Tag: British Columbia

Colonial powers and community showers

The following was originally posted on Poverty Kills 2020’s blog, and was written with help from Joshua at Poverty Kills. It outlines the ongoing pandemic shower saga and the City’s inadequate response.

Since the first COVID-19 restrictions were implemented in ‘victoria’ in March 2020, one survival service (of many) that has been restricted for those forced to shelter outside is basic hygiene access in the form of showers. While there have been several organizations that have been offering limited access to showers throughout the pandemic, overall these services have been reduced, restricted, and largely inaccessible to those sheltering in parks away from the downtown core. With ongoing changes to bylaws and enforcement, an order from the provincial government restricting sheltering in two locations, and increasing hostility from housed people, campers have been continually and increasingly displaced from the core of the city where most shower services are located. 

On November 21, 2020, in massive numbers, bylaw enforcement officers and VicPD tore down community-built crowdfunded showers and a community care tent at MEEGAN. Shortly after this heavy-handed display of colonial power, the City announced a one-time Emergency Social Services Provision Grant to respond to immediate hygiene and survival needs until March 31, 2021 when the City is insisting everyone living outside will be housed (despite no apparent plan to achieve that). While more funding for resources and infrastructure is useful, the City is also the cause of many of the problems and this grant has political motivations and implications. 

From the start the City has prioritized money for increased bylaw enforcement and policing, including a recent allocation of nearly $600,000 additional funding to hire five more Bylaw officers (which is intended to be permanent, at $491,000/year) and to pay police more overtime for increased policing near larger encampments. The City has repeatedly changed rules about sheltering, forcing people to move multiple times, and arbitrarily deciding on permissible locations with no thought to liveability of those locations — as was horribly witnessed a week ago when heavy rains flooded many people’s tents, destroying their belongings — and even spent money on a legal injunction to displace campers from one location. And the City has also repeatedly refused to communicate and work constructively with groups providing support and services on the ground.

Despite many misgivings about all of this, given the huge need for more shower access Nic, a community volunteer involved in shower advocacy, spent many hours sleuthing shower options and bringing groups together to support a collaborative, peer-centred mobile shower project. But the way the City set up the grant meant this was doomed to fail. 

We are sharing Nic’s work for two reasons. As part of broader understanding about how colonial systems work, we want to illustrate how the one-time Emergency Social Services Provision Grant was inaccessible, problematic, and perpetuates colonial control, and how the City continues to interfere with unhoused people’s autonomy to decide what they need and who they trust and want to work with. We also wanted to share info on mobile shower logistics in case it helps people in other regions who are considering mobile showers to have a realistic sense of what is involved.

FUNDING AMOUNT

The City’s grant was limited to $100,000 one-time funding. To explore what could be done with that funding, as a starting point Nic consulted with LavaMaeX, a highly reputable and experienced mobile shower and hygiene provider who offers support and consultation to organizations looking to develop mobile shower programs across the world. For some items he also did additional research on costs. 

Although the mayor posted on her blog a picture of a three-stall mobile shower trailer from another region as an example of what the grant was supposedly making possible, the reality is that even a smaller mobile shower project can’t properly be done for $100,000. That amount is not enough to buy a shower trailer and cover the costs of freight and duty for the import of the trailer, a vehicle to tow the trailer, wages, vehicle insurance, liability insurance, ICBC coverage, materials (propane to heat the water, gas for truck and generator, towels, sanitizing products, etc.), laundry services, unit parking costs, and vehicle/trailer maintenance. Below we break down the expenses. All estimates are in ‘canadian’ dollars.

Shower trailer: We believe it is unethical to consider infrastructure that is inaccessible to people with mobility disabilities. However, for a more solid understanding of costs Nic looked at a full range of options, consulting both with LavaMaeX for a general sense of cost range and five commercial shower trailer suppliers for more specific estimates. A 3-stall trailer with stairs (which would have required ramping and other accessibility customization) or a 2-stall wheelchair-accessible trailer would have cost over $60,000, and a 2-stall non-accessible trailer (which would have required ramping and other accessibility customization) would cost over $40,000. Obviously, having only two stalls would significantly reduce the number of people who could use the shower on a daily basis. LavaMaeX estimated that a 3-stall trailer could provide 35 showers per day, already not enough for the 200+ people at all 11 different sites across the city to shower even once weekly. 

