When it comes to renos, there are usually two routes: hire a pro or do it yourself. But Wanda Seguin, a.k.a. Wanda Wommin, works alongside clients, teaching them to install drywall, build decks, fix toilets — almost anything you would hire a professional to do. She wants to empower people through fixing and building. Seguin has used her fix-it skills as a form of therapy for abuse victims and is now offering workshops for girls at the Wakefield Legion. She’s not afraid to talk about feelings and flatheads in the same sentence — after all, it was her time in addiction recovery that got her into this line of work.
I grew up in Toronto, but my stepfather has a farm in Northern Ontario. Big 800-acre farm, lots of grandchildren running around. We went up there every weekend. And I was a kind of go-between — between the women, who were inside cooking the food, and the men, who worked outside. When I got tired of being with the men, I’d go and help the women. The men were always building stuff, and I think that’s where I got interested in this stuff.
I needed long-term treatment for addiction, and that’s how I ended up in Ottawa, at Empathy House. Then I started fixing things there. Whether it was the toilet — reach in the back and fix the chain — or whatever. Just stupid little things, without telling anyone. And then eventually the director said, “Hey, you can get paid for this stuff.”
The first job I got was at an old folks’ home in the Glebe. When I went for the interview, I was walking through the basement and the cook says to the manager, “Hey, when are you going to get someone to fix this sprayer on the sink?” I looked at it and said, “The spring is on the side, just put the spring back.” I went over and put the spring back. And I got the job. I thought everyone knew how to figure things out, but that’s not true.
I ran a two-spirit program at Minwaashin Lodge in Ottawa. Taught people how to make looms and stuff. But I don’t sit down very long, and soon people suggested I run workshops — so I started teaching women how to patch holes in walls and change locks. And then I got a really cool gig with the Cornwall survivors, running their men’s and women’s groups. That’s the cool thing about being two-spirit — I can work with men and women. As a two-spirit person, I can hunt, I can protect, which is masculine, but I can also take care of children and build community, be a nurturer, which is traditionally feminine. When you’ve been sexually abused, as these people had, you go into isolation. But their space had to be renovated, and renovating brought these people out. Some of the men were saying, “I never got a chance to do this with my dad.” It was beautiful — it started them getting together. The women started hanging out and sewing. Every therapy session, we made or fixed something — I really believe that in therapy, if you get a bunch of people together doing something, there are no inhibitions.
THE WANDA SHOW
It started when I went in to the [Ottawa] Home Show and asked to do this DIY thing. I didn’t want to pay for a booth, I just wanted to educate people. I wanted to show people what you can do with moulding. They thought it was a great idea but didn’t have the space, so I got up on the stage with a makeshift wall and different pieces of trim and my caulking gun, and I had a blast. At first there were 10 or so in the audience, and then there was a shitload. And this one gentleman approached me and said, “Do you do work?” And I said, “No, that’s not what this is about. I just want to empower people.” But he said, “No, seriously. I’m in a financial bind and I want to make my basement into an apartment.” And so we did. And now I offer it to people. When someone calls me, I say, “I can do it myself or I can show you how.”