Apprenticeship Program

To the Apprenticeship applicant,

Each year I will accept applications to fill a maximum of four apprenticeship positions. The apprentices will have the opportunity to attend any number of the workshops being offered in the year for which they are applying, although I ask that they commit to attending at least three of those being offered. These positions are reserved for those who are driven to excel, and who plan to make natural building a significant part of their lives, both professionally and personally. In other words…if you are uncertain that this is what you want to do…you may want to hold off on applying until you are certain!

In exchange for the opportunity to participate in the workshops, apprentices perform a day-for-a-day work trade, as well as carry certain job-site responsibilities. These include: striking the job site each day, helping to ensure site safety and organization, helping other workshop participants find what they need (safety glasses, water, the washrooms, etc.). Usually, the work performed as part of the worktrade is an extension of the learning opportunity. This year, a nominal fee which will be a substantial discount from the course fees (in the neighborhood of 70%-80%), will be negotiated as we tailor your apprenticeship experience. This is due to the amount of curriculum being offered and the desire to see the program completed within a reasonable amount of time.

To apply for the Apprenticeship, please submit a resumé of woodworking or construction experience (definitely an asset…however all applications will be considered). Include any photos or illustrations of your work you may have (these materials will be returned upon request) and a letter explaining your interest in the program and short- and long-term goals, which this training may facilitate. Include on a cover sheet your name, address, age, sex, current occupation, day and night phone number, fax number and e-mail address. Please include at least three references that I may contact, and your educational background.

A personal interview is highly recommended before a decision is made on your application, so let me know if you would be able to visit sometime soon. The application deadline is February 1st; applications will be considered after that date on a space available basis. Apprentices will be notified of their acceptance into the program by March 1st at the latest.

One of my greatest joys is sharing what I have learned with people who have a passion for learning, and who will continue to spread that excitement wherever their life journey takes them.

I look forward to hearing from you,

Joshua Thornton

Please further any inquiries to: joshua (a)

or via phone at
(519) 387.8787

Apprentice Itinerary 2010 (preliminary)
Week1: March 29- April 02 Worktrade (steel roof reclamation) 5 days
Week 2 April 06 – 9 Worktrade (CMHC test set ups) 5 days
Week 3 April 12-16 Bau Bilogie, Building Science,Building Code, TYD (optional) 5 days
Week 4 April 19-23 L.C.A.(april 19); Worktrade (CMHC work?) 1 day
Week 5 April 26-30 Worktrade (workshop preps/ build pavillion) 5 days
Week 6 May 03-07 Evolution of Fire;(Fire science) 5 days
Week 7 May 10-14 Masonry Heaters (custom) & (kit) 5 days
Week 8 May 17-21 Earthen Plaster 5 days
Week 9 May 26-28 Dry Stacked Stone Foundations 3 days
Week 10 May 31-June 04 Worktrade (CMHC work?) 5 days
Week 11 June 05 Durisol 1 day
Week 12 June 07-11 Timberframe 5 days
Week 13 June 14-18 Timberframe 5 days
Week 14 June 21-25 Straw Clay5 days
Week 15 June 28-May 02 Worktrade 5 days

This schedule represents 25 days of worktrade and 41 days of instruction. The balance of which will be covered by a nominal fee. At the interview stage, once we determine the level of commitment which best suits the apprentice, then we will negotiate a fair fee which will represent a SUBSTANTIAL reduction in fees.

Some testimonails from past apprentices:

I'm incredibly grateful to have gone through this apprenticeship. I learned a ton from Joshua himself & I also learned from other specialized workshop instructors, great workshop participants and my awesome fellow apprentices. The diversity of the experience was likely the highlight - both in terms of what I learned to how I learned it. What I learned, was in essence how to play and create with timber, straw, clay, stone, fire and water. How I learned, involved exposure to the full spectrum of approaches - from in depth theory to intense hands-on experience; from being guided to leading others; from focused independent work to engaging team work, and from following detailed instruction to confident self-direction.
R.H. 2009 apprentice

I learned a huge amount about natural building from the apprenticeship. I think that the initial project of building the pole kitchen and other small outbuildings was a real asset in the way we were able to determine our own course and vision and get to know each other with you around to give critical feedback or troubleshooting advice when necessary. By the time those first projects were complete, I felt like I had learned a lot about both natural building (what is possible with very local materials and simple tools) and structural issues (basic principles about how things go together and stay upright).