Vehicle with towing capacity: LavaMaeX estimated over $50,000 to purchase a new truck with sufficient towing capacity. It’s a huge outlay especially for just a four-month project, but there aren’t other good options. Shopping on the used market means the vehicle risks being unreliable with high maintenance costs, leasing a vehicle is generally not possible or cost-effective if the lease is less than a two-year contract, most car rental companies will void their insurance if the vehicle is found towing a trailer, and U-Haul vehicles that are capable of towing a trailer weighing 9,000 lbs are not rentable by the month. 

Wages: To run a three-stall mobile shower service operating 4 days a week with one day for deep cleaning and maintenance, LavaMaeXestimated a budget of over $28,000 per month for wages alone. This far exceeded the City budget so Nic tried to take it down to a bare bones level of what he felt was possible in local conditions and given the size of the City grant. In the peer-oriented staffing model Nic came up with, the labour costs alone to operate a mobile two-stall shower at a bare minimum of 4 days a week, with two positions (split between multiple people to support peer payments) at 8 hours a day plus 3 hours weekly for trailer maintenance, at $25/hour, would cost $7,875 per month in wages. This doesn’t include the extensive amount of time that would have to go into weekly coordination, or the coordination with the City around sites, safety protocols, and their required reporting (LavaMaeX estimated coordination as one full-time position). A two-position staffing model, even just for February and March and excluding prep training on operating the trailer, overdose response, etc., would total over $15,000. 

Other costs: To run a three-stall mobile shower service operating 4 days a week, LavaMaeX estimated a core budget of $1,356 per month for cleaning products, laundering towels, propane, and water; they couldn’t provide any estimate for ICBC insurance, liability insurance, maintenance of the trailer and towing vehicle, gas, or parking as these are highly geographically specific. Nic didn’t do any in-depth investigation of these costs as it was clear by this point that there was no way to make this work within the terms of the City’s grant.

The bottom line: While $100,000 seems at first glance like a significant sum of money that should be more than enough to run a mobile program for four months, the reality is that acquiring mobile shower infrastructure is very expensive. The City either did no diligence around actual costs of purchasing or operating a mobile shower unit, or deliberately set up a funding competition that was hyped as being open to grassroots teams and organizations already on the ground, but in reality was viable only for large organizations able to augment the City’s funding with other funding sources. 

Realistically, it’s the big poverty industry agencies that corner a large portion of funding streams because of their official organizational status (many funding streams are only open to registered charities) and existing infrastructure (positions and wages that can be shifted to new projects, existing vehicles, ongoing funding from donations, work space, secure parking, liability insurance, administrative and fundraising infrastructure, etc). And indeed, in the end the only organization that submitted a mobile shower proposal was the Salvation Army, a mega-agency that, globally, has a long history of anti-queer and anti-trans discriminationand as a proselytizing Christian organization is not felt to be safe by many people who have experienced harm by Christian churches and missionaries. This is not an organization that prioritizes accountability to people who are unhoused; the local branch came under scrutiny in 2015 for having substandard living conditions in its shelter, and in 2020 was in conflict with outreach groups and people living outside about the way it handled its publicly-funded food distribution to people living in parks (which was abruptly discontinued by the Salvation Army after a few months of changing locations and times with minimal notice, choosing to leave their donated specialized food truck sitting idle rather than offering it to the outreach groups that were left scrambling to put together food distribution systems). 

Photo of a shower trailer included in the Salvation Army’s funded proposal. The Salvation Army committed to providing $55,000 top-up funding as part of its proposal, as the City’s funding was not enough.

