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Another Brick in Nepal

"On April 25, 2015 at 11:56 Nepal Standard Time, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck Nepal, between Kathmandu and Mt. Everest, killing 9,000 and injuring over 23,000. Aftershocks continued to affect Nepal for several weeks after the initial earthquake. Over 900,000 homes were destroyed and entire villages flattened in the areas around Kathmandu.
A second major earthquake struck Nepal on May 25th further damaging the region.
The earthquake triggered an avalanche on Mt. Everest killing 19 and shutting down the 2015 climbing season, which is a main source of revenue for Nepal."

When Rob Tournour saw the news, and as the extent of the destruction - with it's consequences in terms of human suffering and deprivation -  begin to dawn on him,  he realized he needed to do something about it. After a period of reflection, he contacted his friend Randy Jones, who had visited Nepal previously, and told him he intended to get involved to help.

This was not Rob's first foray into international aid: in 2005 he was part of a Victoria based group of volunteers that helped build a residential school for Girls in Honduras - an experience he credits with changing his life.

In November 2015, Rob and Randy left for a fact-finding mission in order to determine how best to help. Travelling through towns and villages some 3.5 hours away from Katmandu, into the region of Nuwakot,  Rob was stricken again by the level of devastation he saw everywhere, which was not limited to homes and towns, but also extended to roads and infrastructure, greatly affecting every aspect of human life.

During that trip, they had the opportunity to stay at "Little Angels" children's home, one of the main focuses of Team Nepal's rebuilding efforts. There they were invited to spend some time with the children there, learning about their life, and working in the fields where they grow the produce to feed themselves.

Rob and Randy are President and Vice President respectively of "Another Brick in Nepal", which was created by a group of people from Vancouver Island, with the objective of helping those of the communities devastated by these earthquakes which are out of the way and therefore unlikely to get immediate help by other more mainstream organizations.

The goal is, over the years,  to raise $200,000 to re-build two elementary schools in the Nuwakot region - beginning with Aapchaur, - aided by the valuable lessons learned from Rob's earlier experience with Brick Layers Without Borders in Honduras. Beyond that, the idea is to continue working to help to rebuilding communities all over Nepal.

Little Angels lies within the region where they plan to build the first schools. 

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The Songees Wellness Center

The Songees Wellness Centre, conceived, designed and built by the Songees Nation in Victoria in 2013, stands as an iconic landmark not only for the Songees Nation, but for First Nations throughout British Columbia.

Rob Tournour Masonry is proud to have participated as the masonry contractor for this important project.

Part of our work involved facing walls with K2 Stone quarried in the Port Renfrew area, aiming to fulfill the vision of the Songees Nation designers of incorporating an abundance of local natural product in the project. The slate was shaped and fitted using the traditional masonry technique of hammer and chisel.

But the pièce de résistance is undoubtedly the work performed on the circular plaza at the front entrance of the centre. The plaza is an elaborate collage of stone of different textures and colors, representing the elements of an ancient traditional First Nations story.

The outer circle stands in for the firm land: the beach. It is laid in yellow rock and broken by whiter fragments which represent turtles. The next immediate concentric ring is dotted with pebbles signifying a transition from the beach to the waters of the innermost circle. This is built of slate in two shades, the darker outlining the figures representing kelp and herring.

The central totem figure represents a loon. It's base is made of river rock extracted from local sources on Vancouver Island, and it flares out at the upper edge to symbolize the water, cascading as the loon emerges through the surface.

The plaza theme was inspired by one of our stone masons, Jason King, who had an idea to incorporate First Nations themes into our work on the stone facade.  It took a crew of seven nearly four months to complete the plaza. Jason created the templates for the art based on the renderings provided directly by the Songhees Nation artists. Needless to say, the fact we were able to contribute to such a project at such a deep level make us extremely proud. 

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The work of many generations

As the work at the Empress wound down, the new sign went up, and our site office was removed, alongside the platform and other equipment; we couldn't  help but to reflect: this has been such a special job, such a honour.

The Empress is, of course, such a unique symbol of history for Victorians. The present and the passage of time are both vibrantly alive in the grand old building; and in a way the work we wrapped up was about those same themes - for what else is a restoration than the undoing of time itself?

As if to add to the temporal undercurrent, we discovered that for many of us this job was something of an echo. We had among our files many whose fathers, and even grandfathers had been part of various undertakings on the venerable old building. That was a thrill. It really added an entire other dimension to our work there!

