Employee Spotlight – Juan Umerez

Growing up in Caracas, Venezuela, Juan has memories of often looking at the Cerro El Ávalia mountain range which frames the North of the city. As a young child, he was constantly impressed by the large mountains and by the age of 10 he had decided he wanted to understand why the mountain was the way it was. At that time there was no internet, so Juan referenced his encyclopedia at home which didn’t provide much in the way of answers. It wasn’t too long after this that he discovered that his grandfather was a geologist and actually had all the answers he was looking for. His grandfather became a mentor for him while he was in his formative years. This began Juan’s journey towards his current career.

Juan is a long-time BGCer and has been with the company for over 17 years. Having started working with BGC as a contractor in Argentina and shortly after, joining the team full-time to help establish our Santiago, Chile office. He feels as though he’s grown a considerable amount with BGC and has built many friendships which, he will tell you, is a result of the way we work. Collaboration is so key to producing consistently exceptional technical results that forming good friendships is truly one of the unexpected benefits of our approach to our projects.

Juan has two young daughters with his wife, and you’ll often find them out exploring and hiking in Santiago. As his grandfather did for him, he often will explain the geoscience behind what they see when they’re out on adventures. His wife will probably tell you that his explanations are too detailed and technical for their young girls, but to him, it’s just everyday knowledge.

How long have you been with BGC and what do you do here?

I started in 2005 in Argentina as a contractor and the following year I joined as a full-time employee to start growing the Chile office. I am a Geologist by background.

How would you describe your job to a class of Kindergartners?

I go out to find the clues to put together the pieces to find out how mountains are the way they are.

What is your favourite thing about working at BGC?

There is such a diversity of projects here that are always providing new challenges. That partnered with the incredibly smart team we have here make this a great place to work.

What is the one piece of advice you’d give to new hires at BGC?

Never be quiet, be curious, and never be afraid to ask. Don’t wait for someone to tell you what to do. It’s really part of the way we work here, it’s part of the culture.

If you could switch jobs with someone in BGC, who would it be and why?

When I worked on the Pueblo Viejo project I had a great time with the Construction Monitoring team. I wouldn’t say I would switch jobs with someone, but I’d love to go back to that time when I was working on that project because it was such a great time.

If you could have an unlimited supply of one thing, what would it be?

Time. Everybody wants more time.

What is the most interesting food you’ve ever eaten?

Probably a piranha fish, it was full of bones.

What fictional place would you like to visit?

I can’t think of a fictional place but rather I’d like to travel in time. Go back through human history to understand why we are the way we are.

If you had to listen to one song for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Sultans of Swing by Dire Straits.

What is the best advice you’ve ever been given?

If you’re going to talk about someone, do it only if it’s a good thing you have to say. If not, just say nothing.

Employee Spotlight – Madison Bowen

Madison’s first full-time job out of college was here at BGC. When she was attending school in Missouri, she was researching companies that were hiring Geological Engineers and she came across BGC. She applied and was offered an internship but with the onset of COVID-19, her internship was unfortunately cancelled but upon graduating, BGC offered her a full-time position, so she packed her belongs and made the move to Golden, CO where our US office is located.

Madison was born and raised in St. Charles, just outside of St. Louis, MO. In high school she was a self-described “art kid” with aspirations to be a tattoo artist, but her interest in physics pushed her to attend an engineering school instead. When she started university, she didn’t have a career in geological engineering in mind, she didn’t even know it was an option as a major, but she took a geology course and it piqued her interested. The rest, as they say, is history.

Prior to starting here at BGC, Madison had never been to Colorado. Her move out west was a leap of faith, and she now happily calls Golden home. When she’s not at work, you’ll find her doting on her adopt senior cat, Austin.

How long have you been with BGC and what do you do here?

I’ve been at BGC for one and a half years and I’m a Geological Engineer working with geohazards mostly for Enbridge.

How would you describe your job to a class of Kindergartners?

I stare at the ground and wait for it to move.

What is your favourite thing about working at BGC?

The people, the travel, and the food. Admin keeps us pretty stocked around here (shout out Sue and Jacklyn).

What is the one piece of advice you’d give to new hires at BGC?

Don’t be afraid to be uncomfortable.

If you could switch jobs with someone in BGC, who would it be and why?

Someone in our Soils Lab. I worked in a soils lab during my internship and found it really fascinating. I know we do a lot of advanced testing in our Lab that I’d like to learn more about, and I love doing hands on work.

If you could have an unlimited supply of one thing, what would it be?