Grassroots groups and mutual aid organizing have the ability and willingness to collaborate with people sheltering outside in the design and implementation of infrastructure and programs, and are often centred around economic justice principles that mean recognizing the expertise and skill of people who are unhoused, prioritizing money for peer positions, and paying peers fair wages. But grassroots groups and mutual aid networks don’t have the same kind of financial leverage as poverty industry agencies. Even if no matching funding is required as a prerequisite for applying (as is often the case), functionally requiring matching funding means that large organizations who don’t work collaboratively with those sheltering outside are likely to be the only ones who can run a project.

TIMELINES

Beyond the financial restrictions involved, the timeline restrictions involved in a project of this nature were also substantial. 

Hurry up and wait: People living outside and the groups providing on-the-ground support have been calling for mobile showers since the COVID public health emergency reduced options in March. When the City finally responded eight months later, the amount of time between the grant announcement and deadline was 10 days. While several city councillors successfully got the deadline extended by one week at the last minute, it still proved, for most people and organizations on the ground who were already stretched thin and functioning at over-capacity, too quick and therefore unworkable to figure out a solid plan for something as complex as creating a collaborative, peer-based mobile shower program from scratch. LavaMaeX has suggested that most organizations take several months to do what the City required to happen in 10 days.

While the City expects organizations already working flat-out to hustle to meet the City’s timeframe, that’s not an expectation they hold for their own staff. Two of the three successful applicants funded through this program have not been able to begin their project one month later due to city restrictions and bureaucracy, making one question how much the City actually deems this an “Emergency”.

Unrealistic implementation timeframe & lost time due to City inaction: In its grant program description the City said grants would support programs running from December 1, 2020 until March 31, 2021. But in the process of calling mobile shower programs in ‘canada’ and all of the shower trailer production and sales companies Nic could find online, it quickly became evident that the earliest a shower trailer could make it onto ‘vancouver island’ would be mid-February 2021. This is largely because of the high demand of mobile shower trailers due to the COVID-19 pandemic, because other municipalities and organizations across the continent had been months ahead of ‘victoria’ in their decisions to pursue mobile shower trailers. Again, the City either did no diligence in creating its granting program or didn’t care that their timeline was unrealistic. Receiving a mobile shower trailer in February 2021 means 2+ months dead time until people are able to access basic hygiene services, with no interim solutions (and already-torn-down mutual aid shower stalls). There was a proposal for fixed-site showers — already constructed — that the City could also have opted to support, that could have been installed much more quickly as an interim measure.

The two community-built shower stalls that the City removed from MEEGAN after people having hot showers for four days. These were supported through volunteer labor and crowdfunding, and cost $5,883 to build, transport, and install. Photo by Emily Fagan from Tyee article.

Additionally, the grant only funds projects until the end of March 2021, which meant that for any team exploring the feasibility of a project there was only a vague guarantee of showers for, at most, 1.5 months unless organizations could come up with additional funding beyond that time. Some groups didn’t apply out of a feeling that $100,000 for 6 weeks of showers is not the best use of emergency funds. 

While a mobile shower unit is something that will be needed ongoing as long as there are people living outside (even if fixed-site shower services return to pre-COVID service structures), many individuals and organizations are unable to take a project on with such uncertain funding for ongoing operation. The infrastructure is only a good investment if it comes with realistic operating timeframes and full accountability to people living outside in how it is operated.

SCOPING

The City pitched this project as taking care of people’s shower needs. But when you don’t ask people living in parks how they need things to be set up, it’s impossible to accurately scope an issue. Throwing out a random budget number with no sense of how well it meets needs is not a responsible approach.

As mentioned earlier, LavaMaeX estimated that a 3-stall trailer could provide 35 showers per day. The Salvation Army was funded for a 3-stall mobile shower operating five days per week — at that rate the 200+ people at all 11 different sites across the city can’t shower even once per week. If housed people were rationed down to one shower per week, even outside of a respiratory pandemic, there would be outrage. 

