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Belanger reflects on education and experiences

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Sometimes it takes spreading one’s wings and leaving the nest to find a calling or career path in life. Many will say it’s ideal for high school students to immediately go into post-secondary studies after graduation, but there are just as many successful candidates who take a year or two off and then return to their studies.
Former Valley resident, Kyle Belanger did exactly that and found his calling as a Senior Archaeologist and Lead Project Coordinator for Circle Consulting.
“When I was going through high school in the late 80s and early 90s, I don’t know if I really understood what the world had to offer,” said Belanger. “I was living in a small town and I’m not sure if I was quite aware of the big picture. It wasn’t until I moved to Winnipeg after high school, that I started to realize there’s more out there than I had originally thought. I was so used to living in the Swan Valley area, in a farming community, that I didn’t think there were very many options for me.
Once I got to the city, it became clearer to me that I could do truly whatever I wanted to do. This is what prompted me to go back to apply for university and do something I had really wanted to do with my life. I was fortunate enough that it worked out.”
“I grew up over by Heyes School, near where the old bus depot used to be, by Conrad’s Grocery Store. My father spent his whole working career with the Star and Times and sadly he passed away five years ago. My mother also worked at the Star and Times for many years as well, until I graduated high school, and now she works at the Association for Community Living (ACL). She’s been doing that for years now and really loves it.
“As a kid, my friends and I, we were always outside all the time, running around the forest area around town and in the farmer’s fields,” continued Belanger. “I enjoyed biking all over town too. Swan River was just a wonderful place for me to grow up as a kid because we constantly got to go fishing. In the summer, I would go fishing with my father almost every other day. We would go up to Whitefish Lake, every spring, summer and fall, and I’d be out there fishing with him. I will never forget that. Those experiences are really where I began to appreciate outdoor activities and lifestyles. That has allowed me to really appreciate the job I do now.”
Belanger had to balance his post-secondary education along with working a part-time job. It wasn’t easy at first, but he had a few advantages working in his favour.
“I graduated in 1991 and moved into Winnipeg with some friends," he said. "I got a job at Ticketmaster full-time for a number of years. I got to a point where I decided I could be doing more with my life, so I applied to the University of Winnipeg. I continued to work part-time and would slot my courses in during breaks or time off. Thankfully the Ticketmaster office was just across the street from the university, so I didn’t have far to travel.”
He started out his studies in the biology field, but what started out as a volunteer learning experience and then a job, turned him towards the fascinating world of archaeology.
“I started out at the U of W as a biology student and wanted to study animals and their bones, as well as muskox in the Arctic," said Belanger. "It was suggested to me that I go to the archaeology department, because they dealt lots with the study of bones, so I started volunteering with them. Then they gave me a job turning animal carcasses and remains into museum collection specimens. I slowly started transferring over to the archaeology department and started my four-year honours degree in that field.
“After I finished my degree, I needed to go find a job somewhere. I decided to move out to Calgary, where I applied to go do more schooling at the University of Calgary. While I was there I did four more years of university courses and took on a full-time job working as an archaeological consultant at a large engineering firm that does environmental assessments. My job required me to complete these assessments to see if any of these developments would be intrusive to any of the heritage resources in the province and that’s how I ended up in the consulting world as an archaeologist.”
Belanger’s career takes him all over many places for work and he loves being out in nature. Aside from his work in the field, he has a passion for rock climbing that was sparked by a high school field trip he took years prior. Now Belanger spends a great deal of time in the backcountry of the Canadian Rockies.
“I spend a lot of time in the forest out in the backcountry and in some cases, we need to get there by helicopter to a spot where we are dropped off for 12 hours in a remote location by ourselves before they come back and pick us up," he said. "It makes a person appreciate the outdoors and the wildlife around you.
“I learned a lot from Mr. Richer, who taught me Geography when I was in high school. We went on a Geography trip that we fundraised for over a year for, and went to Banff National Park for ten days. That’s another memory I will never forget. That trip changed my life. When I moved from Winnipeg to Alberta, my dream was to always be a climber and I got that opportunity.
