A Change is Gonna Come

Maggie Budden OAWA NS
Maggie Talking to Women Unlimited

Throughout his daughter’s youth, Murray Horne made it clear he didn’t think women belonged in the trades. As far as he was concerned, his daughter certainly wouldn’t become an ironworker. Turns out he was wrong.

Not only did Maggie Budden (nee Horne) become the first female Red Seal ironworker in Canada, her career mirrored her father’s, allowing them to work together and even making her his foreperson for a time. 

Today, Maggie is the coordinator of the newly-opened Office to Advance Women Apprentices in Cape Brenton and she’s working to introduce even more women to under-represented skilled trades. 

“He was a great mentor. You know, he stayed after work and taught me and a couple other guys how to weld. He was there for us. If you wanted to learn, he’d teach you,” Maggie says of her dad, who passed away about four years ago. “He would have been really proud of me.”

From Cake Decorating to Cutting Torch

Maggie was born and raised in Cape Breton, NS in a family of hard workers. Her father and brother were ironworkers and she did think she’d take a different path. She studied cake decorating in her mother’s native Scotland, but upon her return, the cake business wasn’t really taking off and working in telemarketing wasn’t making Maggie happy. Eventually, her father gave her a chance to show her chops in welding. 

He gave her a hard time, challenging her every step of the way, but Maggie says that’s what made her an exceptional worker with the ability to work for, and with, anyone. 

“Most people saw how he worked with me and they’d feel sorry for me,” she says, laughing. 

Change of Heart

“I think he saw how I was struggling in life and he knew how you could succeed in the ironworkers financially. Another thing that might have changed his mind … he was working on the Hibernia project and there was a woman who came to work there,” she says. “He grumbled and groaned and she was so – I guess you’d say pig headed or stubborn. He was checking all her welds with a fine tooth comb, looking for anything to fail her … but she worked and worked, and eventually he couldn’t find anything wrong with her welds and at the end of it he had so much respect for her.”

Murray later told Maggie the woman was as good as any man on a job. When Murray passed away, that same woman sent a heartfelt letter to the family about her experience working with him and how it helped form her career too. 

Maggie replacing the flag on the Coker structure of CNRL.jpg
Maggie replacing the flag on the Coker structure of CNRL.jpg

A Second Career

Throughout her career Maggie became well known for quality work and travelled throughout the western provinces to work on large development and industrial projects. Moving from job-to-job she was frequently the only woman or one of a couple on a site. 

“When I walked into my first meeting for the Ironworkers apprenticeship, all the other apprentices thought I was there to take minutes … but once they realized I was there to join the ironworkers, and who I was, they were really supportive,” she says.  

Maggie’s career blossomed and she worked as an equipment manager, materials manager, foreperson, was elected to the executive committee of her union, and continued her hands on work for years before meeting a fellow Cape Bretoner – a plumber nonetheless – and decided to move home. They now have two daughters and when Maggie was ready to go back to work three years ago, she decided to work as a bank teller for more stability. It wasn’t exactly her dream job. 

Becoming the Boom 

While Maggie’s career was stalling, the Cape Breton building trades were booming, Karen says. 

“We had no idea Nova Scotia was going to Boom like it has – mainland Nova Scotia and Cape Breton,” says Karen Walsh, executive director of the Newfoundland and Labrador office. “It was pretty evident that Cape Breton was experiencing such a construction boom that we needed to have someone on the ground there to work with women (in the area).”

Upon opening its brand new office in Cape Breton in 2021, Maggie was encouraged by friends to apply. Karen says Maggie was the perfect candidate with her hands-on trades experience, connections in the community, and her institutional awareness.

“She’s very passionate and has done lots of mentoring of women interested in the trades. Has done lots of speaking engagements and yeah, she’s a very powerful person to have in that position,” Karen says. “She looked at it and then realized ‘I can give back and I can educate people on my career through the years,’ but also, ‘I didn’t have anything like this to help me through the years, so here’s my opportunity.’”

Hanging Up Her Hard Hat

By the same token, Maggie is excited to start creating opportunities for women in Cape Breton.

“I’m overjoyed to be here. It’s great,” she says. “If there’s any struggles that women face, if there’s barriers, we’re going to break them down either by educating the union or educating the women.”

The Cape Breton office will follow the model used by the other six offices throughout Canada and will offer the same services like mentoring, career services, recruitment, employment support and networking opportunities. 

As for Maggie, she does still miss working with her hands, but she’s willing to trade in her hard hat for an office if it means supporting more women in trades. 

“It was so much fun and I enjoyed every day when I went in and worked as an ironworker and if I can give that to any woman – the independence where you don’t have to rely on anybody but yourself and you can raise a family and you can buy a home – it’s really important.”

Meet Maggie

Want to hear more of Maggie’s story? Would you like to see what it takes to become an ironworker or to work another trades job? Get in touch with the Cape Breton office and set a meeting with Maggie. 

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