Location: Prince Edward Island

A Real Life Toy Story

A Real Life Toy Story

We all love nostalgia! It carries us back to a time and place where we can hover over some of our most cherished memories. When I was a little girl I used to sit and watch my grandfather make the most wonderful wooden toy trucks, trains and animals. My brother and I were able to give a truck and a duck a good home at our house but mostly my grandfather made them for the children in the hospital here in Vancouver. He loved making them and I loved watching. One year he surprised me with my very own doll house. It puts a smile on my face even today as I sit here writing about it.

When I walked into the Toy Factory in New Glasgow, PEI those memories came bounding back. I was so excited to find out that handmade wooden toys are still being made right here in Canada. As a child I loved those very simple toys. They were fun for me because they gave my imagination an unbridled freedom that many of the toys I see today just don’t allow. I believe I can give credit for the imagination and creativity I have today to some of the simplest toys I used to play with.

Kathy and Dan Viau

When we arrived at the Toy Factory it was busy and we weren’t able to talk to the toy makers and the Toy Factory owners Dan and Kathy Viau for a half an hour or so. Secretly, this was fine by me as it gave my eyes a chance to wander through the store from floor to ceiling to see what treasures were waiting to be discovered. I found this goofy looking wooden marionette dog. Kathy had taught it some tricks and showed Gary and I how it could lay down, cross its paws and go to sleep. What a marvelous pooch! We also found all kinds of cars, trucks, boats and trains but if your preference is to be a pedestrian there are also the wooden feet to help you get around. At The Toy Factory we found the classic rocking horse and for the young aviator’s and aviatrix’s out there a new twist to the horse, a rocking plane. We also found the timeless wooden YO-YO. Somehow, I just don’t remember it being so challenging as it was that day.

Please click on the thumbnails below for the big picture!

Dan and Kathy have been designing and making wooden toys at the Toy Factory since 1990 in what used to be a General Store built in 1847. It is situated at the T intersection in New Glasgow, PEI and can’t be missed. The brightly painted building stood out like a beacon in the drizzlely rain the day we visited and large wooden toys were lined up on the front porch awaiting our arrival. If not for the lack of snow and reindeer, I would have thought we had arrived at Santa’s very own workshop.

Dan and Kathy take pride in the wooden toys they make. They pay attention to the importance of keeping the toys simple, long lasting and fun and with the forethought that they will be cherished for years to come. The Toy Factory should definately be included on anyone’s list of places to visit when going to PEI. In the mean time if you are interested in any of the toys you can contact Dan or Kathy at toys@toy-factory.ca and watch for their upcoming website to shop online.

Oliver Ray – It’s About People

Oliver Ray – It’s About People

Oliver and Christie Ray moved from the province of British Columbia to Prince Edward Island, a lush agricultural landscape with it’s rich red soil and pastoral beauty. The rolling hills, woods and beautiful sandy beaches was their dream destination to raise their two adorable children, Caitlin and Dylan. Their plan was not for the faint of heart though! Oliver and Christie ambitiously purchased and subsequently renovated a 100 year old church to be their home, studio and office, a feat made even more impressive by the fact that they had no experience in construction.

Oliver and Christie Ray with Caitlin and Dylan

Occasionally ones eyes will catch sight of something that truly makes them stop and take notice. It is something so out of the ordinary that it seems to stand on its own in its dissimilarity from anything else. That was what I felt when I first saw a painting by Oliver Ray! My eyes were drawn to a style of painting that even Oliver wasn’t sure how to describe. Impressionism? Abstraction? Expressionism? Oliver says that there may not be an “ism” to describe what he paints but he can tell us that he was influenced by west coast aboriginal art and the colour blocking techniques that they utilize.


Oliver’s subject matter is borne from catching sight, not of something, but of someone in a certain context that makes him stop and take notice. Unlike Oliver’s paintings though, these people are not out of the ordinary, rather they are everyday people in everyday situations where he might be capturing a thought, mood, special moment or emotion within them, leaving one to wonder, “What are they thinking?” or “Who are they waiting for?” There is certainly no mistaking the clarity of the context; the knowing glance, the emotional embrace, the joy of the dance, the feeling of satisfaction…or melancholy, emanating from Oliver’s subjects.

