As he stood before a gym packed with students Pioneer Log Homes general manager André Chevigny said he was nervous.
“I’ve spoken in front of crowds, but you guys are different,” Chevigny told the students during a presentation at Lake City Secondary Williams Lake campus Wednesday.
“I’m excited to be here but want to do my best to make sure you understand my story.”
Chevigny shared his life journey, which entailed going to 16 different schools in various B.C. towns.
He was born in Williams Lake and moved back for the fourth and final time when he was 15 years old.
“My mom was a single parent and nomadic,” he recalled. “During Grade 7 I started out at Marie Sharpe, went to Crescent Heights, and ended up at school in Kamloops.”
When he was a teenager he experienced a ton of apprehension about the fact he lived in a trailer in the Comer Hill Trailer Park on the outskirts of the city.
Friends lived in actual houses, with big yards, and a mom and a dad.
“We knew our mom and dad cared for us, even though they weren’t together. And I was proud of our trailer, but felt I needed to keep my friends away.”
His mom worked hard, often selling furniture to buy things her family needed.
“We didn’t have much, but my brother Dave and I were 14 months apart and we had each other. We dealt with the moves as they came.”
Around Grade 10 his friend Carl’s dad started talking to Carl about going to university and Chevigny realized there was no chance financially for him to go to university or college.
“I don’t know if that anxiety crosses your mind, but I want you to know that’s OK,” he assured the students.
Crediting his brothers Brian and Keith who were 13 and 15 years older as hard-working mentors, Chevigny said they instilled a good work ethic he didn’t realize at the time.
Eventually Chevigny began to believe his future was up to him.
It was a heavy realization, but one that made him more determined.
The summer after Grade 10 he worked with his brother Keith in his wood shop in Kamloops and in junior and senior high school took woodwork courses.
“I loved the texture, smell, feel of the wood and I liked making things.”
He also studied drafting, metal work and mechanics, and quickly realized metal wasn’t for him.
Outside of school he worked with his brother Brian peeling logs for his log home building business.
During career exploration he learned he should be a mechanic, something he knew he did not have a passion for.
After high school he went to work at Chuck’s Auto and it was there he learned the importance of customer service.
“Adults liked me,” he smiled. “I made friends with hardworking cowboys, ranchers, miners and loggers. I also discovered how much I liked working with numbers.”
Besides, going to 16 different schools had taught him one thing for sure. He knew how to make friends.
He was always good at math in school too but did the bare minimum because he “didn’t care.”
Another thing he learned was the importance of honesty and telling the truth.
“Anything you do involves people and being honest and truthful will be the biggest skill you need.”
In 1985 he started building his first home, a goal he’d always had.
He saved $10,000 to buy a lot and the logs and convinced the Credit Union to give him a mortgage for the rest.
By 1988 he and Brian decided to become full-time log home builders. They didn’t have a plan, only confidence.
Thirty-two years later Chevigny said it’s been an awesome run with Pioneer Log Homes.
“We’ve been blessed to work with amazing clients who have pushed the limit and had the money.”
At first they built around Williams Lake, Horsefly and Likely, until 1990 when they built a home for someone in Washington State.
In 1992 they built their first house in Germany and Chevigny stayed in a 300-year old home built of spruce logs.
“A guy there told me he engineered our home to last 300 years. That changed our perception. I realized everything we built would outlast me, my kids and my grand kids.”
When he returned to Canada he told Brian he wanted to break away from industry standards and create new ones of their own.
They began preaching quality, longevity and craftsmanship.
That year they brought master timber framers from Switzerland and blended old world techniques with modern day craftsmanship.
Chevigny said when he graduated there was a work poster circulating with the tagline “Work Smart, Not Hard.”
“It should say work smart and hard,” he suggested. “I’ve tried to do that and I’ve had some lucky lucky breaks.”
His parents worked hard and Chevigny recalled learning there was always someone worse off than him.
In January Pioneer Log Homes was featured in an HGTV series titled Timber Kings and a second season is being filmed right now.
“We found out that Timber Kings is the biggest hit in the network’s history,” he said.
Student Kody Benner, 16, said he thinks the show is pretty cool.
“I like seeing how they ship homes all over the world. You think it’s just out of Williams Lake but they are everywhere.”
Graeme Jensen, 16, has enjoyed seeing how the houses are built — all the different sizes and designs, while Ariel Zacharias described the show as entertaining.
“It’s cool to see people that I know on TV and I learned a lot, especially that’s it’s difficult to please people sometimes,” Zacharias said.
Chevigny said the largest home the company has built was 112,000 square feet for a customer in Colorado.
To put that into perspective, he explained it was the same size as Walmart in Williams Lake.
Another home, recently completed, was for a customer in Moscow, Russia.
It is 52,000 square feet and required 95 shipping containers.
As he closed his presentation, Chevigny told the students he loves to create, design, challenge himself and his co-workers.
“Each one of you was created for something special,” he said. “You might not feel it right now, but if you wait your gut will tell you and you’ll find that joy in getting up every day.”