Interview with Samantha Brett ’04

Taking the Rosseau Roots out into the world

By Kim Bissonette Morton ‘88

Anyone who knows you well, knows you are happiest being outside. Is that why you felt RLC was such a good fit for you?

I always loved being outdoors exploring the local wilderness of the Muskoka and Georgian Bay regions throughout my youth. To attend RLC felt second-nature to me. It was as though I were going to school in my own backyard, immersed in the natural world, one with the changing of the seasons. RLC was a place of calm, focus, and inspiration.

After RLC, you went on to complete an undergraduate degree in physical and environmental geography and a graduate degree in environment and management. What influenced those decisions?

I think I saw value in that at a young age, and I knew how much I enjoyed exploring the marshes, forests, and rocky shorelines of the Muskoka region. I was always wanting to understand nature at a deeper level in order to share it with others and also to protect it for future enjoyment. While out cycling in the area I would always notice when a local trail had been impacted from use, or when development was taking place in the region at an alarming rate. I noticed the shoreline changing on Lake Rosseau as more boat traffic and cottage docks began to close in on each other. This sort of rampant development is not necessarily unique to Muskoka, although the exclusivity of it is. … If we are going to build, we need to do it properly, sustainably, and speak for the things that can’t speak for themselves (nature!). Throughout my years of experience in the field, I have also earned my Professional Agrologist designation in both Alberta and British Columbia (this makes me a soils nerd!).

Tell us a little bit about your company IronOaks Environmental Management?

My company originated in 2014 when there was a downturn in the Canadian energy market and I was seeking employment. I said to myself “why wait for a job when I can create one?” So, IronOaks was born and I’ve been busy ever since. My services have evolved over the years. I started with offering expertise in Canadian environmental regulation and compliance in the oil and gas construction industry, to nurturing economic reconciliation with Indigenous communities in the west, and now work in the sustainability discipline. My most recent client was the Trans Mountain Expansion Project where I provided environmental compliance and pipeline construction expertise. Now I am currently working with a new client, Rise Consulting, on some exciting Indigenous engagement and sustainability projects in accordance with the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business.

The IronOaks logo is an acorn, and I chose this because of the symbolism associated with the luckiest nut in the world: “from small acorns grow the mighty oak.” The acorn represents good luck, abundance, new ideas, growth, strength and power, hard work and perseverance, and potential. I deliver on these qualities in the work I do with my clients.

Where did your interest in Indigenous relations and land rights come from?

While living in the west, it became extremely evident to me that the Canadian education system and high school curriculum excludes some very real truths from Canadian history and how Indigenous people and settlers interacted upon first contact. While working in the oil and gas industry, I have been exposed more than ever to not only world-class environment best practice and expertise, but also to respectful and meaningful Indigenous consultation, relationship building, inclusion, and cultural diversity. I have always been genuinely interested in cultural anthropology, and when I lived in Ontario, I enjoyed going to Manitoulin Island to visit the Unceded Territory of the Wiikwemkoong People where they host a competitive powwow each summer. It was a life-changing and enriching experience; I highly recommend it.

There are also several Indigenous communities in the Parry Sound region. During my time at RLC, we were fortunate enough to go to school alongside some Indigenous youth. I will always remember the beautiful ceremonies and dances that I witnessed on campus from Indigenous day-students who wanted to share their culture with us. I guess that exposure stuck with me, and while living in British Columbia for 12 years I learned more about the diversity of Indigenous people in Canada then I ever had before. I think as Canadians we need to put in the time and effort to better acknowledge and understand the history of Indigenous people in this country. Truth and reconciliation are only words if not put into action, and I decided to personally commit to this journey several years ago. I have chosen to be a non-Indigenous ally so that I can show my support for Indigenous people in Canada so they can heal, prosper, and celebrate their cultural heritage with acceptance and appreciation. I encourage everyone to start a reconciliation journey.You were selected to participate on Boom or Bust “Millennial Entrepreneur” with Tony Clement. How did it feel to be part of this panel of entrepreneurs?

It was a lot of fun! It was a new experience for me, [and] it was a welcomed experience. I feel I was able to provide a unique perspective being the only panelist “representing” the west. We were asked various questions about the unique challenges and benefits of the COVID-19 pandemic on business owners, and more specifically, Millennial business owners. You’ll have to watch it to see my responses; spoiler alert—Tony coined me as “The Optimist” by the end of the show!

After the show aired, you Zoomed into an RLC Independent Study class to talk about your experiences as an entrepreneur.

Giving back to RLC is important to me not only because I am an alumni at RLC, but because I also grew up in the community of Rosseau. I want students to know about the diversity of people that have come from that place, and I want students to know that they can do anything they put their minds to. Ultimately, find your north and follow it; you can do anything in this life, but you can’t do everything. So, stay focused, have fun, and keep laughing, learning, and staying active in that beautiful place I call home!

During your four years as an RLC student you were recognized as being a major force athletically, but best known for your skills on a bike. How has that translated to your life in the years since RLC?

I am certainly still passionate about cycling, although the amount of time I spent on a bike then has been severely compromised over the past few years with some time spent “adulting”! … My career took hold right out of university and it took me to some far away and interesting places, often times where I couldn’t bring a bike or simply didn’t have the time to get out like I used to. That is now starting to balance out, and cycling, skiing, hiking, and fly fishing are all current outdoor physical pursuits I regularly enjoy with my family.

How do you find the time to run your own business and raise a young family?

Finding time is always challenging, however, I do it the same way my husband pursues his career. We have a great balance together and tremendous respect for each other’s time. We support each other’s goals. We have a good routine with our children (most days!), and we set reasonable expectations for ourselves and each other. Running my own business takes effort; I treat it as my 9 a.m.–5 p.m. job, even though there is also a 5 a.m.–9.a.m. and a 7 p.m.–12 midnight shift some days! To put it in perspective, I started in 2014 and I just had my business branded with a logo and started a website this year. It took me seven years to develop a logo! Thank goodness for maternity leave, otherwise I don’t know when I would have found the time to work on my company. I have been fortunate to win contracts through referrals in the industry, and for that I am truly grateful. Being a business owner has pros and cons, but so far, I’ve valued the flexibility that being a business owner offers me. Good things take time, and I have been really focused on doing it my way and making sure my brand is sustainable and well-established before growing beyond my current capabilities.