RUSSELL – A former Russell resident and graduate of Russell High School, Kelsey Wade, was recently featured in the Women in Maritime spotlight from the Nautical Institute, showing off her progress in an ever-expanding male-dominated career.
“I’m a chief mate from Canada working on the Great Lakes. I grew up on a dairy farm in a small town… and I never thought or dreamed of a career in the marine industry. My father is the one who encouraged me to attend a marine college. I started school in 2012, with my first cadet sea term in spring of 2013 when I was just 18 years old,” she wrote for the Women in Maritime Facebook and Instagram page. “I worked as a cadet, as a deckhand, and as a wheelsman and tried to learn as much as I could in the 4 months I was on board. It was an eye opening experience to a life I would have never imagined for myself. I remember being in my cabin and crying – not knowing if this was a job I could handle or a job that was meant for a female as I was the only [one] on board. Fast forward 7 years, I am currently a chief mate, having just finished my last exam for my masters licence.”
She continued to write, “I recently made the decision to leave the cargo industry and I will be joining a car ferry that runs between Tobermory and Manitoulin Island in September as chief mate. It was a hard decision to decide to leave the company I started with, but it allows me to start the next chapter of my life, and allows me to have a family and spend more time at home. I can’t imagine my life if I hadn’t of stuck out my first cadet term. For all the not so nice people, I have met so many more great people, for all the people who said I couldn’t do it, I continue to prove them wrong, and for all the people who encouraged me I thank them from the bottom of my heart.”
Surprisingly enough Wade had very little interest in joining this industry at first. She chose this industry because it interested her father, who chose to pursue it when he was younger.
“There were days I would be in my cabin and cry because it was difficult,” she said. “Being away from home, being isolated in the sense that I was by far the youngest member of the crew and one of the only females. There have been a bunch of incredible people I have met along the way, but there have also been some terrible ones.”
Wade has had to navigate a few obstacles during her time in a male-dominated industry, with plenty of inappropriate behaviour from fellow male crew members.
“I have been objectified as a female on board, I have had drunk crew members come to my room and bang on my door wanting me to let them in, I have dealt with people wanting more than a work relationship,” she said. Wade mentioned that she has been called disparaging names as well as being told that she has, “put stress on another crew members’ relationship with his girlfriend only because she found out there was a female on the ship – not because I had any interest or there was anything going on.”
But none of this has dashed her hopes of one day becoming a captain, whether that be on the ferry or back in the cargo industry.
“I would like to be able to have a happy home life, have a family and still be able to have a career,” she said. “I don’t think I should have to sacrifice one dream for another.”