The Dancers

Painting people in different situations. Before we met Oliver we wondered what type of person he was and why this was a prevailing subject matter. We then learned that he had run for office and had also spent time in the military. We also learned of his concern for parents having to spend a lot of time away from home in far off provinces just to earn a living to support their families. After meeting Oliver and Christie, we can see that they genuinely take an interest in people, and Oliver’s paintings are an expression of those that he sees around him, touching his heart in some way or another.

Old Friends

Click on the small images below to make them big!

Join us with Oliver as he gives us some insight into his world of painting!

Passionate About Pastimes

Passionate About Pastimes

Home of Shirlee Hogan and Pastimes PEI Rug Hooking and Wool Shop

I had it in my mind that our trip across Canada would not be complete without interviewing a traditional Maritime crafter. Having never been to the east before, I wasn’t exactly sure what we were looking for in that regard but when we stopped in at the Nova Scotia Tourist Information building we found rug hooking. I didn’t know what was traditional about it at the time but I was looking forward to finding out.

This is a story about three sisters, Shirlee Hogan, Heather Tweedy and Bette Young of Pastimes PEI Rug Hooking and Wool Shop. The story starts off with Shirlee looking for a pastime to pass the time. She discovered rug hooking about 25 years ago and it seemed like a good fit. Soon after, her sisters Heather and Bette thought it would be fun to give it a try and so they joined in as well. As time went on a business emerged for the three sisters and they have been at it ever since.

Shirlee Hogan

Heather Tweedy

We met with Heather and Shirlee at Shirlee’s country home. She lives in an adorable house that looks like she bought it from Hansel and Gretel. This is also the home of the sisters’ rug hooking and wool shop business. Shirlee and Heather were awaiting our arrival at their shop and I was excited to see what we would learn that day. I had no idea what we were in for. We couldn’t have found two better ladies to interview. Not only were they a wealth of knowledge, they also shared wonderful stories about each rug they introduced us to. The better part of an hour was spent talking to us about how they got started, the history of rug hooking in PEI and to top it off they gave us the Coles Notes version of how to make a rug. We even got a hands on lesson!

When I first looked at traditional Maritime rug hooking my first thought was, “it looks kind of simple”. It didn’t look overly creative to me or what I perceived to be creative. I would come to find out later that this is part of the tradition; the rugs were born out of a need for functionality rather that a need for creativity. There are two styles, the Cavendish or geometric which made good use of small scraps of fabric that would otherwise be discarded, and the pictorial, which depicted images of people’s farms, their houses, nature and pretty much anything that was important in their lives. These weren’t just rugs that guests would wipe their feet on, there were stories captured in those rugs like photos in an album.

Click on the images in the gallery below to see a larger image.

Rugs were made by women who dauntingly cut each strip of fabric from old, worn out clothing. The colours were limited to what they had back in their day. They were primarily dark, representative of work clothing. The Pastime ladies have expanded on the colour palette a bit but they remain steadfast in the simplicity of the patterns which still represent the important things in people’s lives today. They do, however, have a great little machine that cuts the fabric strips for them; several at a time of course. And, if you aren’t into investing any time in preparation the ladies have assembled kits so you can get down to rug hooking business right a way. I was astounded to hear that Heather hand draws every single pattern, and not just the original to be mass printed on a machine; every single one! Whether you are a seasoned hooker or a first timer, they want everyone to have the best experience possible and so they pretest all their patterns. The sisters complete each pattern before it is packaged into a kit or sold on it’s own. Talk about a labour of love!

Gary and I had fun spending time with Shirlee and Heather and we left there feeling hopeful that some traditions of the past are alive and well. Of course the ‘simple’ theme emerged once again with the lives of those that came before us, teaching valuable lessons in friendship, recycling (although that wasn’t even a word back then) and cherishing the precious moments in our lives.

Join us with Shirlee Hogan and Heather Tweedy in their interview and watch as they share with us the story behind the Cavendish rug and a lesson on how to rug hook. Please feel free to leave your comments as well.

Elegant Jewelry Inspired by Nature, Handmade by Ayelet Stewart

Elegant Jewelry Inspired by Nature, Handmade by Ayelet Stewart

Ayelet Stewart is a goldsmith and the owner of AYDesigns. We first spotted her fine craftmanship at King’s Point Pottery in Newfoundland. Prince Edward Island was to be our last new province to visit on our way back west and luckily for us this is where we found Ayelet. We contacted her for an interview and she kindly accepted. Connected to her house, Ayelet has a wonderful little gallery which is bright and uncluttered. Each piece of jewelry is displayed as if it is the only one in the room, so I could easily admire each piece as I wandered through her gallery.

