The Smithers airport needed to be repaved 1953. Back then, a company called Dawson and Wade earned the contract and they brought on a mechanic and welder named Bob Williams. The company paid Bob an extra two hours each day, which allowed him to compensate his assistant, a plucky 14-year-old boy named Ken. That was Ken Williams’ first introduction to the world of Dawson and construction. From that point onward, the province’s highways were about to get an extreme makeover during his 69-year (and counting) run with Dawson Construction.
“I remember running to school the next day, excited to tell all my buddies about the work I was helping my dad with. I thought it was the coolest thing,” said Williams, who was in Grade 8 back then.
Williams predates many significant highway, infrastructure and bridge construction projects in the province, as he was often one of the many hands working on them as either a mechanical or electrical supervisor.
“I never thought I’d be around as long as I have been. Everything within the province and the company has changed dramatically over the past 50-60 years. It’s been an incredible journey to be a part of,” said Williams, who was completing projects with equipment before the use hydraulic machines became common practice.
The 83-year-old hasn’t been working steady with Dawson all this time. Slow periods in work allowed him to focus his skills elsewhere, but he has always eager to jump on with a new, exciting project with Dawson.
An emerging community midway through the 20th century, Kamloops’ growth really began to take off following the completion of the Trans-Canada Highway Bypass project in 1969. Williams’ work as a mechanic on the paving crew assisted with the completion of that project in a timely manner.
Working with Paving Superintendent Lavern Hendricks in the 70s, Williams covered a 23-kilometre stretch of a gravel road on Highway 97 from the Yukon border to Watson Lake with a fresh, smooth layer of asphalt.
Perhaps one of the most well-known highways in the province – if not the country – the Coquihalla Highway – has Williams’ fingerprints all over it. Large sections of the ceased railway were converted into highway and bridge sections, leading into and out of Merritt, much in thanks to Williams and the paving crew.
Early on as a mechanic on paving crews, Williams was responsible for keeping everything running smoothly. Whether it be the pavers, trucks, rollers, loaders or any other pieces of equipment, he serviced them all and made sure they were working properly. When the projects slowed down in the wintertime, he focused his attention within the Knutsford shop, where he would provide further maintenance on the equipment, getting everything in line for the upcoming paving season.
“My dad always taught me that if something was broke, fix it. He was a great mechanic and I’ve carried that saying with me everywhere in my life,” said Williams.
Later in the 70s when the paving projects slowed down, Williams began rubbing shoulders with Hubie Smith, an electrician for Dawson Construction. Williams always had an interest in electrical work – just one more way to problem solve – and began working with Smith as he completed his electrical license. Smith also provided some insight that would benefit Williams for the next 40 years (and counting).
“Hubie recommended that I study for the contractor’s licence exam – something that wasn’t included in my apprenticeship. If I passed, it would allow me to write permits myself, instead of having to bring others in. It ended up saving us a lot of time and money,” said Williams.
Working during the daytime in Coquitlam, Williams prepared for the seven-hour exam in an evening course. Upon passing the exam, Williams could now pull for permits on most jobsites. With Dawson, he used his new education to help set up camps at remote job sites. Temporary trailers would get dropped off at a variety of locations and it was Williams’ job to make sure they were wired properly.
Williams has maintained his electrician certificate all these years later, as he now helps other Dawson employees, such as Tim Amies, complete his apprenticeship.
“That man has forgotten more about paving plants than I’ll ever know,” joked Amies. “He knows everything there is to know about these plants, always has the answers to our questions and I couldn’t have asked for a better person to help me complete my apprenticeship than Ken. He’s the reason why the industry is where it is today.”
Dawson’s open-mindedness kept Williams excited and interested in work. Whether it was the contractor’s licence, or Williams purchasing a plane to fly to different job sites, Dawson has always been willing to hear him out.
“People like Jack McKee (Mechanical Supervisor) or Walt Coxen (Supervisor) were really easy to work with and great listeners. Whenever I dealt with Ian Dawson, he carried himself with that same philosophy: be open to all ideas and don’t be scared to try something new. I think that’s what led to so many successful projects,” said Williams.
“I don’t really think of myself as being overly important to the company. I just did my job and had a great team around me. Loren Trueman was a great dirt mover and Superintendent on the Dease Lake project. Ben Kazakoff was the best Foreman I ever worked with. The crew at the Knutsford shop: Ken Johnson (Head Mechanic), Russ Bryson (Operator) and Len Leeuw (Purchasing Agent) deserve a lot of recognition as well, as they were great people to work with.”
As for retirement, Williams doesn’t plan on packing it in anytime soon. He still occasionally works for Dawson these days, as he still holds his contractor’s license. With that, he can pull permits to get started on new jobs. He also helps repair electrical issues with asphalt plants from time to time. There will always be a use for someone with the experience and knowledge he provides.
And besides, he’s still waiting for the delayed 100th year celebration party. He missed the 50th anniversary celebration because he was working on a paving crew job between Yale and Hope. He played a big part in the 75th anniversary party and was looking forward to the 100th anniversary celebrations until COVID-19 altered those plans. Any 100th anniversary celebration without Williams around sharing his stories from years and projects gone by wouldn’t feel right.
On our 100th Anniversary, Dawson Group extends its sincerest gratitude to Ken Williams for his 69 years of dedicated service. His contributions helped us achieve this significant milestone and lay the groundwork for our promising future.