MONTREAL, Que. — Nadine Gauthier wants people to know that the trucking industry is a great place to work, and a pretty fine place for women, too. And in her new role as a spokesperson for the industry – an Ambassadeur de la route, or Highway Ambassador – she has a special platform from which to spread the good word.
The first woman ever to be chosen as an Ambassador (and the third employee with the freight and logistics company Simard to receive the honour) since the QTA created the program 15 years ago, Gauthier is thrilled, especially with the opportunity to share her experiences with young people.
“As the first and only woman Ambassador, I think this offers the industry an incredible window in time. I can talk about really great careers in the industry. Before, I would talk about Simard at (the provincial driver training school) but as an Ambassador, I can talk about the whole industry,” she says.
Gauthier is one of only 37 Ambassadors ever chosen. The current team, picked last September, has six members, all with exemplary records, chosen to promote highway safety and talk with high school students about career possibilities. They will do a three-year stint in and around their day jobs.
Gauthier has already spoken to groups of high school students. She shows up in a semi.
“The students are allowed to go in the truck, see the buttons. They ask questions about transport, the border. ‘How much do drivers earn a year?’ ‘Do they work at night?’ ‘Is it difficult to drive a truck?’ ‘Have you had an accident?’”
Other questions from the mouths of 15-year-olds seeing a trucker up close for the first time include, ‘How do I wash myself?’ ‘How do I take a shower?’ ‘How do you wash your clothes?’ ‘What goes on in a truck stop?’
Gauthier agrees that the girls’ questions can contain unspoken concerns about things like safety, comfort and acceptance. Here, Gauthier has a special perspective on what women can expect.
“I am speaking of things I understand. It is perhaps less intimidating. The girls want to know what the experience is like.”
Gauthier’s first six years in the industry were as a trucker hauling containers around Montreal.
“I loved it,” she says. She left Simard in 2010 for a year-and-a-half to work as a private trucking school instructor, then Simard asked her back to be their head trainer. In 2015 she was promoted to supervisor of training and compliance. Then, last year, Simard nominated her as a candidate for les Ambassadeurs de la route. It’s an old love story, how men fall into the trade – man meets truck, man falls in love with truck – but surely there must be a special siren call for women? When I ask Gauthier how she came to be a trucker, she smiles – she smiles a lot – looks at her hands and dives in.
“I believe it is genetic in our family. My grandfather on my mother’s side was a trucker in Charlevoix. My mother’s two brothers were truckers. My mother had four children and three became truckers. One sister, one brother (and Nadine),” she says.
Her first trip in a truck was when she was 11. Many more followed, but it was years later before she took the wheel. She worked 10 years in the hotel industry in her hometown, Charlevoix, then moved to the big city, Montreal, where she worked six years in industrial security. At the age of 30, she tapped her sister – who team drove with her husband, worked as an instructor and as an evaluator with the Société de l’assurance automobile du Québec (SAAQ) – to teach her how to drive.
The truck was a Volvo, Gauthier recalls. “I practiced with my sister and got my probationary licence. I took the test at the SAAQ and got my Class 1 on the 29th of September 2004. My sister was a great teacher.”
Early that winter Gauthier went to an open house at Simard. She filled out an application on the spot and, “I passed the road test: manual transmission, semi, backing into a dock. There were no favours,” Gauthier says. Presto! On Dec. 13, she was hauling containers for her daily bread.
Speed ahead six years, and Gauthier takes a break from Simard to teach trucking, but all the while maintaining close contact with Simard, even feeding the company a few drivers. Then, she tells me, “The person in charge of training retired. Simard asked me if I would like to come back and take the position.”
So is trucking a tough place for women? Gauthier thinks not. “I thought that people thought it was fun to have a female driver around. Men had a good image of me because I could do the job. I proved that I was capable of doing my job. The guys protected me a lot. Women have no idea how much the other drivers can take care of you.”
And now she has the perfect platform from which to encourage others.