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WorkBC helps Okanagan amputee on long road to self-employment

Sylvan Baril looking for indoor space to put his woodworking talents to use
Sylvan Baril makes handcrafted wooden furniture from his Westside Road residence. (Submitted photo)

Ten kilometres down Westside Road in Vernon, Sylvan Baril’s handmade wooden pieces are on display during the summer — as is his indomitable drive to succeed as a self-employed woodworker.

Baril is accustomed to overcoming challenges. He lost his leg when he was hit by a drunk driver on Westside 22 years ago.

Baril — who started learning how to produce wooden furniture when he was 16 — has since handcrafted his own prosthetic socket, which works better for him than the many professionally built sockets he’s had over the years.

“That’s what I can do with my hands,” he said.

He’s skilled at pulling apart aging wooden furniture, reproducing missing parts and building them anew.

“I like to restore old antique pieces … I also do modifications in houses; I can do cupboards, hardwood floors, tiles. There’s not too many things with my hands that I don’t do.”

Now in his 50s, and with the help of WorkBC Employment Advisors Celena Sandaker and Jerry Ward, Baril is taking the steps to transform his skills into gainful self-employment.

It started out with a visit Sandaker and Ward paid to Baril’s residence — a school bus he’s outfitted into a comfortable home, complete with a seating area, a woodburning stove, a loft bed, a kitchenette, a bathroom and a washer and dryer setup. Painted a clean white and blue, the bus’s exterior also features solar panels that make the home fully self-contained with the ability to be off-grid.

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Seeing how he’s transformed his bus, Sandaker says she was reminded of MacGyver.

“He told us about his talent, and it just comes through more when you’re able to see it, seeing the bus and all of the stuff that he’s done — and not just the woodworking skills but all of the other skills he has,” Sandaker said. “And I’ve never seen somebody more determined.”

Some of Baril’s flower boxes were previously on display at Briteland a supply store in Vernon. More recently, he custom built a picnic table for a happy customer.

“As soon as we were able to see some of his products we were like yeah, these are products he can sell,” Ward added.

The WorkBC advisors helped determine self-employment as an ideal route since Baril’s disability requires that he has a modified woodworking station with the ability to sit, ability to take frequent breaks for varying intervals and shorter hours. As well, he has significant pains some days which make it difficult for him to go into work, and which doesn’t mesh well with a 9-5 job.

“He does get tired out a bit more frequently, so working for himself he can take those rest breaks,” Ward said.

Baril says he’s “quite happy with what’s been going on” since becoming a client with WorkBC. Baril has participated in Case Managed Services where the main focus of his service has been in Discovery/Customized Employment – a service that focuses on clients potential contributions to the labour market through a strength-based, individualized, qualitative assessment.

In order to fulfill his ultimate goals, he needs a proper workspace. He’s been working outside where his materials often get warped by the weather.

“I cannot do any kind of finishing here because it’s outside,” he said of the makeshift work station beside his bus.

Residents in Vernon who have or know of an indoor workspace for Baril can leave a message for him through the Vernon WorkBC Centre at

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Brendan Shykora

About the Author: Brendan Shykora

I started as a carrier at the age of 8. In 2019 graduated from the Master of Journalism program at Carleton University.
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