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College programs held in high regard among drillers


June 17, 2014
By Julie Fitz-Gerald

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As Ground Water Canada celebrates its 40th anniversary, we wanted to take the time to recognize the programs at Red Deer College in Alberta and Sir Sanford Fleming College in Ontario for the long-standing foundation they have been providing to up-and-coming drillers in the industry. Here’s a look back at two past alumni who got their start in the programs.

As Ground Water Canada celebrates its 40th anniversary, we wanted to take the time to recognize the programs at Red Deer College in Alberta and Sir Sanford Fleming College in Ontario for the long-standing foundation they have been providing to up-and-coming drillers in the industry. Here’s a look back at two past alumni who got their start in the programs.

The Schmidt family  
The Schmidt family of Darcy’s Drilling Services in Alberta: Lindsey, Tasha, Cara, Michael and Darcy.

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Darcy’s Drilling Services a family affair
For Darcy Schmidt, president of Darcy’s Drilling Services in Ponoka, Alta., water well drilling is a family calling. Schmidt grew up around drilling rigs and pump systems, helping his dad with the family business, Schmidt Drilling. He started drilling full-time with the company in 1978. Schmidt says he was one of the first people to complete the Water Well Driller Apprenticeship program offered by Red Deer College (RDC) in 1980.

While Schmidt was learning the ins and outs of the family business from his father, RDC’s Water Well Driller Apprenticeship program provided him with the tools to expand his knowledge about water wells.

“It runs you through a lot of the different aspects that you don’t learn in your day-to-day job working with your father. It gives you a formal structure to follow. You get a lot more information from geologists and you learn more factual information. You learn to follow better practices from industry professionals. When I went we had talks about how to price your systems, how to size your systems and a lot of things that, when you’re used to doing just one single thing which a lot of contactors do, you don’t learn the full scope of the water well industry, and I think when you’re in school you start to learn that.”

Over the next two decades, Schmidt Drilling carried on and Darcy eventually became president. In 2005, a company that was interested in purchasing the business approached him.

“We were approached by a company who felt we were more important to them and they made us an offer.”

The offer was too good to refuse and the family business was sold.

However, by 2007, Schmidt was itching to get back to the job he loved, backed by encouragement from his family.

“I was always tied to the water well industry and my son and family were involved with us at Schmidt, so they were intrigued about starting again and working in that field so we started up again.”

He started Darcy’s Drilling Services the same year and now leads the business with his adult children by his side: Michael Schmidt is operations manager, working both out in the field and in the office; Cara Schmidt is a journeyman well driller; Tasha Lydom is office manager; and Lindsey Schmidt is receptionist, although she’s moving on from the family business to be an accountant. “But we believe she will be back,” Schmidt chimes in.

There is no mystery to the Schmidt family’s love for providing customers with clean water. “I think it’s something that you learn. The people in the industry are great, right from the contractors to the suppliers; everyone you meet. I think everyone’s likeminded, entrepreneurial. We like working with our hands and delivering a clean, fresh product to homeowners. We feel pretty good when we can supply them with a nice clean well and water system, and can get them out of binds when their well quits. That’s what compels us.”

Both Michael and Cara have also completed RDC’s Water Well Driller program, adding to their breadth of knowledge in the industry. When asked about how the program has evolved over the years, Schmidt still holds it in high regard. “I think RDC’s program is better structured now with more relevant information. They’ve adapted the course and keep moving it forward so the apprentices can learn newer information. They’ve been deleting some things that are getting kind of archaic and adding the new up-and-coming stuff, so [my children’s] outcome has been pretty close to what I felt mine was. They’ve done a good job in the course with moving it ahead and keeping up with the times.”

As a member of the PAC Committee with Apprenticeship and Industry Training Alberta for the water driller trade, past president of the Alberta Water Well Drilling Association, and past board member of CGWA, Schmidt points to RDC’s collaboration with various associations as an asset to the water well driller program.

“Red Deer College has done a great job working with the water well association and the water industry to bring great instruction into the courses, and in turn that shows up in what you get out at the end for a driller.”

With water well drilling now spanning three generations in the Schmidt family, it truly is a family affair. Schmidt’s hope for his children’s future in the business is simple: “I hope they will flourish and build it stronger and keep moving it ahead. I hope that they can continually keep this business in operation, doing what we do. There are a lot of aspects that seem to infringe on us, like water pipelines and regulations. There are more hurdles that they have to cross than when I started doing it.”

Gregory Bullock finds a change of course at Fleming
You could say that Gregory Bullock’s entry into water well drilling was serendipitous, having enrolled at Sir Sanford Fleming College for an entirely different program: fish and wildlife. Fortunately, Fleming has a “common first semester” where all students in diploma programs take the same courses, giving students the chance to explore other fields of work and change direction if another program appeals to them. That is exactly what Bullock did, switching up his program choice and enrolling in the Resources Drilling and Blasting program instead.

Now president of Eades Well Drilling in Lindsay, Ont., and past president and board member of the Ontario Ground Water Association, Bullock is certain he made the right choice.

“I like working outdoors and meeting new people. I like providing homeowners with an essential service. You can’t live in a rural setting without water, so that’s what we do. When a well comes in with a good flow rate, everybody’s happy and there’re smiles all around. It’s a good feeling of satisfaction when you complete a water well or provide emergency service to someone whose pump’s burned out.”

Bullock credits Fleming’s drilling program with giving him the start he needed to be successful in the industry. “It’s an excellent college. They expose you to all the main types of drilling at the time – water well, geotechnical, diamond drilling, and blasting. It is a great foundation for someone getting into the industry; it’s a start. There’s nothing like getting out in the field and doing it for real, but it’s certainly a great start,” he says, noting he got his DZ license from the program and is still friends with many of his former classmates.

After graduating in 1987, Bullock spent the next 12 years working for a well drilling company before wanting to branch out on his own.

“I decided that if I was ever going to get ahead in life, I needed to do something now or it wouldn’t happen. I was 30 years old and had lots of experience with drilling but no experience with owning my own business.”

Eades Well Drilling was a well-established business at that point, having been founded in 1977. The owner was approaching retirement and Bullock was ready to take the leap into business-ownership. It was perfect timing. Bullock took over the company in 1998 and now has four cable tool drilling rigs and three employees to keep up with demand during the busy times of the year. The secret to Bullock’s thriving business is his wife, Dodie.

“She’s a big part of our business. She’s my partner and I couldn’t do it without her.”

When business slows in the winter, Bullock can often be found back at Fleming teaching the water well course for third-semester students and a 10-day continuing education course. His ties with the college run deep, from classmates who are now his colleagues in the industry to new students that are coming up through the ranks.

“It’s about giving back. And that’s why they ask me to do it. I’ve got lots of experience and when I’m standing in front of a group of 18- to 20-year-old students, I feel that I can certainly impart some of my knowledge to them and help them succeed.”

It’s this kind of in-depth industry knowledge, as well as an eye to the future that will be pertinent for water well drillers in the years to come. With the lack of lot creation in rural Ontario, the number of new wells is also dwindling.

“It hasn’t been a huge growth industry in the last five to seven years. There’s always going to be maintenance; there are lots of wells out there that need to be repaired, but as far as new wells go it comes down to attrition; as old wells fail they need to be replaced. A lot of people in the industry have diversified into geothermal drilling or directional drilling. I’m hopeful that the industry will thrive, but I’m just not sure. We need some lobbying to occur to allow municipalities to permit building in rural environments.”


Julie Fitz-Gerald is a freelancer writer based in Uxbridge, Ont., and a regular contributor to Ground Water Canada.


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