9985 Derek Lovlin: 40 Years of Leadership as a Professional Engineer

“Retirement is proving to be just as satisfying.”

Article by 25366 Anna-Michelle Shewfelt

Careful readers of e-Veritas will remember 9985 Derek Lovlin and his bride Joan from a recent Golden Oldies post showing off their “wedding transportation.” (See the above photo if you’re curious; Derek was the first Cadet to be married at the College while still a Cadet.) Now, almost 44 years later, they are still happily married with three adult children and four grandchildren. Derek left the CF in 1979 after his four years were up and worked through a number of civilian engineering roles. He has now been happily retired almost five years.

It was the promise of both opportunity and challenge that drew him to military college. “My grade 5 and 6 teacher was from Harrowsmith and knew of RMC and its history and role. She repeated a few times to my parents over those two years that my personality and abilities, should they continue into my teens, would make me a candidate for RMC,” he explained. “I didn’t think much about it after that until the recruiting officer showed up at the high school midway through Grade 12. At that time I recalled the teacher’s comments and, since it meant at least a good university education (which was paid for) and it sound like a challenge, I went through the application process.”

A native of the Northwest Territories (he moved around so much growing up that he couldn’t pinpoint just one “hometown”), he entered CMR in 1969 and graduated from RMC in 1975 as what he calls a six year man (“I repeated my second year at CMR,” he clarified). Despite that setback, Derek has more than a few fond memories. “In my years at CMR we had a football team that participated in the JV league of the Quebec universities,” he recalled. “We had some great games (won and lost) and the team was a really close group of guys. We played some interesting games in the late fall snow. The most memorable had to be a trip to Quebec City to play Laval and staying at the Barracks in the Citadel.”

“I also played basketball for three years at CMR and remember, after a game at Loyola, pushing our bus onto a side street somewhere in Montreal one night in about a half metre of snow and walking a good distance in the snow to the Metro,” he went on. “The other ‘moment’ for our entry class of 1969 was the submission of a ‘paper’ to the Commandant and the CF justifying the need for a raise in the base pay for Officer Cadets (that had not changed for many years). It seems to me within a year that there was a review and raise that came close to the recommended amount.”

“My two years at RMC were a little less memorable,” Derek remembered. “I curled on the College team for a year and we participated in bonspiels around Ontario including one in Ottawa where we played against Earle Morris. He greeted us on the ice with his name and College number! In fourth year my to-be wife Joan, classmate Jan Francki and I won a weekend ‘car rally/scavenger hunt’ that took us out into many back roads along the Rideau canal. There were good times, and some long cold walks, with the other 15 guys in the Civil engineering class out to and in our “secluded” class rooms out where the old stables were. I was a rook flight CFL, and then D/CSL, in fourth year and organized the year end raffle we had for the 26 inch colour TV we had purchased for the squadron. In the end I won the TV (I was not present when they drew the number!) and it served me well for about seven years! The other memories from RMC that stick are the several weddings of classmates and friends we attended before our own wedding.”

Derek’s greatest challenge in military college, perhaps not surprisingly, was academics. “I took quite a while to develop what I would call good study habits and processes. That caught up with me in second year at CMR where I failed algebra and ended up repeating the year. Despite the stumble I ended up with a degree in civil engineering.”

There are a few staff members from those years who stick in his mind as well. “LCol Carpenter taught psychology classes that I took in both 3rd and 4th year.  I probably learned more from those classes that actually applied to challenges of dealing with people in my career than from any other classes,” Derek said. “LCol (John) Gardam was DCdts my first year (3rd Year) at RMC. He gave several “lectures” on leadership and responsibility that were loosely referred to as the ‘Seven (?) Books of John’. I still have a paper copy of one of those lectures. They, too, were very applicable to the dealings I had with people and decisions I had to make over my career.  My squadron officer and curling coach for 3rd and 4th year was Capt (ret’d LCol) Dave Heath. Dave was only few years older than I and we both ended up posted to CFB Beaverlodge after my graduation, so I got to know him well.  We crossed paths again many years later when we were both working in Saskatoon. We keep in touch to this day.”

“I took CELE training following grad and, as noted, was posted to CFB Beaverlodge (a Pine Tree Line radar station just outside Grande Prairie, Alberta), for two years as Ops Officer and then Tech Officer. While there I was seconded to a small team, based out of 1CEU in Winnipeg,” he explained, “that spent four months surveying sites for a new radar chain across western Canada. After two years I was posted to Ottawa and spent two years working on the project team for the SAMSON computerized message switching system that replaced teletype in the CAF.  Then Capt. Doug Smith (a recently retired prof from RMC, I believe) was part of that project team and he taught some of us the intricacies of computer programming at the register level, a knowledge and skill that gave me a real good footing for using and understanding personal computers several years later when they were introduced into the business world. Six months of the Samson posting was spent in the ‘bunker’ in Debert, NS testing the system and working ‘underground’. In the spring of 1979 I took my release from the CAF and ventured out into the ‘civilian’ world.”

Derek with his children on the tundra outside of Cambridge Bay in October 1988.