Plants. I have an unhealthy number of plants in my place.

What is the weirdest food you’ve ever eaten?

Whale. I went to Norway after graduating high school and it was a relatively common dish there, so I figured ‘why not?’. It pretty much tasted like steak.

What fictional place would you like to visit?

Stardew Valley! There’s no better place than a pixelated farm town- and not to brag, but my farm in my current game is phenomenal so I’m ready to move in.

If you had to listen to one song for the rest of your life what would it be?

(Wanna See Me Do A) Cancrush? by Damager. This is a shameless plug for my friend’s band, if you listen to their whole discography you just might hear me signing on one of their tracks too.

What is the best advice you’ve ever been given?

It’s not that serious.

Holocaust history unearthed using new technology

Archeological explorations of Jewish resistance during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

The final sequence of events that took place within the resistance bunker beneath 18 Mila Street on the morning of May 8th, 1943, is not well known. This was where over 100 poorly armed resistance fighters are believed to have died after holding out bravely for over three weeks against Nazi SS troops, to thwart their attempts to remove all remaining Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto. Although this act of defiance is widely regarded as the most symbolic act of resistance by the Jews during the Holocaust, we still don’t know how events unfolded during those last moments when SS Troops, having located the entrances to the bunker, ordered those inside to surrender. Some accounts suggest that a few of the fighters managed to survive the German siege by escaping through an unnoticed opening, but none of them are believed to have survived the war. An underground courier for the Jewish Fighting Organization, Vladka Meed, documented what she had heard from survivors after their escape, including that those left behind had chosen to take their own lives rather than die from the poisoned gas that the SS troops were pumping into the bunker. This second-hand account is the only evidence of what may have occurred during those final hours and, since the bunker was left as a tomb after the war, no one knows for sure what really happened.

Today, thousands of tourists come to the Mila 18 memorial at the site of the buried bunker to pay homage to the heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising who died there, including the revered leader of the Jewish Fighting Organization, Mordechai Anielewicz. If you listen to the tour guides who come with groups from across the world, you’ll hear a variety of tales describing their understanding of what happened in the bunker, each narrative differing in notable ways. Some like to tell the tale of the resistance fighters, united in their code of honour, and committing suicide, rather than surrendering to the Germans or dying by poison. This story conveniently likens the events of Mila 18 to the Roman siege of the Jews at Masada, two thousand years before. Others will describe how extensive the bunker system was, spanning three city blocks, deep underground, and with six separate entrances into the bunker. Or how as many as 300 people lived in the bunker at one point. No one really knows the true story, because we rely on second hand accounts and dramatic fictionalizations of the story, including in Leon Uris’ classic novel, Mila 18. This is where good archaeological work can help to separate fact from fiction.

An aerial view of the excavations underway. The Mila 18 memorial is the mound at the top of the photo with the marker, below which was thought to be the location of the bunker. We theorized that a bunker large enough to house 300 people would have extended within the footprint of the foundations of the buildings on Muanowska Street. Some of the brick walls exposed during our excavation were within the footprint of 39 Muranowska Street. (Photo courtesy of Loic Salfati)

Our group of researchers from BGC Engineering, together with academics from Christopher Newport University, University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire, and Duquesne University, partnered with the Warsaw Ghetto Museum on this project in 2019. At the time the Warsaw Ghetto Museum was relatively new and had a mission to conserve and document what remained of the Warsaw Ghetto before it was further erased by new urban development. BGC’s involvement in this project was partially funded by our philanthropic program, BGC Squared.

In 2019 BGCers Chris Slater, Colin Miazga, Paul Bauman, and myself spent two intense days of geophysical surveying and had determined that the remains of the old Warsaw Ghetto buildings were likely still buried beneath the grassy field adjacent to the Mila 18 memorial site. We speculated that if the resistance bunker was as large as some had described it, that it likely extended beneath several properties between Mila Street and the historical Muranowska Street to the north. Because this part of Warsaw was largely obliterated by the Nazis during both the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and the later general Warsaw Uprising in 1944, many of the old streets, including Muranowska Street, were wiped off the map and never reconstructed. It appeared though that much of the below-ground infrastructure remained, including the brick-lined sewer canals that extended under Mila and Muranowska Streets that were used by smugglers to ferry goods and people in and out of the ghetto.