Throughout mankind's history fathers and sons have often worked at the same workplaces, passing along the trade from generation to generation: we find moving stories of this in the Valley of the Kings outside fabled Thebes of old Egypt, in the walls of Gothic cathedrals of medieval Europe, or in the tombs of ancient Chinese Emperors.  The passage of time, the transition from one generation to the next - the unavoidable essence of life itself, seemed somehow assuaged by the transmission of knowledge and role from father to son and with it the illusion of permanence. Foremost was the teaching of the trades, the most noble of all.

As the times changed so did the tradition. With the industrial revolution many trades suffered, and most were no longer transferred in the same ritual manner. But the tide of history often returns us to the same place and in the latter part of the twentieth century some of the trades began to flourish in a different way, the knowledge more arcane, more sophisticated. The trade of the mason in the new world is one such trade, because it's demands are more specific and the number of really good masons smaller.

We had some great examples of multiple generations working on the Empress, fathers and sons, building upon and restoring the work of their grandfathers and fathers so long ago.

Someday, who knows... maybe our grandchildren  - or their children - will restore a wall, a chimney or something else our hands touched or placed in the grand old Empress - and maybe they'll think of us then. 

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Heritage Restoration in the oldest Chinatown in Canada

We are proudly undertaking yet another restoration in a heritage building located in a historic area of Victoria. This time is a marvelous 1903 jewel is Chinatown, situated right next to the Chinese Public School (also on the Heritage registry, and a building that has been entrusted to our skilled crew as well.)

The Gee Tuck Tong Benevolent Association Building is a fundamental part of the group of early buildings that define the historic character of the Chinatown in Victoria, one of the few in North America to retain significant clusters of valuable heritage and historical buildings. Victoria's is Chinatown also notable as the oldest Chinatown in Canada and only second in North America to San Francisco's.

In 1995 the entire district was designated a National Historic Site of Canada, but the heritage character and importance of this particular property had been formally recognized by the Canadian Register of Historic Places in early 1992.

The building was built in 1903, design for retail stores at street level and the association rooms above with a narrow passage to a tenement at the back. (The photography on the left shows the Scaffolding setup against the wall of the tenement area). The entire structure of the building speaks of an era where the area's budding population was struggling to retain its roots and identity, while incorporating themselves to the nascent western Canadian way of life.

Once again, we found ourselves immersed in a project that brings us to the very roots of what means, in historical terms to be a Victorian. A project that really challenges our pride in our craftsmanship and our skills to perform to do sensitive masonry repairs on historical buildings. How can we not love this job?

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The Importance of Being Earnest (About Having that Chimney Rebuilt or Re-Pointed)

A home is not quite so much a home without that fire crackling in your chimney on a winter evening, while the wind blows and the cold air fogs up the windows - or it's rainy, or snowing... just dream up your own nasty winter weather; because the uglier outside the nicer it feels indoor, thanks to the primeval glow of that fireplace...

But to be able to enjoy that magical moment thoroughly, you need to trust your home is safe and sound; in particular the parts of it that will take hold of those flames and channel the smoke safely up into the heavens - so let's talk a bit about the importance of having your chimney rebuilt or re-pointed.

Chimney re-pointing, or rebuilding, is roughly speaking the process of removing the old mortar and replacing it with new one. Along the way we might also replace broken parts or those deteriorated beyond all possible restoration.

The process calls for an specialist that can read the condition of mortar and brickwork and understands the process thoroughly. The removal of the old mortar requires extreme care to avoid damaging the masonry, while at the same time ensuring the joint is left clean and in proper shape and depth for best mortar re-pointing.

The cosmetic side of this job, the immediate uplift it gives to your home in terms of looks and value, is obvious and needs no explanation - just take a look at these before/after pictures:

But there is more than just cosmetics at play here - re-pointing is a necessary part of maintenance that shouldn't be overlook at risk of incurring in bigger problems and expenses further down the road.

Over time, weather and normal decay and  deterioration may cause the masonry joints to vacate in places, allowing for water to enter and smoke to leak out. If left unattended it can even undermine the structural integrity  of the chimney itself.

At Rob Tournour Masonry we understand the intricacies of this job and we can help you determine if your chimney needs re-pointing at this time. We can get you right back into your winter dream - so call us before winter arrives!

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Bricklayers in Pink - for a good cause!

We are in the papers again, and with good reason! On the morning of Wednesday 24th of February, bricklayers from all our job sites interrupted their work to participate in "Pink Shirt Day" in support of the growing campaign to stop bullying.

