When Mountain Man, aka Denis Pilon, and his wife Erika moved to Lake Cowichan, they had nothing. The couple was on welfare and they were struggling to make ends meet. Pilon worked often for trade, receiving a loaf of bread and some milk and maybe $50 for a days worth of work, where he could get it.
But over the years, Mountain (as his friends call him), and his wife, have established a well respected company within the community, and what he and his wife are most proud of is the fact that they have given many youth in the area a chance to build their resumes and learn work and life skills through working for Mountain Man Services.
Mountain Man Services is a company that offers everything from renovations and the construction of new buildings, to arbors, trellises, fencing and fence panels and gates, to custom woodwork and design.
Mountain Man Services currently has a core crew of four, with an extra five workers, most of whom are between 16 and 25-years-of-age, some of whom are still attending school. Most come from troubled backgrounds, some over the years have had substance abuse problems, and most at the very least need temporary work, or have fallen on hard times.
Mountain describes the work opportunity he provides these kids as a course, as they are hired under a 30 day probationary period in which they have an opportunity to learn how to use power and other tools of the trade, have a good work ethic, show up on time, not break the law, not be a nuisance in the community, and most of all to prove to Mountain that they are not going to mess up.
“So what I try to do, is find work for these young people. We do get a lot of guys who show up, they’re from dysfunctional families, or single mom or dad, and they’re in foster care, and they’ll show up looking for work.”
Mountain says he is a biker dad, “and my attitude is I’m a working boss and I expect everybody to work. They’re not guaranteed a job, they have to do that 30 day probationary period.”
Mountain may sound all tough as nails, and he does admit that when members of his crew get out of line he lets them know it, but he also cares a great deal about the kids that cross his path, and all he and his wife want is to see them succeed. They are extremely proud of those kids who have worked for them and have gone on to finish trades courses, or have started their own businesses.
“The kids are good with each other too,” says Erika. “If they’re home and they need firewood and stuff, they’ll all get together, Denis will drive, and no one will get paid for the day but they’ll all help each other get firewood. So it instills good friendships that way too.”
The amount of energy that Mountain puts into the crew has sometimes become a bone of contention between husband and wife over the years.
“Erika actually sometimes gets upset because she says that I spend more time looking after the guys on the crew and their families, and give them more attention than I actually do for her and I.”
But Erika says that she is also concerned that sometimes the kids just need to figure it out on their own and deal with their own mistakes.
But more than anything, this couple just wants to help the people who come to them looking for employment.
“We’re teaching life skills here, we’re teaching work skills here, and we’re trying to teach morally and socially correct actions,” says Mountain. “We’re not trying to change them or anything, we’re just giving them the basic ground rules of what real life expects from you. I’m hoping that what my wife and I have started gives some of these young people, men and women, a good foundation for starting out in the real world.”
Mountain says that the past year it has been tough to keep the kids employed because of the slow economy, and he has more and more people coming to him looking for work.
He recently had to lay off his entire crew. “Sunday and Monday I actually went around (the community) hat in hand and talked to some of my developers, I’ve met some new developers, I went and talked to my partner over at the mill (Dogwood Lumber), and by the end of Monday morning I had my main crew back — short hours of course — and of course today you saw we were doing a fence line.”
Most of the time, Mountain says he is taking a loss on the job site, but it matters to him that his crew has work.
Mountain and Erika are grateful to all the community members who have helped them over the years, such as Fred Neuffer, Rod Peters, Pat and Dale Weaver, Home Hardware, and many more.
“That’s the type of people we have in this community. If you prove yourself, like these kids are proving to me, there is a reality to honour and giving your word, and we’re just trying to instill that in the kids,” says Mountain.
But most of all Mountain is thankful to his wife, Erika.
“I would not be the man I am today, and I would not have been able to accomplish all that I have accomplished if I didn’t have her to come home to at night.”
Mountain and Erika have no plans to stop doing what they are doing anytime soon. If you would like to learn more about what Mountain Man Services has to offer, go to members.shaw.ca/mtman/index.htm, or call Mountain on his cell 250-715-8252.