Instead of providing an amount insufficient for even one mobile shower unit, the City could have considered offering both a mobile shower unit (which might be the most feasible approach for smaller parks) and also fixed-site showers at the larger sites where there is significant volume of people needing to shower. The community shower-builders did submit an (unsuccessful) application that could have made showers immediately available near the largest park where people are sheltering, with an option for more fixed-site showers at other locations as part of the roll-out. Fixed-site showers definitely don’t meet everyone’s needs but the immediacy of their implementation at least would have meant that people in one site had access to hot showers near where they’re living during the coldest months of the year. And it would also have relieved demand on the mobile unit, making it more feasible for people at other sites to benefit from it. 

While a mobile shower unit is great in its portability, if you happen to be at the wrong site on the wrong day, or have a schedule that doesn’t align with that of the shower trailer operators, then you are still out of luck. Fixed-site showers proximate to where people are sheltering can be peer-operated during hours that are flexible and based on what people living in the park need, without the environmental and financial costs of moving the showers around the city. But colonial systems don’t consider diverse needs and have little creativity around how to meet those needs.

ETHICS

Witnessing first hand the ways that people sheltering outside have been treated by bylaw officers and police through the pandemic (and well before), and watching the same forces do everything in their power to restrict access to showers at MEEGAN (including turning off a water hookup and digging it out of the ground, tearing down several shower stalls, and arresting one person), it did not feel right to even consider applying for funding from the City. A City grant released in the midst of City staff aggressively dismantling a mutual-aid shower project and community care tent is insincere and largely performative. Tearing down an already functional mutual-aid shower project to create a City-controlled shower option is a paternalistic, colonial, bureaucratic power move. The City’s PR person claimed to media that the community showers were shut down because grassroots people were unwilling to work with them, but after nine months of the City being obstructive to grassroots groups working on the ground, it becomes apparent that in the City’s eyes, “working with the City” actually means doing what the City tells you to do.

Additionally, while framing this grant as open to everyone, the reality is that the City’s funding processes are completely inaccessible to people living outside who do health and social service provision all the time with little recognition or compensation. One hopeful applicant sheltering in a park only heard about the grant three hours in advance of the deadline, as the City relied heavily on email to organizations and advertising on its website — impossible for people living outside to access when the City has refused to provide electricity so people living in parks can keep mobile devices reliably charged, and drop-ins are largely closed due to COVID. Council’s discussion of applications during a webcast meeting included a decision to remove the name of the individual who was the most heavily involved in the community care tent, and who had already demonstrated an ability to successfully do a community care tent (till the City tore it down), saying that instead the money should go to the church that was the organization listed as the co-sponsor (in compliance with the City’s requirement that an organization with insurance be identified as the co-sponsor for any informal team). The City’s processes speak to the inaccessibility of funding and the ways that involvement of people who are currently unhoused or have recent experience in the street community is largely tokenized. A peer-based project submitted by an unhoused person and a housed ally was submitted but it wasn’t funded.

Seeing the ways that this grant has been administered, the ways the funding has been distributed, and the ways that the implementation of its projects has been delayed and stretched because of bureaucratic process, demonstrates the ways that this grant — while partly well-intentioned and undoubtedly meaning to support good work in community — was also inadequate, insincere, and a public-relations tactic meant to sweep the City’s misdeeds and inaction under the rug.

A MONTH AFTER THE SO-CALLED “EMERGENCY”…

After a short extension to the grant deadline, the City decided to fund three projects: $6,500 to set up a new community care tent near (but not in) the park at MEEGAN (making it functionally inaccessible to people living in the park who can’t leave their belongings to access the tent), $22,400 to the Umbrella Society for morning “wellness checks” as part of delivering 120 breakfasts to the 200-250 people living outside (the food provider making the breakfast, who also submitted an application, was not funded by the City), and $86,520 to the Salvation Army Addictions and Rehabilitation Centre to provide a mobile 3-stall shower trailer in parks five days per week until the end of March. The total comes to $115,420 but the City is asking the CRD to reimburse the $15,420 overage from its original $100,000 commitment.