Our workers and their families, wearing pink T-shirts that announced to the world: "We're bricklayers ... not bullies" posed for a picture at the Empress Hotel (where we have been working on a full masonry restoration of the original phase of the hotel for the last several months) and were joined by our Premier, Christy Clark.

Similar efforts were widespread throughout the province. We are so proud of playing a part, however small, to raise awareness on this relevant and pressing issue!

We even made the news! You can see us and read about this event in CheckTV and the Times Colonist

Of course, in the meantime work carries on as usual:

We have completed the brick at Hudson Walk and we are looking forward to working on the next tower of this multi-phase venture, while at the Fairmont Empress site, the work on the north chimney continued and we got to do some very interesting work on copper roofing installation - you can see some video of it on our Facebook page.

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Safety First! We are COR Certified by WorkSafe BC.

As you probably know, if you've ever dealt with us, we constantly strive to go well above and beyond the minimum requirements for health and safety. As a matter of fact, Rob Tournour Masonry Ltd. is the only masonry company on Vancouver Island with a Certified Quantity Surveyor on staff, and also the only masonry company on Vancouver Island that has a Certified Safety Officer and is COR Certified by WorkSafe BC.

But what does this mean, really? 

Well, the Certificate of Recognition (COR) is given to employers who participate in "WorkSafeBC's voluntary Partners in Injury and Disability Prevention Program",  a program for employers who create and adhere to health and safety management systems, with views to  improve workplace safety and help injured workers return to work in a safe and timely way. Throughout the program, the employers work with a Certifying Partner to meet the program's very high standards. In order to actually get the Certificate of Recognition the employer then has to pass a thorough audit.

It means we always think in terms of "Safety First": our employees are safety conscious, our managers strict and vigilant in all safety related issues, and our equipment always adequate to the task at hand, well kept and inspected according to manufacturer's specifications and always of the foremost standards in terms of quality. At its most fundamental level, it means our company itself is geared to work in this fashion. At Rob Tournour Masonry Ltd. Safety First is not just the Best Practice, but the Only Practice.

Because of our safety conscious approach, we have less man-hours and work-hours loss, and much less of a whole host of other expensive costs associated with unsafe practices. Therefore we can pass the savings to you - both in terms of time and money - and we can deliver our work in schedule. Always.

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The holidays are here

It is time to take a step back and admire the work we have done in the last year, and consider the path that opens with the coming one. We can only say we have been blessed with the jobs with which we had the pleasure of being involved, not only in the stream of work was steady and top notch, but it was on many occasions extremely interesting.

As for what lies ahead, we cannot help but approach it with a sense of wonder. It is not secret that we are involved in the Fairmont Empress project, an undertaking that is as large as it is fascinating, and which should keep us busy for a while. At the same time we look forward to meet the new clients we shall meet in the near future - all bringing us their unique challenges and stories, and each and every one a world to discover.

That new adventures always teach you something is perhaps a little bit of a cliché, but in our industry, and at the level at which we work, it can take quite a literary meaning. Rob and Dale actually took a course in Chicago for certification in using Jahn Repair Mortars from Cathedral Stone Products Inc., which are to be used for repairs at The Empress.

Recently the Ivy was shorn around the Empress Hotel, exposing her walls for the job ahead, and then, after the scaffolding had gone up, it was covered with some nifty netting that has an image of the Empress printed - a little like wearing a mask with your own face. All of this so the restoration can proceed. Already we found intriguing details, such as this nifty gargoyle:

So, in the light of all that is happening, I guess you can forgive us if we are a little “pumped” about our work!.

We sincerely hope you and your loved ones have a great Holiday Season and a prosperous New Year! See you around!

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Welcome to our blog!

We plan to use this space to keep you abreast of all the interesting things in which Rob Tournour Masonry is involved, as well as any masonry industry related news and events in Victoria, Vancouver Island and Southern BC, of which we might catch wind.

We are very busy at present with a large project that fills us with pride: we have been entrusted by Bosa Development Corp, owners of The Empress Hotel, to undertake a full masonry restoration of the original phase, constructed in 1908.

Here we are in the process of installing the new sign

Since completion of this project is expected to be around May 2016, we will probably be talking about it more than once in the next few months.

Earlier on the year we completed a heritage restoration on the famed Fan Tan Alley, in the heart of Victoria's  Chinatown - the oldest in Canada!

As you can see we have plenty of good stories to tell... so, stick around!

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