“I did a lot heavier lifts than this when I was out west,” explains Brad, who’s been in the trade since 1992.
“I was on a thousand-tonner out west so this is nothing unusual – it’s just another day.”
One of the jobs Brad worked on was the roof for B.C. Place in Vancouver so he’s comfortable doing heavy lifting.
“I think my heaviest one was about 340 tons with a single crane,” he says.
Brad and James were doing the lift for Central Steel Erectors. PCL is the general on the project.
The lift was part of the second phase of a $120-million expansion project at BMO Field.
Canopies were lifted into place earlier over the east and west sections of the stadium.
Canopies now cover all the seats in the east, west and south stands.
Phase two should be completed in May.
Fabricated in Montreal, the roof sections were brought to the site in pieces and assembled on the ground before being lifted into place.
In the weeks before the big lift, Brad and James were using Luffers to hoist steel for the east and west canopies.
While James has done such lifts before, he had some concerns about possible wind gusts off nearby Lake Ontario.
“It’s always a bit of a challenge when you’re down near the water.”
However, the weather turned out to be ideal and the lift went off without a hitch.
Numerous personnel were involved in the lift.
Preparation was the key.
Both Brad and James were in constant radio communication with supervisors and the ironworkers up high.
Gord Gilchrist, director of projects and engineering with Mammoet, was pleased with the way things went.
It was tricky, he noted, not only because of the weight of the canopy but also because two crane operators and two giant rigs were involved in the hoisting operation.
“Both operators had to be working very closely together with good communication with the crew and the workers up on the structure,” he said.
All in, the operation took less than three hours. Once the lift was successfully completed, Operators joined ironworkers and supervisors for a celebration.
Brad and James were slated to be at the site for several more weeks, hoisting steel again with the Luffers.
After that, they weren’t sure where work would take them.
It’s a safe bet, however, that they’ll be hoisting, as both enjoy their job and have no plans to give it up just yet.
James has been with Local 793 for 27 years. He got into the industry through his father and uncle who were both operators.
Before the BMO Field project, he was putting up wind turbines.
He likes the fact that his job takes him to different places.
“It’s something different every day. When you wake up in the morning you’re not sure what you’re going to be getting into.
“I’ve traveled from one coast to the other, and up to James Bay and down into the States. I’ve got to meet so many people. You get to the point that you don’t remember the names but you remember the faces.”
Brad, meanwhile, has been an operator for 24 years. He followed in the footsteps of his father, Aubrey, a retired Local 793 crane operator and pipeliner.
Aubrey came out to watch the lift with another Local 793 retiree Ernie Seaman.
“Every day is a new thing,” said Brad. “If you don’t learn something in a day then it’s time to get out of it. Every day is a new challenge.”