A month after the grant deadline, there are still no showers in or near parks, and restricted showers elsewhere. There is still no city-built infrastructure in order to allow the City’s approved version of the community care tent. While the city tears down mutual aid projects and turns off water sources for people sheltering outside, while they drag their feet in forcing support projects through the “proper” colonial bureaucracy, hundreds of people are forced to live outside in heavy rain, winds, cold, and largely flooded fields. They continue to live without heat, without knowing if they’ll be displaced unnecessarily, without access to basic hygiene, without their human rights being respected by the City. And while it will be truly great to have a mobile shower trailer in the city in February and ongoing, it would’ve also been great if the City had worked with people living outside, and had listened and acted on a solution to the shower crisis a year ago, last March, when the struggle for showers initially began.

FOR FURTHER READING

Mobile shower vendors:

Some media coverage of the local shower access saga:

Lyrics of the Month: November 2015 – Geoff Berner

My city has been in a housing crisis
For fifteen years or more,
Middle class families can’t afford to live here,
And there’s a ten thousand dollar fine
For being poor.
They said if we let them build all these condo towers,
The market would pull down the rent,
Now we’ve got the most expensive city
On the whole damn continent.
Our Mayor says he wants Eco Density,
And of course it’s a sin not to be Green,
But when Mayor Happy Planet says Eco Density
What does he really mean?

He means
Sunday, condos
Monday, condos
Tuesday and Wednesday
Condos,
Thursday, Friday,
A few more condos,
Saturday, for a change,
Condos.

What happened to a thousand culture buildings and counting?
They knocked them down to build some condos.
And the social housing on Little Mountain?
Get rid of it!
(We need more condos.)
The Ridge, Richards, the Capital,
That’s a special kind of condos—
The kind of condos that you call
After the thing that you knocked down to make the

Sunday, condos
Monday, condos
Tuesday and Wednesday,
Condos,
Thursday, Friday,
A few more condos Saturday, for a change,
Townhouse condominiums.

What’s the plan for the Georgia Viaduct?
Well, they’re gonna knock it down and build some condos,
And why’s the city four hundred million dollars on the hook? —–They’re fucked!
They paid some guys to build Olympic condos.

And what about the sacred burial site?
Not as sacred as condos,
Till the Musqueam Nation actually put up a fight,
And that’s how you stop the condos.

So what’s going to happen now, for God’s sake?
Are we just going to let them build more condos?
Or could there be a time when we finally put the brakes
On Vancouver’s mad sickness for

Sunday, condos
Monday, condos
Tuesday and Wednesday Condos,
Thursday, Friday,
A few more condos,
Saturday, for a change,
Market artist live/work studios.

Geoff Berner, We Are Going To Bremen To Be Musicians, Condos

Bigfoot

Photo by Eric Goud

Bigfoot is real. I saw him, his pecker in his hands, last week at Big Sur.

I was eating a breakfast burrito on the coast, overlooking the mist-covered cliffs and crashing Pacific waves, when several kilometers in the distance, there he was, squatting on a rock with his back-end hanging over the ocean. The Pacific Ocean, Bigfoot’s toilet. I was far away, so it could have been a walrus, a sea lion, a humpback whale, a rogue sequoia tree, or beach trash. Or, as I prefer to believe, Bigfoot relieving himself.

When I told a friend of my sighting, she scoffed and told me what I saw was just an amalgamation of seaweed and driftwood, propped up by high tide and made look real through morning haze. She proceeded to show me a very recent UFO video from Kazakhstan. Real, undeniable proof.

Another friend told me to watch out. That the wormhole of bigfoot and UFO videos is a dangerous place for people already uncertain about reality, which is a common symptom of anxiety. She then proceeded to tell me about the peaceful tenets of Buddhism.