I absolutely loved the workshops and their breadth. They were unique in their focus, really emphasizing simple and low-tech natural building methods. This is difficult to find in Southern Ontario, and Eastern Canada in general, so keep up the trailblazing! I would recommend any and all of the workshops.

The opportunity to do an apprentice project (like the gate) for a client is very attractive and should remain a part of the program. It was an important opportunity to consolidate learning soon after the framing workshops finished and it reinforced that knowledge as well as increased my confidence in my ability to apply framing knowledge to real projects.

In sum, the apprenticeship was an extremely valuable learning experience and I would recommend it to everyone interested in being thoroughly introduced to the key practical knowledge required to find simple, low-tech, local and natural solutions to building in the industrial age.
T.R. 2009 apprentice

Common Questions/FAQS

Will I get a job with these skills? Will YOU hire me?
Well, if life came with guarantees it would be really, really boring, so there are no guarantees you will find employment. That said, the future looks very bright for green building (and by extension natural building) Check out this link for a full report outlining the Commission for Environmental Cooperation report on the future of green building in the western hemisphere. The CEC is a trilateral policy making commission between the governments of Canada, Mexico and the United States. Green building is one industry which will be legislated into existence DESPITE current market conditions.

All of that aside, if your motivation for getting involved in the trade comes from the heart - a passionate love of the craft, then you will exude the attitude which when combined with the skills will give you an edge …for life!
I have hired (and to this day work with) apprentices who have come from my program. But that does not mean that I will be hiring this year, or in the future. I do not guarantee that I will hire you… but remaining open to possibility and opportunity is the key to CREATING work….I believe that opportunity is created at least as often as it is extended.

Will I become certified at something? Is there a diploma?

Our mission is to deliver SKILLS, INSIGHT, and INSPIRATION. Certificates, and diplomas, in my experience, demonstrate one’s ability to regurgitate information. Which is not to say that they are useless, but that to build a SOLID foundation, you need to spend time with the tools, spend time with practicing professionals, and spend time with the books, in a balance which requires YEARS and YEARS of WORK. In Germany and in France, there are unbroken traditions of guilds which are hundreds and hundreds of years old, which support this type of training. In North America however, we are only just beginning to revive these traditions. There are schools, and programs which offer certificates…but if you want the SKILLS, it’ll take longer than three months.
How do I demonstrate/measure my achievement then?

Our approach has been to develop opportunities for apprentices to physically build projects which they can take photos of, talk about, and use to add to their portfolios. In this way, the “graduate” can demonstrate to a prospective employer the physical, tangible results of their educational experience. To accompany this, a written review from will articulate the strengths and areas for improvement of each apprentice. What do you mean by apprentice?

Here in Ontario the government has many trades which have formal apprenticeship programs; carpentry being one of them. Unfortunately, natural building and/or green building is not represented within this framework. While several initiatives are underway, it will not be anytime soon before we see implementation, unless somehow the bureaucracy of government realizes how they could streamline this process (not likely). Our apprenticeship is based on a model of partial work-trade partial financial commitment to make the full range of courses we offer available to the most dedicated applicants.

Where will I live?
If you like to camp, this apprenticeship is for you! We are currently building our campus, with the help of apprentices (last year we built the outdoor kitchen) and eventually apprentice quarters will be built. Until then however, camping with an outdoor kitchen, compost toilets/outhouses, and solar showers will be de riguer. As the current crop of apprentices, you will be helping to pioneer the way for the future apprentices by leaving your mark on what we build. The apprentices will forever be a part of the fabric of this place.

What will I eat?
You will be welcome to cook in the outdoor kitchen, and we are walking distance from a small town which has essentials. Usually at least one apprentice has wheels, so carpooling, and ridesharing is how we get around. This year we will have an in-house caterer as well, so that is also an option for those who wish to have PHENOMENAL food prepared daily! Of course lunches are included in all workshops. What else is there to do on weekends/spare time?
This area is packed with stuff to do, lots of music, concerts, film festivals, swimming rivers, climbing, kayaking, hiking, drumming, dancing, singing etc. so there’s no shortage of good times! We look forward to sharing them with you!

The crew!