We returned to Warsaw in 2021 to complete additional electrical resistivity tomography (ERT) and ground-penetrating radar (GPR) surveys. We also came prepared with a hand-held lidar system. With the cooperation of Warsaw’s municipal authorities, BGC Principal Geoscientist, Paul Bauman, was allowed to descend into the sewer canals to map and photograph them from below the maintenance access covers. This provided us a comprehensive data set that we used to create a 3D model of the site, and hypothesize how the resistance bunker, that at one time provided refuge for as many as 300 people, could ‘fit’ in the space between Mila and Muranowska Streets. Having probed the site from all angles, the only thing left to do was excavate.

Example screenshots from the 3D model of the Mila 18 site, showing electrical resistivity tomography (ERT) sections and the two underground sewer canals, as mapped using handheld lidar.

Getting permission to excavate the site was not a simple task. Government authorities and the local Jewish community were reluctant to break with 80 years of tradition and allow the disturbance of what is a cultural heritage site of importance and a place where Jewish people were known to have lost their lives. Discussions with Poland’s Chief Rabbi, Michael Schudrich, took place. He sought assurances that traditional Jewish Halakha law would be respected and excavations would stop if any human remains were uncovered. Thanks to our Polish archaeological colleague, Jacek Konik, of the Warsaw Ghetto Museum and Vistula University, layers of Polish and Warsaw bureaucracy were worked through, and finally permits were in hand for an excavation of the grassy field next to Mila 18, where our geophysical data had indicated buried building foundations and potential voids.

Excavations got underway on June 6th, 2022, and machinery was brought in to remove the top layer of brick rubble. From there, everything had to be done by hand, painstakingly scraping away the layers of dirt to find and preserve artifacts contained within. Most of the volunteer diggers were archaeology students from the local Vistula University and some volunteers joined us from the surrounding neighbourhood, who just wanted to help out, buoyed by their own curiosity.

Brick and stone foundation walls, along with some intact pipes, exposed during early stages of the excavation.

Just a few inches below the surface, brick walls were uncovered that defined several rooms of the 19th  century buildings that would have housed some of the 400,000 Jews that were confined to the ghetto, and were later destroyed during the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Between the numerous pauses to speak with government officials and local news media, we made some important finds, including a child’s shoe, a coin purse containing coins and a woman’s broach, and charred pages of prayer book with legible Hebrew lettering. The charred pages of the prayer book were a solemn reminder that the SS troops deliberately burned and dynamited the buildings in 1943 to counter the rooftop attacks that the resistance fighters were staging.

Charred pages of a prayer book with Hebrew lettering.
A child’s shoe.

Archaeology is an incredibly destructive science and once a wall or an artefact is exposed, it may never look the same again. In most cases, once excavations are complete, they are filled in to protect the heritage site from unwanted vandalism. Traditional archaeology requires careful documentation of what is found using photographs and measuring dimensions of features using surveying equipment. At Mila 18, we had the opportunity to use LiDAR scanning technology available on the latest iPads and iPhones, combined with a new augmented reality (AR) tool called ‘Clirio View’, developed for geological site investigations. This new 3D scanning technology is truly revolutionary for archaeology work. In just a few seconds, you can capture a photo-textured 3D digital twin of an excavation, which provides high resolution details of all the subtle features exposed in a trench, and with the correct orthorectified dimensions. These scans can be displayed in AR mode, allowing any interested stakeholders with an internet connection to place themselves in the same 3D scene, no matter where they are in the world. It’s already possible for museums or heritage sites to share these AR 3D models so everyone can relive the experience.

Augmented reality mapping using Clirio view software.
3D scan taken of one of the sections of Mila 18. Click here to see the full 3D scan.

We hope that the site will be secured as a place of important cultural heritage and that a makeshift cover will be placed over the workings so the excavations can continue indefinitely. At the very least, this site of momentous and harrowing events will be saved from future development keeping the possibility open that one day we will be able to find out what really happened during those last hours and days in the bunker, and to ensure that the history of the last days of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising is told accurately to future generations.

We’d like to acknowledge the work of Richard Freund a principal investigator for this project from Christopher Newport University who sadly passed of cancer this summer. Richard was a universally acclaimed Jewish scholar and biblical archeologist, rabbi, and University professor. We are privileged to have had the opportunity to work with him on such a meaningful project.

Alastair McClymont, Ph.D., P.Geo

Senior Geophysicist

Alastair McClymont Ph.D., P.Geo., has over 15 years of experience in the application of diverse near-surface geophysical techniques to geotechnical assessments, hydrogeological studies, contaminated site remediation and other projects. His experience includes the successful design and execution of geophysical investigations for geotechnical site characterization, geohazard assessments, contaminated site remediation, and geophysical mapping of groundwater resources.