Begrugingly I have recently come to admit that what I saw was not, in fact, Bigfoot taking a shit. But rather, simply, my desire to see Bigfoot exposing himself to the endless wonders of the bright blue ocean. But if someone sitting next to me, looking at the same cliff at the same time, believed that they saw him, truly believed that Bigfoot was there, I would support their belief. The reasons they believed with conviction could have something to do with their eyesight, their hunger levels, the animals they saw in the forest when they were children, the movie they watched the night previous, the TinTin yeti episode they saw as kids, or previous sightings of Bigfoot himself. Their previous life events made them more likely to believe, and since Bigfoot’s existence is still truly an unknown, this does not make them any less rational.

Most people’s beliefs are based on secondhand accounts, old books, or internet video footage. Stories told by credible friends over a bonfire. A belief based on a feeling they have that they cannot explain. The same for belief in ghosts, or the resurrection, or of yoga, or in science, or in nothing.

Some create elaborate hoaxes—a tall hairy figure with massive strides saunters towards a body of fresh water to wash his/her own personal holes—but their commitment to false evidence does not disprove the existence of a bipedal woodland creature. Some, presumably most, film what they believed to be the outright truth, an accidental stumbling across the unknown. Discussions of incredulity of people’s beliefs, denouncing what some hold true, break down any level of human connectedness. But people’s absolute conviction in the existence of Bigfoot, or their utter insistence on the excessive nature of his legend—people’s certainty and what they will do in its name—will forever impress, entice, and scare me.

Their desire to be part of something, whether it is the glorious triumph when scientists find the first Bigfoot skeleton in northern B.C. or by pointing and laughing when it is proven to be an elaborate folktale, is the same unexplainable, at times unproductive desire that is a side effect of the destruction of real communities, the same desire that concretes people to a sports team, a country, a tax bracket, a t-shirt company, that is, the human desire—opposite of Bigfoot’s desire to be solitary, separate, unseen, anonymous—to be part of a greater whole.


 

I visited the Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah. Wandering around, haggard and tour-worn, I noticed the disproportionate number of attractive women aged 20 to 25, the flags of their home nations pinned to their blouses, welcoming wayward, lonely travellers in dozens of languages into the many ornate buildings of Mormon history. I was drawn to the domed Tabernacle where an organ rehearsal boomed triumphantly, peacefully. There I sat, recent non-believer, truly thinking how lovely it would be to fall in love with a Mormon girl, accept the general tenets of her faith, and start a simple carefree life as a closet Mormon in some foothills town in Utah, the ‘Life Elevated’ state. Sometimes, like this time, I would be elated to hand in my anxieties, loneliness, my overthought, for the absolute certainty that some can hold, and the happiness and joy that comes with being part of the greater whole. But in order to do that, one must believe.

Norwood KnowMag Spotlight

A version of the following article was released in the Volume II Issue II edition of the KnowMag. An online version of the magazine can be found here.

Norwood Shop

Also check out NorwoodShop.ca, Hansen Leather Goods, Norwood TumblrNorwood Instagram, Benedict Moyer, Norm Rockwell.

If you were to take a step out of the door at 2401-11th Avenue in Regina, Saskatchewan, turned left to face west, and walked until you reached a rise or fall in elevation greater than a metre, you would likely arrive in the Rocky Mountains. If, instead, you were to walk directly north on Smith Street, the cross-street of 2401-11th Avenue, you would end up walking for three straight days until you reached a heavily forested area with naturally growing trees, as opposed to the wind-breaking hand-planted farm trees in the south. It is in the flat and the barren where real strength is gained. Extreme meteorological conditions can (and will) lift and drop a human being’s spirit daily. When you come from a place where you must walk a minimum of several days to reach the luxuries of natural shelter provided by trees or elevation, you will become innovative and resourceful in many ways. You will because you have no choice. Some born into these conditions take to building structures, some learn an instrument, some read books. Some collect antiques and vintage trinkets to fill the voids. Others sit in basements drilling holes through pressed-steel handsaws to make display cases. The latter is Norwood. A softly-lit amalgam of pine, fir, and birch that brings back warm memories of your grandparents’ basement, or the family cottage at the lake when the leaves have fallen off the trees.

