Building futures one stone at a time | St. Clair College
Friday, May 14, 2021
St. Clair College’s brick and stone apprenticeship program is building more than structures, it is building futures.
Vince Zongaro and Maggie MacDonald are photographed near their brick and stone projects.

St. Clair College’s brick and stone apprenticeship program is building more than structures, it is building futures.

Graduating apprentice Vince Zongaro is celebrating his certification as a Red Seal Mason after recently graduating from St. Clair College.

The 32-year-old Windsor native is one of the first people in the city to earn this nationally recognized standard for skilled workers in Canada in quite some time.

After working as a cook for 13 years straight out of high school, Zongaro attended an information session hosted at St. Clair College’s Employment Centre and found the career change he was looking for.

Zongaro said he was seeking a hands-on trade with more regular hours and better pay.

“I started my apprenticeship almost immediately.”

He also received benefits like free tuition, textbooks, safety equipment and tools as part of the pre-apprenticeship program supported by the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development.

Apprentices are paid to work for 5600 hours in addition to level 1, 2 and 3 training at the college, before they can write the test for the Red Seal certification.

Zongaro said he applied as soon as he was able to get his name on the list, which was less than three weeks after completing Level 3.

During Level 3 students are introduced to natural stone like random ashlar and field stone.

Instructor Clay Phillips said the main project is to work in pairs to design and build a fireplace to code.

Phillips said cutting, carving, and working with stone is an art form itself.

“Vince took it upon himself to challenge himself with bonds, using dog-toothing. He went above and beyond, and he became quite a superstar.”

Maggie MacDonald is a 19-year-old apprentice who discovered masonry as an elective while in grade 10 at Brennan high school.

Starting at 16, she had enough co-op hours and graduated from the Windsor-Essex Catholic School Board’s Construction Academy with her Level 1 apprenticeship.

Today, she is the first woman to graduate from the brick and stone apprenticeship program at St. Clair College.

MacDonald said is it hard and challenging at times working in a male-dominated trade.

“The guys I work with don’t try to push me too hard (physically), which I respect, but at the same time I always want to give it my all and prove that I can do it. I’m okay to lift certain things but when it comes to working with stone and bigger blocks it does get tricky.”

MacDonald also said the guys she works with have been very supportive and nobody has ever told her she should not be doing it because she is a woman.

Her message to other young women considering masonry is to just do it and push themselves as hard as they can.

“If they’re not going to push themselves, they’re not going to go very far. It’s very hard. Even for the guys I went to school with. I’ve really impressed myself with the fact I made it this far.”

Although MacDonald plans to obtain her Red Seal after completing the required work hours, she has bigger plans in mind for the future.

She would like to be a teacher.

MacDonald said she has never heard of a female masonry instructor and would like to be the one to change that.

“I think it will make it more comfortable to have a grown woman there for young girls to learn from. Somebody who has lived the experience. It’s neat to say but it’s crazy to think about.”

- Todd Shearon