Employee Spotlight – Mike Davies

When Mike Davies started with BGC the entire company had the same headcount as the current Calgary office. Mike Davies joined just after the opening of BGC’s Edmonton office and has been based there ever since. Over Mike’s 16 years with BGC he has had the opportunity to wear many hats including as Safety Manager, Edmonton’s Office Manager, and now along with his project roles, he is part of our management team focused on operations and the people side of our business

Mike grew up in Terrace, British Columbia, surrounded by nature which stoked his love for outdoor adventures. After completing his undergraduate studies at the University of Victoria, he decided to “temporarily” move to Edmonton to get some experience and ended up completing his Masters studies at the University of Alberta. His path to becoming an Engineering Geologist wasn’t something that was clear in his mind from the start. He knew he loved being outside and was also always enjoyed sciences and he considers himself lucky to have found his way to a job that combines both.

How long have you been with BGC and what do you do here?

I started with BGC in September of 2006 and I am a Geoscientist as well as part of the leadership team focused on recruiting and supporting our Administration Team.

How would you describe your job to a class of Kindergartners?

My 6 year old saw me working from home a lot over the last 2 years and will pretend to be me. She’ll type on an imaginary keyboard and will say “I’m talking to my friends”. I think it is hilarious and also pretty accurate.

What is your favourite thing about working at BGC?

It is “talking to my friends”. I have the opportunity to work with a great group of people, some of whom I’ve worked with since I started with the company and others who have started more recently. Over my time here I’ve noticed that whether or not you’ve been her 1 month or 16 years, you’re part of the team. I also think I’m lucky that we get to work on stuff that interests us, we are driven by working on things we find challenging or interesting.

What is the one piece of advice you’d give to new hires at BGC?

You’ll learn pretty quickly that we’re in a people business. You’ve got to connect with people that includes your coworkers and clients.

If you could switch jobs with someone in BGC, who would it be and why?

Some of the Steep Creek Geohazards folks. I grew up in a mountain town and started in mountain geomorphology. I think it would be fun to spend some time working on those projects, including the field work part.   

If you could have an unlimited supply of one thing, what would it be?

Bikes, or maybe time. With a family, a job that challenges me, and many things I want to do in my free time, I think some extra hours in each day would be great.

What fictional place would you like to visit?

The galaxy far far away. Big Star Wars fan. I’d love to be able to go to all the different plants in the Star Wars universe.

If you had to listen to one song for the rest of your life what would it be?

Anything from the mid-90s grunge era.

What is the best advice you’ve ever been given?

Be involved, take opportunities when they come. The only way to know if you like something or if you have strengths in a particular area is just to get involved. That’s the way to be successful. You don’t learn by being stagnant.

A Watershed Moment: the November 15, 2021 flood in the Coldwater River

An atmospheric river (AR) brought two days of intense rainfall to southwestern British Columbia (BC) on November 14, 2021. This rainfall resulted in extreme streamflow the following day on November 15 and extensive flooding and river planform changes in watersheds across numerous rivers in the lower Fraser River watershed, including the Coldwater River at Merritt. Numerous infrastructures, notably roads and bridges, were destroyed or inoperable. This destruction led to a near complete isolation of the Lower Mainland from road and rail access.

ARs are long, conveyor belts of warm, moist air that typically result in intense rainfall during the late fall and early winter. AR-related floods are generally larger than non-AR-related floods in coastal watersheds in BC. During the November 14, 2021 AR, the streamflow generated by rainfall was augmented by melting snow, associated with a rapid rise in temperature.

Following the November 15, 2021 flood, an urgent need emerged to estimate the peak flow of the Coldwater River to inform long-term reconstruction and mitigation efforts. In support of ongoing programs and recovery from November 15, 2021 flood, BGC was retained by several interested parties to complete hydrotechnical hazard and risk assessments and flood hazard mapping in the Coldwater River and Nicola River watersheds.

Time series of Nasa satellite images over the November 12 to 16, 2021 with Merritt, BC labels with the red pin. The Coldwater River watershed considered in this study is located upstream of Merritt.

We developed a flood frequency-magnitude relationship for the Coldwater River at Merritt by combining statistical models for AR-related and snowmelt-related peak flows. BGC’s current best estimate of the 200-year (0.5% Annual Exceedance Probability [AEP]) flood event is 445 m3/s (90% confidence interval 240 m3/s to 980 m3/s) calculated using peak flows recorded over the 1965 to 2021 period at the Coldwater River at Brookmere (08LG048) hydrometric station. To account for climate change, the peak flow distributions (AR-related and snowmelt-related) in the Coldwater River were scaled to account for the trends in rainfall-related (AR and non-AR) and snowmelt-related peak flows as projected by the Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium (PCIC). The climate-adjusted 200-year (0.5% AEP) flood event was estimated to be 730 m3/s (400 m3/s to 1600 m3/s for the 90% confidence interval) assuming a 75-year future time horizon from present. This estimate corresponds to a 64% increase compared to the stationary case (445 m3/s).

