A small-town Saskatchewan farm boy’s journey lands him a job at the largest nuclear power plant in North America

October 2023

Mark Nagus, construction manager in labour relations at Ontario’s Bruce Power and alum of Saskatchewan Polytechnic’s Instrumentation Engineering Technology program, never expected to land a job at a nuclear power plant.

The only privately owned power company in Ontario, Bruce Power is located on the east side of Lake Huron near Tiverton. The company operates two nuclear plants, each containing four reactors that generate over 6,000 megawatts combined.

Plant one, known as Bruce A, was constructed in the 1970s. Bruce B, plant two, came online in the 1980s.

“Both stations are undergoing refurbishments,” Nagus says. “Once construction is complete, the entire site will put out over 7,000 megawatts extending the site’s life out to 2064. Bruce Power is looking at plans to add a third plant, which is in the development process.”

Nagus’ journey started on the family farm east of Carrot River in northeastern Saskatchewan. “There were lots of trees, lots of bugs and lots of water with very wet springs. Our farm was mixed, with raising animals and growing grain,” Nagus says.

Nagus left the farm when he was 18 and worked in retail for a couple of years. “Fine job, but the pay wasn’t great,” he says, “so after a couple of years I left and went to work on the oil rigs in Southern Saskatchewan. I had a stint for some time in forestry as well, logging near Hudson Bay and Carrot River.” While being close to home, Nagus continued to help on the family farm.

With the economic downturn in the mid-1980s and sky-high interest rates, Nagus was looking for a better-paying career option. “This generation is beginning to understand the impact of high-interest rates on mortgages and car payments. In the mid- to late ’80s, interest rates were over 10 per cent and many people were struggling.”

Nagus enrolled in the Instrumentation Engineering Technology program at Moose Jaw Campus in 1987.

“By this time, I’m 22 and Instrumentation was one of the higher paying positions right out of school,” He says, adding that working on the oil rigs opened his eyes to a career path he wanted to pursue.

The school in Moose Jaw was called Saskatchewan Technical Institute (STI) at the time and while there, Nagus saw it transition to the Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology (SIAST). At that time the program increased from a one-year to a two-year program.

Nagus says, “It was very tough, very math and science-oriented and provided hands-on lab skills. The program had a strong heavy industry component that meant you could find work anywhere in the industrial or energy sectors.”

Nagus says many of the graduates of the program accepted work in the oil and gas sector in Alberta and Saskatchewan, some worked in the forestry industry in Saskatchewan while others took positions in Manitoba for jobs at fertilizer plants. These are career paths that mirrored his own journey.

Looking for a job that was hands-on and field-oriented, Nagus moved to Medicine Hat, AB to take on a job with Kirkman Instruments, an oil field contractor. Nagus says, “As a contractor, I would drive out and service or calibrate instrumentation equipment on oil and gas wells or stations for various companies. I loved the independence of driving my own truck and working independently. Most of the work was nearby Medicine Hat but it also included areas around Lloydminster and Lethbridge.”

Around this time Nagus married Carole-Anne, his hometown sweetheart. While working for the contractor Nagus became a Red Seal Instrumentation and Control Technician.

After being on the road for several years, an opportunity came along with Nova Gas Transmission (later called Trans Canada Pipelines). Nagus and his wife moved west to Brooks, AB.

“I worked on the mainline pressure facilities that contained several underground high-pressure natural gas pipelines including Red Deer River, Jenner Compressor and Cavendish,” he says. “One of the things many people are not aware of is that 25 per cent of North America’s natural gas travels through this pipeline corridor for parts of eastern Canada and the United States.”

During this time a new compressor station was being built west of Brooks called Crawling Valley. “I was fortunate to be part of the construction and commissioning through the startup and operation for a couple of years,” Nagus notes.

An opportunity to advance within Nova came up and at that time Nagus moved to a new position in Fox Creek, AB, located between Edmonton and Grand Prairie. The community was much more isolated. However, the work was really rewarding and varied. Nagus continued to work on mainline pipeline construction but also gained experience in measurement/receipt delivery stations that fed the gas to the pipelines from large producers.

Nagus says, “The work was fantastic, as you got to work on the largest turbines in the fleet on the mainline, working on the valves during the construction of the pipeline, as well as all the key instrumentation that measured, monitored and controlled the gas entering the pipelines.” 

One of the compressor stations generated its own electricity as it was isolated in the foothills. This provided Nagus with yet another opportunity to learn another trade. So, during his time in Fox Creek, Nagus earned his journeyperson electrician ticket.

After 15 years in the oil and gas industry and with two young children, the Naguses moved back to Saskatchewan to be closer to family. “Our daughters needed to know their aunts, uncles, and grandparents,” he says.

Nagus took on a job in forestry with Weyerhauser as a maintenance planner for a new oriented strand board (OSB) mill being constructed in Hudson Bay. Nagus says, “The very first OSB mill in the world was built in the community in 1960 and was still in operation, and the company was now building a new OSB mill to replace it.” There was also a plywood mill in the community.

The family stayed in Hudson Bay for eight years. Nagus says, “We never planned to leave, but as cyclical things go, the forestry industry started to decline in 2007. The plywood mill, the old OSB mill and other mills in the province closed. Then the housing crash in the United States hit in 2007 and in 2008 our new plant was shut down indefinitely.”

Weyerhaeuser treated its employees well and some like Nagus still managed to keep their jobs as the plant was placed in a quiet state waiting for when production would return.

“I said to Carole-Anne (his wife), that while Weyerhauser is keeping us on, there is no guarantee how long they can keep that up.” We loved Hudson Bay and the people there and during this time an opportunity came up with Bruce Power. After a telephone interview, Bruce Power offered to fly him and his family out for a formal interview and to see the operation. Nagus says,” off we went, and we are still here”.

Bruce Power hired Nagus as a section manager after control maintenance for Bruce B. He spent time later as assistant maintenance manager at Bruce B and then as assistant maintenance manager at Bruce A. When Bruce Power began the refurbishment of the site, Nagus moved into a role as a construction manager for the next six years. Now, he holds the position of construction manager in labour relations.

“Bruce Power has about 4,000 permanent employees that work on site,” Nagus says. “On the construction side with our vendor partners, we have up to 3,000 trades on site at peak. This includes millwrights, electricians, pipe fitters and many others pushing the total number close to 11,000 as we progress through our refurbishment of the site. It is a fully unionized work-force on site and numerous issues arise.

 “Never did I think I would be working for a nuclear power plant or move to Ontario when I started the Instrumentation program at STI in Moose Jaw. One thing you learn is that where you start your career and what you do, may and most likely will change. As a manager, I am no longer working on the trades directly, however, everything I did up till this point has led me here.”

Nagus received his 15-year service award with Bruce Power, the longest he has worked anywhere. Nagus says, “Bruce Power is a great company to work for and I’m excited about the future of the company as we refurbish the site and investigate a new build to safely operate out to 2064.”