From masonry to piggery – Ernie Wilkens pivots to his next career

The Wilkens clan. Photo by Jake Wilkens.
The Wilkens clan. Photo by Jake Wilkens.

The Wilkens family knows how to stay together – even when they’re apart.

More than 40 years ago, Otto Wilkens and his younger brother, Ernie, worked together as masons. They realized that, while they could be friends and brothers, they really weren’t very good working partners. So, now, on Canvarco Drive, you’ll come upon Otto’s Masonry and Wilkens Contracting, situated side by side.

Ernie Wilkens, who describes himself as a farmer, grew up in Niagara Region, and has always wanted to return. So, return he has, with the recent sale of the family business to daughter Olivia Settle, son Jake and nephew Richard Harris, son of Ernie’s sister.

Ernie taught Richard and Jake how to lay bricks. Olivia took a more roundabout route to joining the family business. After spending time in California, where she was involved in website building, she came to realize that in an “old-fashioned way” she really liked “being able to see immediate product,” and has now become the office manager at Wilkens. 

Ernie’s work philosophy has always been to do “honest work for a fair price.” He is proud to show his children work he did when he was just starting out that is still holding up today. They get many testimonials without asking for them. One of their customers is my church, St. Cuthbert’s on Bayview. When suddenly we had spongy plaster inside on our south wall after heavy rains, Wilkens came to the rescue. Our volunteer property manager, Heather Conolly, describes them as “talented, reliable and a good team to work with.”

It was tough earlier this spring when all work had to stop, but Ernie was determined to do well by all his employees, family or not. Once work could start again in May, the company was pleasantly surprised by the number of calls they received asking for their services. Ernie really didn’t think long about whether or not he was still making the right decision to step aside for the next generation. He knew it was time.

And Ernie has found something else to do now that he is living most of the time in Fenwick. He and a cousin, with skilled assistance from a Croatian friend, now have 31 heritage pigs as breeding stock for a new business, Short Hills Fine Meats, where they plan to launch a prosciutto business.

About Lorna Krawchuk 177 Articles
Lorna Krawchuk is publisher of Leaside Life. She is actively involved in St. Cuthbert’s Church. Her volunteer activities with the Leaside Property Owners’ Association led to her being elected a Councillor in the Borough of East York for 9 years before amalgamation in 1998. She also held a variety of volunteer leadership positions with the Girl Guides of Canada for over 30 years. Lorna has been a Leasider since 1968.