Mark Bassingthwaite
Mark Bassingthwaite

The Windermere Basin was originally constructed to capture sediment from Red Hill Creek before it flowed into Hamilton Harbour and blocked the shipping lanes. Over the years, of course, the basin gradually filled up with sediment contaminated with pollutants. The City of Hamilton took ownership of the basin from the Hamilton Port Authority in 2000.

Although the city first considered dredging the basin, it eventually determined that it would be more sustainable and less expensive to leave the sediments in the basin and simply dredge the shipping lanes as needed. What to do with the basin property was the next question.

The city retained Cole Engineering Group, where U of G graduate Mark Bassingthwaite works as service sector leader of water resources. An environmental assessment was completed by the company, which determined that sediment should be capped, and the basin should be transformed into a wetland.

“We were able to complete the project on time and on budget,” says Bassingthwaite. “In place of a contaminated and not very attractive basin of water, we have created a diverse wetland habitat for a variety of wildlife.” In fact, the project won awards for its design and effectiveness, and was described by Adam Carter of the CBC as “a staggering achievement” and “a technical marvel.”

As a teenager, Bassingthwaite couldn’t decide whether he wanted to be a veterinarian or an engineer. He figured that enrolling at the University of Guelph (his parents are alumni) would keep both options open. In the end, the problem-solving aspects of engineering won him over. He chose to enroll in the co-op program and credits that for steering him in the right direction when it came to career options.

“I thought co-op would be helpful for getting my foot in the door with a company, gaining some experience and making some money,” says Bassingthwaite. “But the other side, what really helped me, was trying jobs in different industries even before I graduated so that I had some ideas about what I wanted to do.”

Engineering, he points out, is the kind of program that prepares you for a variety of possible careers. “The skills are very portable,” he adds. Having that much choice, though, can sometimes be stressful – what if you end up on the wrong path?

Bassingthwaite completed co-op terms with the provincial government, a municipal government and a consulting company. That was enough, he says, to guide him in the direction of consulting. He adds that the training he received from Cooperative Education and Career Services in resume writing and interviewing techniques was especially helpful both during his co-op terms and after graduation.

Once he had his B.Sc.(Eng.), Bassingthwaite was hired in 2002 by Cole Sherman Associates in Markham, Ont., and worked there for two years as a consultant in water resources. He worked primarily in Ontario on projects that involved drainage for highways that were being widened or expanded.

His next position took an opposite approach: instead of draining water away, Bassingthwaite’s focus was on keeping the land wet. He was hired by Ducks Unlimited Canada, a non-profit organization that focuses on conserving and restoring wetland habitats for waterfowl.

“Our projects always included biologists who would look at the site in terms of what the birds and plants needed, and my role was to determine what infrastructure needed to be designed and constructed. We might create dams, for example, to control the flow of the water,” he explains.

From there, he moved in 2006 to his current employer, Cole Engineering Group in Markham, first as an engineer, then as a project manager and now as service sector leader of water resources.

Moving into management means that Bassingthwaite now spends about half his time in administrative work, ensuring that projects are on budget and planning for future projects. Most of his sites are in Ontario, but he is involved with one in Newfoundland and has helped with some projects in the company’s office in Trinidad.

Bassingthwaite hasn’t forgotten the co-op program that helped him get his start: he currently has four co-op students working with his team, all from the University of Guelph.

“We usually have three or four students in the summer term, and one or two during other times of the year,” he says. “We find that the Guelph students are used to working in small teams and groups from their courses, and that fits well with the way we work here. We have five or six staff members who were previously co-op students here and have now been hired full-time, along with several other Guelph grads across the company.”

His interest in water resources as a career is probably not surprising; Bassingthwaite loves the outdoors and enjoys gardening, fishing and waterfowl hunting. He’s married and has a one-year-old son, who is learning to walk and keeps his parents busy.

Fortunately, Bassingthwaite likes being busy. It’s one of the things he enjoys about consulting. “I also like that there is lots of flexibility and variety in the work – you are not pigeon-holed into one area of work,” he says.