These findings show that climate change effects are profound and will influence the design of flood protection structures, flood construction levels (FCLs), and the design of infrastructure alongside or crossing watercourses.

Click here to view a copy of the draft report for this work.

Melissa Hairabedian, M.Sc., P.Geo. (BC, ON)

Hydrologist

Melissa is a senior hydrologist with expertise in hydrotechnical hazard identification, assessment, and management. Her interdisciplinary academic background and professional consulting experience reinforce her comprehensive set of technical skills including statistical hydrology, hydrological modelling, and climate change assessments. Melissa has experience in a wide range of climate and geographical contexts underpinning her practical professional judgement. 

Employee Spotlight – Wesley Tibbet

When Wesley was growing up in Saint John, New Brunswick, he didn’t think that he might end up in the geotechnical field. He just knew that he eventually wanted a family and a good job to support them. When it came time for him to choose a direction at the University of New Brunswick, he knew he was good at math and felt that Civil Engineering would provide a good balance of technical skills and employment opportunities.

BGC wasn’t originally on his radar, and there was a bit of luck involved in how he ended up applying.

He began his career at TerrAtlantic Engineering Limited, who were already in the process of merging with BGC, as a summer student in the Fredericton office in 2013. He later joined our one team in 2015 after completing another summer term and his undergrad. He returned to the University of New Brunswick and completed a M.Eng. in hydrogeology in 2017 and has been with us in our Fredericton office ever since.

Wesley considers himself fortunate that he’s ended up working at BGC and that he’s had a chance to work on some really interesting projects across Canada, while still being based close to home.

How long have you been with BGC and what do you do here?

I’ve been at BGC technically since 2013, but full time since 2017. Currently I am an Intermediate Geotechnical Engineer and I work on advanced soil testing in our Fredericton Lab.

How would you describe your job to a class of Kindergartners?

I crush dirt to see how strong it is.

What is your favourite thing about working at BGC?

I don’t think I can pinpoint one thing that is my favourite, it’s really the combination of the things that we do well and our desire to continually improve that makes us special. BGC’s unique way of operating as a business (our flat management structure and lack of profit centres), combined with our clear focus on high quality work and technical excellence and the fact that we are employee owned, makes this a great place to work. This kind of environment breaks down a lot of the traditional barriers you see in other companies.

What is the one piece of advice you’d give to new hires at BGC?

I couldn’t narrow this down to one piece of advice. So here are a few:

Anybody can be a leader. You don’t need to have a specific personality to do high quality work or influence change.

Don’t try to fake it until you make it. I personally hate that saying. I think it’s more valuable to be honest with yourself and set realistic expectations.

Don’t be a workaholic, and if you are you going to be a workaholic, don’t expect everyone else to be one.

If you could switch jobs with someone in BGC, who would it be and why?

It’s funny, but I think I’ve already done this. Early in 2020, due to a few different factors, I was ready for a bit of a change. After a fair bit of brainstorming and exploring different options, I realized that I was interested in soil mechanics and that I happened to work in an office with a work class soil testing facility. It’s been really fulfilling to work in the lab over the past couple of years and it’s given me lots of opportunity to continue to learn and grow.

If you could have an unlimited supply of one thing, what would it be?

Lego. I’ve liked Lego from a young age and I now share that hobby with my kids, which has been a lot of fun. The problem is that you always need more, so LEGO is an easy answer for me.

What is the weirdest food you’ve ever eaten?

I’m not very adventurous, so I think it has to be Heinz purple ketchup. It just seems unnatural.

What fictional place would you like to visit?

As a huge fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Wakanda, which is the fictional country where Black Panther takes place.

If you had to listen to one song for the rest of your life what would it be?

With some hesitancy to admit this, Taylor Swift is my favourite artist and I can’t narrow it down to one song.

What is the best advice you’ve ever been given?

Trust your gut and believe in yourself. I was lucky to have engineers I’ve worked with tell me this right out of school. Hard work beats skill. Even if you aren’t the smartest or most naturally skilled, you can still work hard and end up being great at whatever you choose to do.