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A safe space to be yourself

From road and harvesting operations, to silvicultural operations and annual planning, I’ve had the pleasure of working in several positions within the forestry industry.

My name is Donald Mumby, and I am a registered professional forester. For clarification towards the context of this article, I identify as a cisgender gay male.

My passion for the outdoors began the same as for most people, in my childhood. I became filled with curiosity and excitement when I was brought camping, or to the cottage as a child. My love for botany developed as I had different experiences with silviculture, and also horticulture later on in my post-secondary studies, and eventual career opportunities to follow.

I studied at Lakehead University and Confederation College in Thunder Bay, which was the first time that I really had a northern experience. I grew up in the suburbs of Ottawa and had little experience with the elements of northern living.

My first summer student job was in road operations, in northern Manitoba in 2014. I flew from Ottawa to Winnipeg and took a 12-hour sleeper train to The Pas. I arrived in The Pas around midnight, where a co-worker I had never met before picked me up and brought me to a stuffy staff house nearby. Four people were already fast asleep, resting for the day's work to follow. The next day I was thrown into the thick of it, with long days of timber cruising, road layouts, and flagging boundaries.

I also worked in Timmins the following year. I mainly focused on silviculture but had additional roles in other operations such as road & culvert operations, harvesting, aggregate management and scaling. It was a position with a wide range of responsibilities.

While the two experiences were different in roles and responsibilities, they were also very similar in many ways. The two roles took place in smaller, less populated towns. The two roles also provided me with extremely valuable knowledge, skills and experience in the forestry industry. I had the absolute pleasure of working closely with some of the most dedicated, detail oriented and hardworking people I have been lucky enough to have come across.

Unfortunately, within these areas was an unpleasant amount of toxic masculinity that was outdated and promoted stagnant views on social issues. The mindset in these groups tended to be a very traditional, bottom line, and black and white philosophy.

I had a life changing moment, with a group of contractors after a long day of remote work. We were having some cold beers after a long day, sitting around a fire pit at a fishing lodge. The operator of the grader had mentioned loudly in front of everyone that he wanted to introduce me to his son (who was gay) because he thought we would hit it off.

That is a memory I will cherish for a lifetime. The unfathomable had just happened, I had been identified as a homosexual, in front of a large group of very traditional men. The memorable part of this interaction was the level of attention people paid, which was zero. Not a single one of the 8 people gave a single nod, or raised an eyebrow, but rather encouraged the potential introduction and maintained an unchanged perspective on me.

Moving forward from that moment in my life, I never felt the need to hide who I was. Living and working in areas, with people who potentially held distaste for my identity; did I feel worried about being myself. There were countless amounts of times that I have heard negative slurs, jokes and opinions about the LGTBQ community. I have never personally had to undergo hardship, bullying or harassment due to my sexuality in the workplace, but I know that unfortunately that is quite the opposite for many individuals, especially in the forestry industry.

I think that it’s unrealistic and unfair to expect to be in a state of constant agreement, or to expect a world that never causes discomfort or offence. However, it is not only important, but also fundamental for individuals to feel welcome and safe, especially at their place of work.

In an ever-changing society that we currently find ourselves in, it’s more difficult than ever to navigate the complications we may struggle with, let alone the complications our coworkers may face.

Being able to maintain a healthy and happy workforce in any industry is sure to allow growth and innovation and prosperity. Allowing employees, a safe place to be themselves is the best way to ensure that all employees are comfortable to bring their best to the table. Being able to advertise a healthy work environment is an attractive element to consumers and assists in maintaining a progressive and forward-thinking public image


Donald Mumby, a friend of Women in Wood, studied Forestry at Lakehead University, and Forest Ecosystem Management at Confederation College. He's worked as a forestry technician and silviculture supervisor, a horticulturist for a cannabis company and a manager of business at a garden centre, both in Toronto. Forestry, and horticulture have given him excellent experiences in his true passion: botany. Donald's interest in taxonomy and plant classification is rooted in his daily life.


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