I have this vivid childhood memory of hiding under an upside down canoe somewhere in northern Ontario as a violent storm pounded on the secluded raging waters.
That memory is often accompanied by moments prior, paddling across the choppy water trying to get to the safety of shore from the sudden storm. I was in the bow of the canoe, no more than 9 years old, my sister in the back. The waves rocked our boat so viciously and I remember looking back in panic at my dad in the other canoe – who was beaming ear to ear.
“Nothing to be afraid of here Emi-babes!” He said with utmost joy in his voice. “This is what it’s all about!”
I didn’t realize how my dad’s wise words about weathering storms would guide me both literally and emotionally in my coming years. I think my nine year old self learned a bit about courage from him that day. My dad; who taught me how to skate and paddle before I even learned what a Disney movie was, who let me play with hammers and nails before I knew how to shave my legs – he is my hero.
Every year at the start of winter he built us a custom skating rink in our backyard, equipped with boards and nets for backyard hockey. I used to skate around for hours on that rink playing music and coming up with routines that were performed nightly for my parents through their bay window. Because of the rink our home became the stomping ground for teenage boys backyard hockey tournaments, and my brother being two years my senior would bring all his friends over, which I had no complaints about.
Dad always taught us that outside was fun, that fresh air was our best friend. He did this by showing us all of the amazing things we could do once we stepped out the front door. I have more memories of camping in the woods and jumping into secluded lakes than just about anything else from growing up.
My dad has taught me the ultimate lesson about following your heart, about overcoming struggle through self-discovery and being creative when you think there’s no way out. He’s not perfect but he’s passionate. Caring for my mom through cancer, teaching shop and outdoor ed to teenagers with alcohol and drug problems, while continuing to feed his love of the wild by expedition and creation of his functional art is a testament to his character.
Dad, you’re legit.
I wanted to share his awesomeness on my blog, so that everyone can see how truly talented he is. My dad is the kind of guy you could ask to fix just about anything, and he will always welcome your questions with a warm smile.
When he was a little boy he went to summer camp and fell in love with paddling. When he was a teenager he built his own canoe in the boiler room of his high school and has been building custom paddles ever since. Taking us out on multiple portage canoe trips every year since we could walk, our family has only ever known the beauty of paddling lakes with his masterpieces. Since being retired from teaching he’s been able to making his custom work into a full time business, and I couldn’t be prouder.
I had the opportunity to take photos for him a while back at one of his paddle making workshops. When you sign up for one, you pay $130 and come out to his awesome shop for the day to build your very own custom paddle. Learn about them here.
While I was taking photos I observed how important it is for someone to truly live their passion. This is what my dad was made to do. He’s inevitably a teacher, and after 40 years of doing it as a profession, his ability and love for mentoring hasn’t just left – it’s morphed into teaching something he loves with his whole heart. As he taught, he passed the magic along to the workshop attendees, and I got to witness passion spreading like wildfire in his shop that day.
His workshop is a place of hope and healing.
My dad, like many, has overcome many trials and he’s inspiring because he’s found something he loves that brings him peace. Luckily, heaps of people think it’s rad too.
His business operates mostly on a word of mouth basis, however you can see him at many popular craft and outdoor shows in Southern Ontario, and definitely check out his website. He builds custom cedar strip canoes, canoe book shelves, and most recently he’s expanded to Greenland kayak and stand up paddle board paddles by request.
My dad’s a modest guy, but he’s had the privilege of even crafting paddles for a few low key celebrities and public figures. His craft is unique and incredible, and there’s no one quite like him in the world. My favourite game to play with my dad is rocks and trees. A geology major and 50 year forest lover, he knows just about everything to know about wood types and rock formations.
As I get older, my appreciation grows; for his knowledge, for his character, his love an passion for the wild. I can also see why we didn’t make extravagant trips or purchases, but instead spent time playing cards in a tent in the middle of Kilarney as the rain poured down.
To the man who’s taught me there’s more value in wilderness than possession, that there’s no better way to learn then by flipping your canoe in white water, and that weathering the storm is the truest test of character, I will ever be inspired.
I’m ever grateful for Bruce the paddle making moose, the ultimate adventurer, my wilderness mentor, my dad.