Ex-Combat Engineer applies Army skills to Parliament’s Centre Block rehabilitation

Article / September 3, 2019 / Project number: 19-0221

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By Jeremiah Hemens, Army Public Affairs

Ottawa, Ontario — A former Canadian Army (CA) member says the military experience was ideal preparation for his current work as a project manager on the rehabilitation of Parliament Hill’s Centre Block.

Second Lieutenant (Retired) Yueshuang Zhu served with the CA as a Combat Engineer for five years, beginning in 2012, and spent two years at 5th Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown with the Canadian Forces School of Military Engineering (CFSME).

‘A dynamic way to get engineering experience’

“I wanted to have a great work experience and I thought from the recruitment centre and from what I had heard, that it was more of a dynamic way to get engineering experience and to come to a professional engineering license,” 2Lt (Retd) Zhu said as he described his reason for joining the military.

He added that his father’s past military service, and that an article which expressed how there was a lack of Chinese-Canadian representation in the military were also highly motivating factors for him to join.

Injuries he suffered in training limited opportunities for deployment. In his last two years of service, he was tasked with overseeing a Personnel Awaiting Training/Personnel Awaiting Release (PAT/PAR) Platoon where he gained valuable experience in project and personnel management.

“When you’re actually with a regiment, you are overseeing one troop, which is about 40 personnel,” 2Lt (Retd) Zhu explained. “With PAT/PAR, you have all the trades for engineering, both officers and non-commissioned members, and you have to organize all their trades training, keep them comfortable with temporary duty, keep them close to home, and make it so they are useful to the military while they’re in between training. Depending on the time of year, it goes from 100 personnel to as much as 200 in the summer, so it was a very valuable experience for me.”

Skills learned while serving in the Canadian Armed Forces, such as teamwork and leadership, are in high demand in the job market. Upon his release from the Army, 2Lt (Retd) Zhu received help from Canada’s Veterans Hiring Act when applying for federal government jobs. For more information, please refer to “Veterans Hiring Act” in the Related Links.

Role in Parliament Hill and Centre Block rehabilitation

Parliament Hill is a historic piece of the Nation’s Capital. It serves as a home for Canada’s federal government and as an amazing tourist attraction that carries a proud and rich history. In the middle lies Parliament’s Centre Block, an icon of democracy and one of Canada’s most important national symbols. Centre Block is currently closed, and will be for at least a decade, in order for it to undergo its rehabilitation plans.

The rehabilitation of the Centre Block is Public Services and Procurement Canada’s largest and most complex heritage rehabilitation project to date. This historic landmark is being rehabilitated to meet the needs of Parliament for many years to come, and to preserve its heritage elements.

As a project manager with the Assessment Program for the Centre Block Rehabilitation Project, 2Lt (Retd) Zhu is tasked with ensuring the structure is ready to undergo the planned restoration. The work, he explained, touches on a wide range of engineering disciplines, from acoustics to load bearing tests.

The Assessments Program is looking at the entire building in order to fully understand how it was constructed and the current condition of the materials that were used.

Archeological dig yields impressive artifacts from two centuries ago

As part of the rehabilitation project, some of 2Lt (Retd) Zhu’s colleagues are carrying out an archaeological dig among the remnants of Barrack Hill, the military-run base of operations for the construction of Ottawa’s Rideau Canal, which was located on what is now Parliament Hill.

Barrack Hill was chosen as the headquarters for the project, which was led by Lieutenant-Colonel John By and the British Royal Engineers, beginning around 1827. It was selected to be the seat of the Canadian Government and renamed Parliament Hill in 1858.

“There’s a lot of military memorabilia left over from the Royal Engineers,” 2Lt (Retd) Zhu said. “There’s brass buttons, there’s epaulets, and it really takes you back.”

“While I was at CFSME, post-surgery, they placed me on light duties, so I worked with Sandra Johnson-Penney at the CFSME Museum. I saw a lot of that hung up and perfectly repaired before, but now I get to see it as it comes up.”

Proud to serve Canada in a new way

2Lt (Retd) Zhu said he feels privileged to be serving Canada in a new way.

“Honestly, it fills me with pride,” he said. “I am very honoured and very humbled, and feel very privileged to be able to work in this capacity, because I feel that Centre Block is like a physical embodiment of Canadian history and the Canadian democratic process.”

“I think it’s the most significant historical building in Canada. If we do this rehabilitation right, I’m sure that it’s only going to improve the efficiency of Parliamentary business.”

Though circumstance cut his Army career short, 2Lt (Retd) Zhu said he continues to draw on his mililtary experience.

“I think without what I’ve learned from the military, I wouldn’t have even gotten this job or succeeded to this point,” he said.

“Two years with PAT/PAR did teach me a lot about project management and personnel management. But even before, during training, I learned a lot from my peers about what true leadership is and how to carry myself right.”

“There’s still situations these days where I don’t know what to do or I’m stuck, and I think back to what my peers in the military would have done.”

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