When Noel Wendt, proprietor of the staple Canadian skateshop the Tiki Room, asked me to help him brainstorm names for the new shop he was opening, I was living in Montreal. I hadn’t seen the space and hadn’t been back to Saskatchewan in nearly a year. I didn’t understand his vision. So my list included generic gems such as The Cabin, The Workshop, as well as moronic suggestions such as Grime and Punishment, The Brothel, or Blown Hips (it has recently been given the nickname the Gnarbar, or Gnarburator by the few workers that spend too much time there). For some reason, none of my brilliant suggestions caught wind. Instead, just weeks before the shop opened, someone noticed a rusted iron cap with the diameter of a pasture fence-post inlayed in the concrete at the corner of Smith and 11th. The cap read ‘Norwood’, an old Canadian iron foundry that buried their caps in the sidewalks of cities across the prairies. The name fit the aesthetic. Norwood was born.

The 1000-square-foot storefront is filled with household and industrial items from the days of old, when purchasing something meant a life-long commitment. When objects were built well, with proper materials, and purchased only upon necessity. Norwood carries brands that reflect this mentality. Simplicity, quality craftsmanship, responsibility. Pendleton pillows and blankets sit upon a modified bakery rack against the building’s eastern-most column. Belts, lanyards, and accessories from local leather-maker, Hansen Leather Goods, adorn a vintage hand dolly. Ray Ban sunglasses boast their attractiveness from the previously mentioned glass-case made up of six rusty handsaws. Red Wing Shoes stand proudly under the spotlight on a massive chopping block. Mens coats hang from a coat rack salvaged from a church foyer, and another rack created and designed in-shop, made up of one-inch iron pipes threaded and fitted for the space. Norse Projects hats and sweaters rest comfortably on wooden milk crates and wooden toboggans next to the door. The Levi’s denim decorates the west wall, hanging from a John Deere truss taken from a torn down barn at a sheep farm in Cupar, Saskatchewan. The barn was an acquisition specifically for the creation of the shop–an ad was posted on the internet that Wendt would pay $50 if he could tear down a barn and keep the lumber–the weathered planks from the prairie structure are the appropriate backdrop to the hand-drafted map of Regina from 1957 that hangs as a centrepiece to the entire shop. The barn was torn down in the middle of February in the unforgiving winters of Saskatchewan. The pine floor was milled in Love, Saskatchewan, and the counter top is made of reclaimed fir beams of an old swimming pool, both made and installed with the DIY-values upon which Norwood was founded. The creative balance between product and prop makes for a relaxing visit, no matter the mood you’re in, the time of day, or the type of weather you may see out the North and East windows. An honest, agrarian cabin in the core of a prairie city.

And that’s only half of the space. When the hand-made drawbridge (yes, there is an actual drawbridge) is drawn, one can meander downstairs, into the workshop-dungeon where so much of the work was done for the upstairs shop. A miniature woodworking shop, a small photo studio, a desk made of plywood and paint cans, and soon to be a darkroom for the developing and printing of film photography, the basement is the creative workspace where artistic ideas come to life, where the skeleton of Norwood is pieced together, joint by joint, limb by limb.

In just over one year of existence, Norwood has grown into its own as a fine vendor of classic goods to serve the growing city with increasingly diverse demands. As it gains notoriety and evolves in its design, and as it grows into a community of people committed to quality, Norwood will only become greater through the strength of many, staying true to the motto of the province in which the shop was proudly established.

Small cities may not possess the attractions and allure of larger metropolises. In small cities the pace is slower, the streets are quieter, the people are usually friendlier. Norwood Shop cozies right in with the themes and values of a prairie town, but boasts the ability, know-how, and craftiness to contend with any shop in any major city.

If you were to walk directly south on Smith Street past the windows of Norwood, past the city limits, and through the farmers’ fields, stepping over newborn calves, hurdling barbwire fences, again you would not soon reach a change in elevation that would make your legs ache. If you were to walk straight east on 11th Avenue until you found a shop that better embodied the values of the people whom it serves, you’d likely end up chin deep in the salty Atlantic Ocean.