Sat. Mar 2nd, 2024
The man behind the catwalks: Ray Sheppard retires after 30 seasons at Pinery

Today’s post comes from Megan Loucks, discovery leader at Pinery Provincial Park.

Have you ever been to Pinery Provincial Park?

Take a moment to think about your favorite place. Is it the observation deck along the Riverside Trail? What about the boardwalk that leads to the beach? Have you been to the top of the Nipissing Trail Overlook?

We often admire the beauty of the park’s natural wonders from the boardwalks and viewing points, but have you ever wondered who built them?

Today’s blog is about the man behind the catwalks: Raymond Sheppard.

Happy retirement Ray!

Ray began his Ontario Parks career at Pinery Provincial Park in 1981.

That means he worked for 30 busy seasons here at Pinery!

staff working

When we first approached Ray and asked if he’d be willing to be featured in a blog about his time at Pinery, his immediate response was “Sure, but I don’t know what a blog is.”

After explaining the blog to Ray, we asked him to take us on a tour of the park and tell us about his time here at the park.

This is what we learned:

More than a builder

It’s no secret that Ray loves building things and is very skilled at it. You would be surprised to know that when Ray came to Pinery, he actually had a talent in plumbing!

Ray worked for a local consulting and construction company before coming to the park, where his main job was climbing under houses and installing pipes.

staff standing in front of the vehicle

This made Ray an expert in installing and maintaining camp water lines.

It was during his many years at the Pinery that Ray honed his excellent carpentry skills and became known for his talent in constructing docks, walkways and stairs.

Road redesign

Early in Ray’s career, a problem with the road design in Pinery was pointed out.

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staff looking in the toolbox

After a supervisor created a redesign plan for the roads, Ray was hired to implement it.

Ray, along with a few others, spent the winter at the construction permit stands. Once spring arrived, they rerouted the roads and installed the new poles.

This was no small feat, as there were 1,200 campsites at the time!

Staff looking through toolbox on truck bed

It was around 1985 that the campground roads were rerouted to one-way routes, with the permit booths facing the direction of travel to facilitate visibility.

Wearing many hats

Ray has played many different roles over the years.

He worked short contracts cutting chainsaws and patching roads. He was a camp foreman and developed maintenance plans for the park. He even accepted temporary assignments as assistant superintendent!

staff holding chainsaw

But of all the jobs Ray has held over the years, his favorite place was working in the field, in camps, and building infrastructure. His second favorite was winter work, like removing snow and maintaining the ski slopes.

In 2006, Ray assumed the position of Senior Park Maintenance Technician, a position he holds to this day. This position allows Ray to ensure that our park and campgrounds are consistently in top condition.

This is also where Ray has been able to lead, mentor and train new staff. Ray leaves a legacy of a skilled worker and wonderful leader.

A battle with mother nature

For the past 40 years, Ray has been in battle with Lake Huron and often Lake Huron wins.

staff standing on the stairs

Ray doesn’t mind letting Lake Huron do what it wants: “Sometimes it’s just part of the job. Some years you rebuild stairs, other times you dig them out of a sand dune,” he says.

Every spring, Ray and a team of park staff head to the beaches to prepare stairs and boardwalks for summer visitors.

According to Ray, the 2020 water levels were the highest he has ever experienced. This made 2020 the year of staircase reconstruction.

Ray says, “You just have to work around Mother Nature. “Sometimes trees fall on boardwalks and stairs are washed away.”

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Survived by wood

Early in his career, Ray was building a boardwalk with his supervisor. When they received the wood for the boardwalk, they noticed that it was marked as 40-year-old wood.

staff carrying wooden planks

The company announced that the pressure-treated wood would last 40 years.

At that moment they joked with Ray telling him that he would be the only one present to see if he lasted that long.

staff standing on the boardwalk

Fast forward to the reconstruction of the Riverside Trail boardwalk a few years ago.

Indeed, the wood lasted up to 40 years and Ray was present to see it.

A team player

Ray has experienced many changes during his time at Ontario Parks.

He has had 12 different superintendents and 16 different supervisors. One thing has never changed and that is Ray’s commitment to the team.

old photo of park staff

Ray comes to work every day and goes above and beyond.

staff working on stairsHe takes pride in every project he completes, although you would never know it from his humble attitude. Ray spends his time focusing on the success of his team.

As Ray reflected on his time at the park, there were countless names of coworkers, supervisors, and mentors he had worked with over the years.

These people have had a huge impact on him and the work they did together at the park.

Although today’s blog is about Ray, his focus has always been on his coworkers and team.

Leaving behind a legacy

Ray has had a long and wonderful career at Pinery.

She has made connections with many people and received the 2019 Ontario Parks Legacy Award.

staff looking at the poster

People who have known and worked with Ray over the years have memories that will last a lifetime. Even if you’ve never met Ray personally, chances are you’re connected to him, too.

If you’ve ever admired a gazebo, used a water spigot, driven through a campground, or read a sign in the park, you’ve experienced Ray’s legacy.

Leave behind infrastructure that helps you connect with the natural world in a way so sustainable you don’t even realize you’re doing it.

We are grateful for Ray’s many years of service and congratulate him on his well-deserved retirement.