For a student of history, it doesn’t get much better….

By Marcus Kaulback

So you think you can dance? No, me neither. And so I’m not a dancer. Instead, I have the privilege to call myself a historian.

I got a job four months ago with a research management company in Ottawa. Clients come to us for a slew of reasons, but most of our work includes providing specialized research services, whether for litigation support, community development, or a person’s simple interest in the past. But whatever the reason, we’re the background workers giving our clients the information they need to succeed in their projects. We try to make hindsight even clearer than 20/20.

But enough tooting the company horn…

I’m working now on something called the Unexploded Explosive Ordnance and Legacy Sites Program (we’ll just call it the UXO Project) which is an attempt by the Department of National Defence to clean up all their old military sites, especially as urban centres grow and encroach more and more on previously out-of-the-way training sites. My job is to research the military activity of past DND sites across Canada to help determine the probability of there being unexploded ordnance still in the ground at these places.

My boss, the senior researcher, sends me lists of files that contain information on a specific site. I spend my days, then, after I’ve ordered these files from Library and Archives Canada (big Soviet-style building in downtown Ottawa with itty-bitty windows), sifting through them looking for any and all mention of live firing having taken place there. I’m looking at primary sources, things like Inspection Reports of camps and armouries, War Diaries of specific units, and even personal letters of the soldiers themselves. For a student of history, it doesn’t get much better.

Once we’ve fully looked at a site, we write reports on them and submit those to DND, which help them in turn determine whether or not there’s a point to actually going down to these places and surveying the land to find these bad things that might still lurk under it.

It’s a quiet gig, solitary too, but it satisfies my passion for the past. And really, how many jobs would do that? Like I said, I studied history in university, more specifically military history, so this job ticks a big box. I get paid to handle real-deal documents that speak to our country’s military past, and by doing it contribute to tidying up the sites that played such a huge role in that past, and I’m happy and lucky to do it.

As you can imagine though, I didn’t come roaring out of uni and into the interview. As most of us 21st-century job seekers know, there is rarely such a thing as a conventional path to employment anymore. No longer do we decide in childhood what we want to be, pursue it at some type of finishing school, and get the job right after graduation. As for me, I skipped town after I graduated, went to Asia where I spent nine months slumming around Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, India, and Nepal before landing in Busan, South Korea to teach kindergarteners the Queen’s English for a year. From Korea, not eager to get back home, my girlfriend and I took the long way ’round, travelling overland to England, five of those seven months spent in a 1981 VW campervan crisscrossing Europe.

I got home to Canada, moved to Vancouver, and continued my slumming. I took a few courses, among them editing, worked a few jobs, among them editorial assistant for a couple of magazines, but moved back to Ottawa after three years of overall professional nonfulfillment. Then the scramble for a job really ramped up. Kid on the way, bills to pay, no job to light the way. Six months came and went with no meaningful work, so I went to an alumni function – something I had never done – at the behest of my mum, “to network”, she said. It was here that I met my future boss.

I don’t have a lesson for anyone on how to go about gaining work. I don’t know the answers, obviously. But I guess that’s the point of WorkStory, to share our “journey to the job” and let all of you know that the whole point, when you’re down and nearly out, is to just keep chugging and plugging away. Hell, I’ve emptied ashtrays at a bowling alley and cut grass at a cemetery, but you just keep going. It took me almost seven years to find something worth it, but that’s just it…it was worth it.

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