Deborah Pitt

In high school, I was given an interesting test and the results showed a strong interest in both arts and sciences. Sometime later, while looking through a university course calendar I noticed the course description for landscape architecture. It met all my interests and I enrolled in the program. After graduation, I had several contracts in Ontario until I spotted an advertisement for a position in the Yukon. I was familiar with the North and had the right combination of field and design skills, so I was offered the job. The work I did in Ontario prepared me for the job in the Yukon.

Overall I have been able to accumulate fifteen years of broad and relevant experiences including environment-related summer jobs and contracts undertaken while attending a university part-time. The practical knowledge gained through these positions comes in very handy in the North. The Yukon is far from many resources and suppliers. Most of the common landscape plants and many of the products developed in southern parts of the country will not withstand the often harsh conditions and severe temperatures of this region. I am learning as I go and teaching others about the value of landscape architecture in a northern community. I belong to a number of professional associations.

I have attended conferences and workshops held by many of these associations, in both Canada and the United States. Due to small numbers, Yukon is the only provincial or territorial jurisdiction in Canada without a professional landscape architectural association. This is something I am working hard to remedy. In other parts of Canada, membership in the applicable professional association is mandatory for the practice of landscape architecture. The future will bring a continued increase in the use of computer-aided design, computer-aided presentation and sophisticated information systems.

There will also be a continued increase in the use of fully multidisciplinary project teams with many of them led by a landscape architect or planner having a more holistic skill set, rather than by an architect or engineer. In our particular area for example, if oil and gas pipeline projects proceed, there may be new work in visual and cumulative impact assessment and reclamation. Opportunities for advancement vary widely depending on the size of the organization and whether the work is in the public or private sector. In the private sector, salary is most often tied to productivity, measured in billable hours.

To be productive you need basic field skills, not just book knowledge. If you can’t read a topographical map or understand an air photo you will not be able to do this job. In the North, we often must work with old or incomplete data that has to be integrated with other information to get the job done. Problem-solving is very important for this task. Unfortunately, many of these skills are not taught in university so I advise lots of hands-on experience to make yourself marketable. Typical work hours are 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Monday to Friday. Work is undertaken primarily in our office in Whitehorse, however, trips to small remote towns or villages are required periodically, as are field trips to project sites.

The major skills I use on a day-to-day basis are primarily related to problem solving and design. Public and stakeholder consultation is also a large part of my work, so facilitation, interpersonal skills, and some conflict resolution skills are very important. Fieldwork in the North is unique in that it may take place in very remote areas and involve such activities and skills as navigation by map and compass or GPS, travel by snowmobile or ATV and a willingness to travel by light plane or helicopter if necessary.

In the North, cultural awareness, sensitivity and respect are key when dealing with First Nations peoples. I think my greatest work accomplishment has been helping to further establish and legitimize the profession of landscape architecture in the Yukon. Designers and contractors have recently formed a landscape industry association, a first for the North, to raise awareness of the role of landscape in people’s lives. In addition, through my professional memberships, I am seeking to foster an active exchange of ideas across the North American Arctic, and perhaps even in a circumpolar context.