June 15, 2019
Tristan Collins
Tristan Collins
When Tristan Collins was heading into Grade 11 at Notre Dame Catholic Secondary School in Burlington, Ont., he received some advice that made a major impact in his life.

“I went to see my guidance counsellor, like every high school student does, and I said that I didn’t really know what I wanted to do,” Collins remembers. “The guidance counsellor told me about the SHSM (Specialist High Skills Major) program for horticulture, and that it is all hands-on learning and that they thought I would really like it.”

The counsellor was spot on. Collins says the experience “has been awesome.”

Collins also received support from Notre Dame horticulture teacher, Al Nason.

“He really encouraged me to consider working towards the Red Seal,” Collins says. “He told me about it, and pointed out that I wouldn’t be in debt like a lot of people who go to university. It really is a great option, because you get hands-on experience, as well as classroom learning, all while getting paid to be in school by the government.”

Successfully passing the Red Seal exam confirms an individual tradesperson has the skilled required for the job anywhere in Canada.

Following high school, Collins connected with Landscape Ontario member, GelderLands to complete the co-op portion of the SHSM program. There, he found another mentor in company owner Brandon Gelderman.

“Before I started the job, I was having second thoughts, wondering if this would be right for me,” Collins says. “But after the first month, I fell in love with it; the work environment, everyone was so helpful, and always there for people and it was awesome. Now, after two years, I can say that it honestly feels great to be in a profession and with a company that just cares for you.”

Collins adds, “Brandon was very supportive. After the co-op he just said, ‘hey you’re doing an amazing job, we’d love you to stay as long as you’d like.’ After that, I just never looked back.”

Brandon Gelderman says Collins has been a great addition to his team.

“Tristan is very excited about this profession and it shows in everything he does each day,” Gelderman said. “Working for our firm, he has the opportunity to learn about every aspect of the landscape and horticulture profession. The real benefit is the family atmosphere we have in our company and through the association of Landscape Ontario where many people connect and help each other. Tristan is a great asset to the company and with the combined knowledge he is learning in school, his capabilities have moved him into responsible positions very quickly.”

Gelderman says he encourages employees to pursue the apprenticeship program, “because it provides different views on learning and different ways to work in the landscape and horticulture profession.”

Gelderman adds, “There is always more than one way to execute a project, process and operation. Everyone learns in different ways, and having a variety of teachers provides multiple viewpoints and insights that benefit both the student themselves as well as your company.”

Encouraged by his experience with Gelderlands, Collins enrolled in the Apprenticeship Program at Mohawk College. This spring, he completed the in-class component of the program. Collins continues to work at Gelderlands, and is currently accumulating the on-the-job hours required before writing the Red Seal exam.

“So far, I have been doing a bit of everything,” Collins explains. “I’ve been maintaining grounds as well as creating and building. What I really like about it is being outside. All through my life, I have always been an outdoors person. The fact that I get to spend so much time outside, while also connecting with awesome people, it’s incredible.”

After achieving the Red Seal designation, Collins is looking to pursue a degree in landscape design.

“Brandon is a huge guru in design, and I’d like to get into it more as well, and to learn as much as I can in this profession,” Collins says.

Another milestone along Collins’s career path was being awarded an Ontario Horticultural Trades Foundation scholarship in 2018. “It really meant a lot to me to be recognized with the apprenticeship scholarship,” Collins says of the award. “It just goes to show what people can achieve. Being able to go to the Awards of Excellence for the first time in January was awesome; I’ve never seen anything special like that in my life.”

Scholarship applications close June 30

Each year, the Ontario Horticultural Trades Foundation awards over $50,000 in scholarships to high school and post-secondary students across the province. The funding goes to the best and brightest horticulture students who are the future of the profession, and it provides a real boost right when they need it most.

Created in 1979, the Foundation’s mandate is to ensure a healthy future for the horticulture industry through financial support for research and scholarships. With dozens of recipients each year, the foundation makes a major impact on the lives of future green professionals.

Under the Foundation umbrella, the Cullen family scholarship program also sees some $30,000 awarded to students each year.

The deadline to apply for scholarships is June 30. Applying is easy, and generally requires students to send their transcripts and a short essay describing their interest in horticulture. For more information and to apply, visit ohtf.ca.