In a perfect world, Steve Mooney would have followed his hero Jacques Cousteau into a career in oceanography. But job opportunities underwater are limited, even for someone with a master’s degree, and after four years at Southampton University Mooney found himself heading home to Mayo unsure what to do next.
What followed was an unsettled period during which Mooney spent time on the dole before getting work in a bar, which he admits wasn’t good for him.
“The late bar lifestyle, with its heavy use of drink and drugs, had become a repetitive and unhealthy routine,” he says. “After a particularly busy but miserable Christmas, I made the decision to get away from any potential downward spiral into addiction. I booked my flight to Vancouver for the day before the work visa I had acquired two years earlier, but had never used, was due to expire and spent the next four months saving every penny I could to make a new life abroad.”
Nine years on and Mooney’s life is very different. He runs his own business, lives in an attractive part of Vancouver and, most importantly for someone who spent his childhood “fishing and catching crabs around the islands and inlets of Clew Bay”, he’s beside the sea.
In Canada they bury services, such as electricity and water, in the concrete. However, there are no maps showing where these things are
When Mooney first went to Canada, he worked in security before getting a job with a company that specialised in concrete scanning services for the construction industry. “With oceanography, you learn about mapping so it wasn’t a huge jump to apply what I already knew in a different context,” he says.
“The technology involved is called ground-penetrating radar and it plays a vital role in Vancouver due to the area’s seismic activity and the need to ensure structural stability. In Canada they bury services, such as electricity and water, in the concrete. However, there are no maps showing where these things are, so if someone wants to build or renovate, a ground penetrating radar survey is required to make sure it’s safe to proceed.”
He spent seven years building up his expertise in this area before setting up his own business, Fraser Valley Concrete Scanning, two years ago.
“Operationally I know exactly what’s required of me. What I’ve had to learn is how to run and manage a complete business,” says Mooney. “The employment landscape here has undergone significant changes, accelerated by the impact of Covid-19 as people have re-evaluated their lives and become more open to switching jobs for better financial prospects.
“When I started, the trainee pay was $18 Canadian (€12.60) an hour, now it’s $28. There’s a lot of transience in the labour force and less loyalty, and that’s potentially problematic for me as I’d be investing a lot to train someone. I’m currently considering growth opportunities through mergers and acquisitions.
“I’ve worked coast to coast in Canada and, although services are somewhat expensive, they are typically stable,” Mooney adds. “There’s more of a boom-and-bust mentality in Ireland, especially in construction. B2B functions very well here and there’s something to be said for working in a place where the population is almost eight times larger than home. There’s an anonymity to business which I like versus the interconnectedness prevalent in Ireland.”
Mooney is now settled in Canada, but life has not been easy over the past few years as he has dealt with the fallout from a serious motorcycle accident and the loss of one of his closest friends to suicide.
“I broke my neck in the accident and I’m lucky to still have my leg,” he says. “The physical recovery was tough but mentally it was even tougher as the experience knocked my confidence.”
He subsequently left his job with the intention of taking a break, but work offers unexpectedly began to pour in, which gave his confidence a much-needed boost and the impetus to strike out on his own.
There are aspects of Ireland he misses, such as the comforting sound of wind and gales lulling him to sleep.
I miss waving at strangers you drive by on country roads and I miss my people. No one else will ever understand you the way Irish people understand you
“I also miss open fires, the smell of turf, the Atlantic and the surf,” he says. “I miss the freshness of local produce, trad music and going for a pint without having table service and having to tip someone for something you could have done yourself. I miss the simple pleasures of packets of crisps and endless cups of tea. I miss windy roads and manual cars. I miss the mad stories and the passion for sports.
“I miss waving at strangers you drive by on country roads and I miss my people. No one else will ever understand you the way Irish people understand you.”
Despite these occasional feelings of nostalgia, Canada is a perfect fit for Mooney’s love of the outdoor life with the hiking, skiing, biking and bouldering all on his doorstep. He has also discovered cold water diving, which he says runs diving in the Red Sea (considered by many as the world’s premier diving spot) a very close second.
“I really have it all here, from the stunning natural landscape to a vibrant city rich in cultural experiences. I’ve never felt so safe anywhere in the world and I love learning about the rich history of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh peoples, who are the original inhabitants of the unceded land now known as the city of Vancouver. There is so much to see and do here, and I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface.”