Wilfred Emberley has clocked a lot of hours on ships over the course of a 29-year career with the Canadian Coast Guard.
Over that time, he’s been involved in hydrographic work to describe the physical features of the sea within the Canadian Arctic, looked after buoys and even helped save lives. His work as a deckhand sometimes requires staying on a boat for close to a month (even close to two on rare occasions), which might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but Emberley has developed a wood-carving hobby that helps occupy his spare time aboard coast guard vessels.
“It don’t bother me,” he said. “I keep things positive all the time … I always go with a smile and help a lot of the younger people who come on board the ships.”
Emberley, who has lived in Upper Island Cove for the last 11 years since transferring back to Newfoundland from Trenton, Ont., was recently the recipient of a Canadian Coast Guard Exemplary Service Medal. It recognizes his dedication to working in risky environments in a dutiful manner.
“It just blew me away,” he said of receiving the medal, presented at Government House in St. John’s last month.
Originally from Conche on the Northern Peninsula, Emberley got to spend a lot of time on boats growing up through his dad, who was a fish harvester in White Bay.
He was working in a factory in Trenton in 1990 and met a woman whose husband was in a hiring position with the coast guard. Figuring he would be well suited to the work given he was from Newfoundland and Labrador and used to boats, she connected Emberley with her husband, and so began a career that continues to this day.
“It was just luck I guess,” said Emberley, who will be eligible to retire next year and has helped raise a family over the course of his career. “And I’m really happy that I did. I reared up my family and things were good. I loved the job, and I still do.”
He admits working in the Arctic did take some getting used at first, but he adjusted and came to enjoy having a job that takes him to a part of the world not everyone gets to experience.
In his down time aboard vessels, Emberley focuses on his interest in folk art. He makes chests, jewelry boxes, face carvings and models of boats. He even built the bar in his basement, which is shaped like the bow of a boat. Emberley’s one rule is to never make the same item twice.
“I do a lot of carvings of tall ships, anything,” he said. “That’s how I got into it. Those days or nights where you’re on ships and feel bored, well, you can go down to the carpentry shop, and I trained myself to do other things.”
When a co-worker retires, Emberley is sure to make them a special parting gift.
“It don’t matter who you are — right from the captain or whatever — I treat everyone the same,” he said.
The connections he has made over time through work is something Emberley cherishes about his job. Within the Canadian Coast Guard, there are plenty of different personality types, he noted.
“By meeting all of these personalities, it has made me who I am today,” he said.
In a strange way, being part of the coast guard has taken his life full circle. He was born in St. Anthony at Sir Wilfred Grenfell Hospital and has most recently found himself working on CCGS Sir Wilfred Grenfell patrol vessel.
“It’s a complete circle, pretty much.”