Diver Exploits: Canadian Army Vet Digs Archaeology and Shooting Pictures Underwater

Graeme gearing up for his Desco dive on a 30m restricted course in 2011.

Diving is a passion for me. Whether it’s work related or recreational, I love it. My first non-recreational diving course was at Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre (BMSC) in 2010, in beautiful Bamfield, British Columbia. I completed the Canadian Association for Underwater Science (CAUS) scientific diver level one course here.
It was a blast, and I was hooked.

A Snapping Transition to Underwater Photography

In early 2011, I took the Diver Certification Board of Canada (DCBC) approved 40m unrestricted scuba and 30m restricted surface supply courses with DiveSafe International in Campbell River, BC. My inspirations were pretty simple: I loved diving, I could get paid to do something I loved, and I was tired of a job where people were actively trying to blow me up.

Underwater photography is probably what drew me in more than anything else when I began diving again. I picked up a Sea&Sea 860G camera in Bali while on my Advanced Open Water course and started taking pictures. The staff helped me out with the basics, and it carried on from there.
I finally did an underwater photography course in 2010, with Dive Oahu, which really helped sharpen my skills.

I’m not the best photographer, but some of my pictures were used for a scientific report; one was selected by Cousteau Divers for their calendar app and several others have been requested for use on other blogs and in one instance, a cookbook.

Now I have a Nikon L22 in an Ikelite case, a Panasonic Lumix (in need of a case), knowledge of marine life and a career path that I probably never would have had if I hadn’t started snapping pictures underwater.

Long-fought Road to Certification

Serving in the Canadian Army

Graeme in the Canadian Army: Deployed in 2008 to Kandahar as a driver/rifleman with 1 section/1 Platoon in NSE Force Protection.

Diving for me is linked to military service, but not the usual way.

I’m a Canadian Army veteran who joined a reserve armoured regiment as a crewman back in 1999 and hasn’t looked back. I’ve volunteered for four tours overseas and been accepted and deployed on three: First to Bosnia in 2000, then to Afghanistan in 2008 and 2009. In all I’ve got about six – seven years of full time service in what was supposed to be a part time job!

I’ve had a lot of great experiences and some not so great, but military service did a lot to prepare me for commercial diving. Plus, it gave me funds for training.

An Unlikely First Diving Experience

My first diving experience came when I was a reservist working a full-time contract at Camp Wainwright, near Wainwright, Alberta. The base has a dive club, and one particular week, it advertised a course in the routine orders:

$350 dollars for PADI Open Water certification, equipment rental included.

Several of us signed up and completed in the course in Clear Lake a few weekends later. That was in 2004. It wasn’t until 2008 that I’d hit the water again, this time on leave from Afghanistan.
Back there again in 2010, I went on leave again and completed the full PADI Rescue Diver and Divemaster courses in 17 days. Not much time off, but it was great – the team at Bali Scuba was outstanding. I’d decided to go pro at that point, but wasn’t sure what to do next.

Changing my Career Course

While I was on training for a second tour in Afghanistan, one of my platoon mates from the previous one, Jessica Schultz, contacted me and told me in no uncertain terms that I had to do the CAUS course in Bamfield.
Looking to expand my employability, I audited the course for certification (I wasn’t a student again yet). It set me firmly on the road to commercial diving training and to employment; first as assistant to the DSO in Bamfield (where I upgraded to CAUS scientific diver level two), and then as an inshore diver in the Okanagan with Inland Divers Underwater Services.

It was during a lull in employment that I found a number of underwater archaeology jobs, and started firing off my resumé. The responses I did get back all said the same thing: They loved my diving resumé, but I had to be a student or have a degree to get the job. I loved scientific diving, I loved commercial work and archaeology is pretty awesome too, so I decided to head back to school.

In the Minority: Effects of Ethnicity

I’m often the only minority in the diving communities and groups I interact with locally, and my situation’s the same in the interior (as far as I know). So far I’ve been lucky and not encountered any issues with my ethnicity as far as training and employment.

It hasn’t been a benefit either though, since people can make a lot of quick assumptions about you when you have dark skin. When people ask me what my job is, they’re always surprised because commercial diving, and diving in general, isn’t normally associated with blacks. Neither is archaeology for that matter, and there is a potential for problems down the road.

Things are changing, but I do find I have to justify my choice of both trade and education to a lot of people where others don’t. It’s irritating, but I can live with it.

Memories: Octopi & Nudibranches

Most of my dives have been commercial scuba ones, operating between 40m and 14m for the most part. Surface supply is a rare treat, and I love it when I have a chance to get time in the hat.
My most memorable dives were done at BMSC where we collected specimens for the marine biologists there. The day started with the usual:

  • Loading the gear
  • Comms checks with the radios
  • Grabbing the mesh bags, whirlpaks, and other equipment

Then we’d do a navigation check, go over the plan again and the emergency plans and head out to collect up marine life. Our top catch was an octopus which actually darted into our collection bag!

We also had monotonous days of collecting nudibranchs while surrounded by top notch diving locations. Finally, we operated on returns days, where we’d take the specimens back out and release them back to where we’d collected them.

Diving Headfirst Into Geoarchaeology

Orange Hermit Crab, one of the many underwater specimens Graeme has photographed.

The future is pretty bright for me right now. I’m well on route to becoming a geoarchaeologist (a mix of physical geography and archaeology). This position is great for underwater archaeology with the added bonus of the geographical information science and cartography. These skills have a lot of good applications for commercial diving work as well.

After I complete my degree, I’d like to upgrade to 50m unrestricted and earn my Basic Offshore Safety Induction & Emergency Training so that I maximize my options for both archaeological work and commercial and scientific diving work.

Fortunately, both geoarchaeology and underwater archaeology are relatively new academic fields, so I should have a number of opportunities there. That said, no plan is perfect, so I’m keeping my wrenches handy and am wading in for the foreseeable future.


– Graeme Barber, a professional diver holding certifications as a DCBC Commercial Diver, CAUS Scientific Diver, and as both an SDI and PADI Divemaster.