"I attribute going on that trip with Mr. Richer, as opening up my eyes to rock climbing and being out in nature," he continued. "After experiencing that trip and when it came to rock climbing, I knew that it was something I could do, if I set my mind to it. When I got here, I didn’t know how to climb, so I learned how to and have been doing it now for well over 20 years; it has become one of my biggest passions next to archaeology.”
One of Belanger’s most notable mountain climbing experiences is the time he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in 2015.
“One of my most notable adventures thus far, has been when I travelled to Tanzania and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro with my sister Darla and my friend Natalia. We spent about eight days on Kilimanjaro and summited the mountain. It was one of the greatest experiences in my life. The people we interacted with on the mountains were the kindest people I’ve ever met. We stayed in a tent during the whole trek up Kilimanjaro, and the porters cooked the most amazing food for us on these simple little kerosene-burning stoves.
“It’s quite cold up there and a person does feel the altitude when they’re up there. I was very fortunate to not get altitude sickness. When I summited, I climbed through the night, reached the summit at 6 a.m. and watched the sunrise over Mount Kilimanjaro. There were about 100 people on the summit that morning, they all just stopped, no one talked and we all just watched the sun come up. It really was the most amazing experience I’ve ever had. I’m hoping to go back and climb some more volcanoes in the area.”
Belanger has done various environmental impact studies, surveying and mitigation work within his over 20 years of experience in archaeology. He really enjoys being able to piece together what took place several thousands of years ago in an area and the story it tells.
“I’ve been on a lot of excavations during my career and it’s not my favourite thing to do,” said Belanger. “I’m one of those people who has to see something new every day, so being at an archaeological site for weeks on end excavating something, for me is too tedious. I enjoy going out, seeing different parts of the landscape and seeing how it might have looked in the past. That’s the thing that really drives me as an archaeologist.
“Boreal Forest archaeology, to me, is the most amazing thing that one could do. We wander around the forest and it’s all muskeg and swamp, but 9,000 years ago, it wasn’t like that. It was actually a very open, dry pine forest and it must’ve been beautiful back then. The area has changed so much over time and there are so many different types of environments as a result. When we find sites in the Boreal Forest, we can get a sense of how people lived on the landscape back then.”
With over 20 years of experience in archaeology, Belanger has worked for a few companies before Circle Consulting, which he deems as being one of the best companies he has been employed with since he started his career.
“I started off working for a company called FMA Heritage Resources, which was a small archaeological resource firm,” said Belanger. “I worked for FMA for about 10 years, then it was bought out by a large firm called Stantec. I worked for Stantec for five years, then the market crashed in Alberta. Then came a slow couple of years in the oil and gas industry here and it hurt a lot of people. Many lost jobs and I was one of them during that phase.
“Within a short period of time of being unemployed, I was approached by Margarita de Guzman, the Managing Director of Circle Consulting. She told me she had heard good things about my work, offered me a position with the company and I accepted. Circle Consulting started out as a small company with five employees and has grown so much, and now has 30 employees and is extremely successful. I love working here and Margarita is one of the best bosses I have ever had.”
The most ironic experience was when Belanger met a former Valley archaeologist while working in the field. He formed a bond with him and he became Belanger’s mentor.
“When I first moved back to Alberta in 2003, I was working at an archaeological site in the Cypress Hills called the Stampede Site. Eugene Gryba, who grew up and is from Swan River, and is also an archaeologist, came to the site for a visit. We started talking and asked where we were from. I told him Swan River and he said he was too. It was so comical and he told me he found this site back in the 70s. Since then Eugene and I have worked on numerous projects up in northern Alberta.
He’s one of the best flintknappers and archaeologists I’ve ever met in my life. He’s my mentor and my best friend. I try to see him at least once a week and have been doing that the last 20 years of my life.”
Belanger’s plan for the future is to keep on learning and growing at each possible stage that he can. His love of knowledge has opened up so many doors and presented unique experiences.
“Once I finish my Health and Safety degree, I will probably choose another degree to work on. I decided the only way to appreciate anything in this world, is to understand, study it and keep learning. The more you learn, the more you then appreciate everything around you, and have more respect for everything and everybody.”