Mother, miner, heavy equipment operator and now reality TV star, Nika Guilbault loves life in the wild.
The Sorrento resident delivered twins in the family truck on Jan. 28 and thinks their arrival may postpone her return to the Yukon, where she and husband Chris St. Jean operate a small mining company.
The couple are featured in the third season of Yukon Gold, History Channel’s Canadian “docu-series” that returns to television Feb. 25 at 10 p.m. ET/PT.
Producers bill the show as a character-based documentary that captures the physical and emotional struggles four sets of miners face in their search for gold during the 16-week mining season.
“The biggest challenge is Mother Nature,” laughs the effervescent 27-year-old Guilbault.
“She throws everything at us; we’ve been flooded out and a washed out bridge separated us for a week… but we’re up for it, baby and all.”
Guilbault and St. Jean’s company, CTF Earthworks, was formed in 2011 and began mining operations in 2013.
“We bought some claims and equipment, starting with some ground and older machinery,” Guilbault says, noting they are often mining through permafrost that ranges in depth from five feet to 20- to 30-plus deep. “It’s tough to find ancient creek beds where there might be some gold; the Yukon has been heavily mined over the years but we’re hoping some old-timers left us some gold.”
Mining season begins sometime in April and continues to mid or late October – “when things don’t work anymore, there’s no water, the equipment breaks down, we get moody” and the season ends.
Mining is a struggle, Guilbault laughingly admits, with finding suitable employees challenging.
“People don’t realize how remote we are; it’s different from the oil patch,” she says. “We work long days, go back to camp, eat something and go to bed pretty much right away to get ready for the next morning.”
And the accommodations are definitely far from five-star.
“We have some old ATCO-type trailers and Chris built a large addition so we can all be living in one trailer instead of having a bedroom trailer and a bathroom trailer.”
Now the family will have two more children to house, Guilbault says St. Jean will give up his gold-cleaning room to give Zyla a bedroom.
Guilbault works side-by-side with St. Jean, doing pretty much everything he does.
She credits growing up on the family’s Sorrento farm with instilling her love of the outdoors – the more remote the better.
When she was 18, Guilbault headed to Fort St, John, where she laboured on a pipeline, was a medic and a pilot driver for rig transport companies.
While training in Kelowna for her class one driver’s licence so she could move from the pilot car to the large rig-moving trucks, Guilbault was offered a job with a mining company.
It was there, shortly before the 2010 mining season began, that she met her future husband. He was part of the mining company’s interview crew.
In her first year of mining, Guilbault learned how to drive three of the biggest bulldozers made, as well as excavators, rock trucks, work a wash plant and repair and maintain equipment.
“It can be very overwhelming to be learning all that stuff; a lot of times I was left alone,” she says. “It was sometimes scary, but I never tipped anything over or rolled anything.”
The following year Guilbault headed back to Fort St. John to earn enough money for the couple to start their own mining venture. That ended when she discovered she was pregnant.
While on the rigs, Guilbault took flak from some of the old-timers with the ‘keep her barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen’ attitude.
“I just told them I’d do their job and then some,” she laughs, pointing out life in the Yukon, where most mining companies are small and family owned, is different, and more women are involved – and appreciated for being more gentle on the equipment and more easy going.
Guilbault says she and her husband do well with the isolation and hard work because they respect each other, enjoy each other’s company and have the same goals.
Being part of a reality TV show was interesting, she says, noting the family got used to cameras all the time and bonded well with the film crew.
“It became part of everyday life… they have to endure a lot of what we did,” she says. “They have a lot of challenges and so do we, and respect each other’s space.”
Guilbault says people who watch the show will see how much Zyla enjoys the new things she learns and how much she grows over the summer. There will be more learning as the expanded family begins another season in the north, but Guilbault is undaunted.
“Anyone who has the gumption, is a little bit hard-headed and maybe a bit crazy can do it.”