When he left the CF, Derek took roles that allowed and required him to use his engineering knowledge and P.Eng status. His first such role was with Cominco Engineering in Trail, BC, as a planning engineer and then project engineering on a number of the projects in their $2 billion revitalization of their smelter and associated infrastructure. “My assessment of my abilities and knowledge gained in the military, compared to those around me at Cominco, made me somewhat impatient with their organization so when an opportunity led to a job offer with Dome Petroleum’s subsidiary Canmar, working on building islands in in the Arctic’s Beaufort Sea, I jumped at the chance!” As he recalls it, Planning and helping manage the building of Tarsuit Island in the Beaufort was a memorable, unforgettable, learning experience and helped me immeasurably in the next part of my career! I spent six fun years working with great teams in Canmar and then the Dome Systems Group (my SAMSON experience helped) and then one year finding the right ‘next’ step in my career.  That turned out to be a position as Regional Superintendent of Public Works for the Kitikmeot region for the Government of the NWT. This was in the community of Cambridge Bay at 69 deg north on the Arctic coast. The three and a half years spent in that position were probably the best years (learned much, accomplished much, enjoyed the community, built and led a great team) of my career.”

At the end of three and a half years, family reasons prompted a move to Yellowknife where Derek took a similar position as Regional Superintendent for the Yellowknife region. “Through the next seven years in Yellowknife with the Department of Public Works I filled three different positions up to Director level and worked on a team to reorganize the department when the NWT split into two territories (Nunavut and NWT).” There were a few memorable moments in those years, too. “We helped accommodate the residents of the Town of Norman Wells when it was threatened by a forest fire and they were evacuated to Yellowknife.  We oversaw the construction and opened a new legislative assembly building for the NWT. I got to attend the meeting of federal and provincial Deputy Ministers of Public Works on behalf of the NWT and got a great tour of the Confederation bridge (PEI) during its construction in 1996.   However, the most memorable event was being an integral part of the team that planned and executed the 1994 visit of the Queen and Prince Phillip to Yellowknife.  I got to meet and speak with her and Prince Phillip, and have a group photo taken with them.”

Derek (lower left) and the organizing committee with the Queen and Prince Phillip Yellowknife 1994

Eventually, family reasons also prompted a move out of the North. “My oldest daughter and son were moving on to university and College and we decided, with some regrets, to move out of the North.   I took a position as Manager, Asset Management team with the City of Saskatoon. After 14 months there I decided it was time to ‘get out of government’ and I moved, with the help and influence of (ret’d LCol) Dave Heath, to a job as an engineering project manager for International Road Dynamics in Saskatoon. Our long term family objective was to get back to Alberta, so when an engineering associate and friend from my Canmar days, offered me a position with Reid Crowther engineering consultants in Calgary as their Manager for Municipal Engineering I accepted and we moved in 1999 to the Calgary suburb of Okotoks.  That started a management career in consulting engineering. I led various teams of engineers in municipal and water systems engineering for Reid Crowther, Earth Tech, UMA, AMEC, and Progressive Engineering over seven years, in most of those making the groups more productive and profitable.”

“While at Progressive Engineering I was approached by the senior partner who suggested that with my combined government and engineering background I would be an excellent fit for the position of Director Infrastructure and Operations for the Municipal District (MD) of Rocky View (later Rocky View County). There was significant development going on in the MD and they had no professional engineers on staff to deal with the required engineering reviews and discussions with the developers and consultants.  I worked my way through the interview process, was offered and accepted the position of reorganizing and leading up to 150 staff at the MD. Over my five years there we oversaw the construction and opening of the Cross Iron Mills outlet mall on the north side of Calgary. That development, besides being the first and largest enclosed mall built in decades in the Calgary area, required that the County acquire a water licence and build and operate its first water and sewer system.”

“After five years at the County I resigned to spend some time considering retirement and my future.  While I considered options I did some consulting, worked with a few associates I knew on some small projects and then decided that I had at least a few more years to contribute to leading people.  I applied on and was accepted into a Manager position with the Alberta Environment leading a team that managed and maintained dams, canal systems and water reservoirs in southern Alberta. I was in that position during the flood of 2013. That memorable flood not only ruined the houses and lives of many in southern Alberta but did significant damage to many of the canals and reservoirs within my responsibility area. Cleanup and restoration was a memorable process.  We were well into the restoration processes when I encountered symptoms of a heart problem that inspired me to stop my working career and move on to reviving and improving my physical health, through weight loss, exercise and better diet, and expanding my participation in my own life and hobbies; golf, curling, wood working and grandchildren. I have succeeded in all those over the last five years.”

Throughout all the moves and different positions he’s held over the years, Derek has remained connected both to the College and to his classmates. “Several classmates live and work here in Alberta and I have crossed paths with them in business, touched base with them at branch meetings or met them at social gatherings,” he said. “Some of them we have seen many times of over the years as our families have grown and shared experiences. Over the years I have attended weddings of classmates and when in Eastern Canada visiting with my daughter and family annually we make an effort to see a couple classmates including my best man.   I have attended reunion weekends over the years: 1995, 2000, 2005, 2014 (entry class), 2015.  I will also participate in the acceptance into the Old Brigade this year as part of the entry class of 1969. I sit on the committee for recommendations to the Wall of Honour so I keep in touch with some classmates there as well.”

One Comment

  • Don Lovell

    February 4, 2019 at 4:44 pm

    Great article Derek and BZ on a fine engineering career! Our paths crossed over a few times noteably when I was an architect with DPW GNWT Yellowknife 1986-90 involved with schools in the Hudson Bay area, Baker Lake, Rankin, Arviat and Repulse Bay. Hoping to see you as we enter the Ol’ Bde Sep 2019.