Ayelet Stewart

Etched Designs

Enameled Pendants

Silver Bracelet

Over the years Ayelet has had some important influences in her life that have helped to shape her own style. She did her Master’s degree in Japan and has had the priviledge of learning ancient techniques and cultural designs. As well, having the Atlantic ocean, with all it’s magic and mystery, a few steps away from her backdoor has captured her imagination and she has been able to encapsulate it’s beauty within her designs. These two influences have enabled her to fuse an exquisite union between the Japanese designs and her love of nature. Primarily, she does this by using silver as her base material along with gemstone accents and then applying techniques such as etching and enamelling with powdered glass.

Jewelry is very personal for most people. For me, I wear my wedding rings and usually no other pieces. I have a box that contains jewelry that used to be my grandmother’s and now is a collection of my memories about her. It is also the home to other special pieces like the handmade bracelet Gary bought me many years ago. I love the simple beauty of Ayelet’s jewelry and I could see myself owning a piece one day. She brings out the best in the materials she uses to make her creative ideas come alive.

Etched Silver and Enameled Earrings

Please take a closer look at some of Ayelet’s handcrafted jewelry by clicking the images below.

Be sure to watch Ayelet Stewart’s interview below. Comments are always appreciated. Thanks.

Island Stoneware – A Different Spin on the Wheel

Island Stoneware – A Different Spin on the Wheel

Cindy and Darryl Lentz were first introduced to us through King’s Point Pottery in Newfoundland. It was suggested to us that we should go see their “operation” and hear their story. Island Stoneware formerly known as Right Off the Batt Pottery is where you will find Cindy and Darryl and they are located right off the Confederation Bridge on Prince Edward Island.

Owner Cindy and Darryl Lentz of Island Stoneware

Owner Cindy and Darryl Lentz of Island Stoneware

Darryl and Cindy had careers in the Canadian military and transitioned to pottery of all things. Neither of them had any experience in entrepreneurship. Cindy took a weekend course in pottery prior to leaving the military and fell head over heels. Once she retired from the military she thought she would try her hand at a business in pottery but discovered it wasn’t as easy as all that. Eventually Darryl retired as well and decided to help Cindy in whatever capacity he could, which later included throwing pottery on the wheel. And soo….in the past five years they have gone from a 2300 square foot pottery production facility to a 7600 square foot production facility. They employ potters and non-potters and have successfully contributed to the local economy in PEI.

When we interviewed Cindy and Darryl we didn’t talk about their pottery in the sense that it was their artistic passion, or the more common inquiries about what drives and inspires that passion, it was about how they came to create a thriving business and their passion for bringing beautiful, affordable and functional handcrafted pottery made in Canada to the middle income earning people.

I was fascinated with their thirst for innovation and constantly inventing new and creative ways to save time and energy to get more out of what they already had. For instance, they wanted to be able to supply several retail places in the same area without duplicating the product lines, so they took a look at their pottery lines (which there were three along with three glazes) and just by removing the designs and leaving them plain they could now increase what they could offer by three new lines. They then removed the iron oxide pigment from the red glaze and created a white glaze which gave a bunch more combinations. The retail locations were able to stock different lines from one another which gave them the ability to offer variety from each other. This is great for Island Stoneware, great for the retailers and great for the customers.

Click on the thumbnails below to see a large image.

Cindy and Darryl clearly understand the idea of “Win, Win, and Win”. I think they are an outstanding model for small scale manufacturing businesses in Canada. They have clearly demonstrated that we can have manufacturing in our own country that can be supported by other local businesses and people here in Canada. What is also unique about their endeavour is the fact that they are thriving in the Maritimes. I personally don’t think that this is some big revelation or miracle success story, but what I do see is two people who found what they love to do and are doing it where they love to be. I think this is a viable solution to relying on large scale industry to take care of our futures. It is because of people like Cindy and Darryl and their example that we can learn to create our own thriving micro-economies right in our own backyard, wherever that may be.

If you ever find yourself in PEI stop in and take a tour of Island Stoneware and meet Darryl and Cindy, or perhaps sit in and participate in one of the hands on pottery classes. In the meantime check out our interview with Cindy and Darryl Lentz below and be sure to leave your thoughts behind in the comment section.