In the foggy mid-morning of a late August day in 2017, Daniel Campkin and a crew of five loaded up a boat and set sail for the uninhabited Hope Island off the coast of Ontario, Canada.
Through brisk air and choppy waters of the Georgian Bay, the Priestly Demolition crew headed off for a site visit to plot how they would restore the island to its natural state. Twenty minutes in, the fog grew thick.
“Halfway there, a storm rolls in, and we couldn’t see where the island was. We ended up having to turn around and come back to shore,” says Campkin, who served as project manager for Priestly on the job. “That was our first impression that this could be a challenging project.”
The Canadian government tasked Priestly Demolition of King, Ontario, with removing a lighthouse, four smaller auxiliary buildings and a wharf on the island to turn its ownership back to the Beausoleil First Nation.
Though a straightforward demolition job once on-site, the complexities of working on a remote island required careful planning to transport more than 1,400 tons of material safely back to land through unpredictable weather and rough waters.
Located off the northeast side of Lake Huron, Hope Island was one of three islands that belonged to the Beausoleil Nation, a band of Chippewa people, centuries ago.
In 2017, the Canadian government wanted to advance reconciliation efforts and demolish the island’s structures, which were past their useful lifecycles, as part of an environmental remediation project.
Priestly submitted the lowest bid to secure the $562,627 project, while the Montreal-based WSP Global acted as project consultant. Along with an inoperative 57-foot-tall lighthouse built in 1884, crews had to demolish two residences, a generator building, a fog house and a 130-foot concrete wharf jetting into the bay.
While the work required several pieces of heavy-duty equipment, one in particular was key to the entire operation: a 50-by-90 custom-built modular barge used to transport all the equipment and materials across 7 miles of open water.
The unassembled barge arrived to Ontario in eight truckloads in late August of that year. Priestly crews worked with Galcon Marine Ltd., the marine construction company that provided the barge, to bolt the segments together with a 90-ton crane over the course of a week.
Meanwhile, a crew of five from Priestly dispatched to the island for asbestos abatement and preparation. In addition to abatement, the crews also needed to clear overgrown brush and construct a wildlife barrier to deter animals from visiting.
Once Priestly assembled the barge and abated the site, the real work began.
The full crew arrived for a first day of work in early September with a barge full of equipment, including a site trailer; three excavators; grapple, hammer and bucket attachments; a rotary mower; and eight 40-yard roll-off containers. When crews reached the shore, they used two hydraulic towers to anchor the barge to the bottom of the bay.
Once crews cleared the brush and assembled a barrier, their first demolition target was the wharf, “which was unfortunate because it was our main access” to the island, Campkin says. However, Priestly needed to schedule around the mating seasons of different fish in the bay, leaving them with just one week to work in the water before moving inland.
The barge wasn’t just used for transporting equipment. A crew member operated a 20-ton excavator from the barge to break and lift boulders and concrete from the wharf while others stood nearby to help him maneuver the machine.
The crew worked long days to finish the job within the given timeframe. Working from a floating surface presented its own set of challenges, but crew members kept environmental concerns at the forefront of their minds as they worked carefully not to drop the more than 1,100 tons of concrete coming from the wharf into the bay.
“Some concrete did go in the water, which we had to pick back out. On a calm day, it was easier to see what you were working on. If it was slightly windy or the water wasn’t calm, it was difficult to see,” Campkin says. “We had to have a few spotters working with radios to tell [the operator] how to maneuver. It definitely took a lot of coordination and was a lot more hands-on.”
Weather became a main driver of when and how much work could be done.
On good days, the crew could reach the island in about 20 minutes, while a tugboat pulled the barge along in a 2½-hour trip one way.
Weather, however, interceded at times. Winds on the island could reach nearly 60 mph, and waves could rise as high as 12 feet, creating challenging and sometimes impossible conditions for the barge to cross. The Priestly crew lost 20 days of work to weather alone.
“The largest challenge of the job was the schedule, and that was because you didn’t know what the weather was going to be like, and if there were high winds, it would delay the project a day,” Campkin says. “We definitely pushed really hard and the guys worked longer shifts to ensure we could finish on time.”
And while the barge was a crucial piece of equipment for the job, it presented its own set of challenges. The crew needed the barge to transport all material on and off the island, but the slow-moving craft limited the amount that could be transported each day.
Priestly developed a plan to leave eight of the roll-off containers on the mainland and bring eight with them to the island.
After each day of demolition, whether they had mechanically picked apart the wooden buildings or crushed the concrete, crews sorted the material, loaded the eight containers on a truck that carried them to the barge.
Then, the barge made its near-three-hour trek back to Ontario, where more crew members unloaded the bins and loaded the barge back up with empties. From there, the craft was loaded and ready to move through the same cycle the next workday.
“Between logistical challenges with getting the barge and the equipment there and then getting the material off-site in a timely manner, it all affected the schedule. So if you didn’t get material out and get fresh bins in, you couldn’t fill the bins to get them back out,” Campkin says. “There were a lot of moving pieces and everything kind of had to come together like clockwork to ensure success.”
Priestly dealt with numerous other challenges besides scheduling while on the job.
With no means of accessing the uninhabited island once the wharf was gone, crews had to build their own makeshift bridge to get equipment on and off the island and finish demolishing the buildings.
Even the snakes on Hope Island, which are so bountiful that its nickname is “Snake Island,” made some crew members uneasy. However, Campkin says many snakes receded once the work began.
A greater cause
Despite weather complications, the Priestly crew still finished ahead of schedule and recycled nearly 80 percent of the material from the job.
Much of the wood could not be recovered, as high winds and harsh waters wore it down significantly over the years. All the concrete was crushed and sent to a nearby recycling facility, while the stone and rip-rap recovered from the building foundations and wharf were reintroduced back to the natural land around the island.
Once they graded the island, the Priestly crew of 10 packed up their equipment and made their final trip across the bay in November.
Though the job took place on a remote island, the work was no vacation. The crew’s challenges earned Priestly second place in its category for the 2019 National Demolition Association’s Excellence in Demolition awards.
Despite the accolades, though, Campkin and the crew say working to restore land to hand back over to its original owners made the job even more fulfilling.
“Before we started the project, out team went out to the Christian Island and met with the Beausoleil First Nation and introduced ourselves. They assisted us with access to the island, and they were definitely happy to see the work being completed,” Campkin says. “It was really cool being able to work with them.”