It all started with a phone call in mid March. A woman, named Carol, wondered if we would do a canoe building program for women. Of course, I replied, and who are the women? Carole then became very vague, and kept insisting that she would explain everything when we met next week at the shop. When I got off the phone, Jane thought that we should just call her right back and tell her no thanks. By this time I was intrigued with all the mystery and we decided to wait and see what it was all about.
Next week, while I was down in the shop, chatting away to my old hockey buddy Merv and Leonard (complete with coveralls and rubber boots on the way to their sugar bush), down the hill to the shop came the Mystery Ladies in their business suits. As I ushered the guys out the door, the three women came in, and promptly offered a business card with Government of Canada emblazoned on the bottom. Yikes, was this a GST audit, heaven forbid?! Thankfully not. Instead it was an invitation to provide a canoe building demonstration for the spouses of the G8 leaders at the end of June. Oh, and by the way did I have two new canoes that could be ready for the spouses to sign and then donate to two summer camps.
Well, as you can imagine I was quite taken aback, but with my mind racing, I tried to coolly reassure them that it was all quite feasible. They checked out the shop, and work in progress, took pictures, and then were gone, saying they would get back to me.
A couple weeks later, I got a phone call, setting up a second appointment - it looked like we were in!! We were to do a short demonstration of rib bending on a form, some planking and seat caning - and all down at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto!! The spouses weren't to join the G8 leaders up to Huntsville, but they were to stay in Toronto and await the bigger G20 gathering. In the meantime, we were to show them a bit of Muskoka flavour, and what could be more Muskoka than a wooden canoe! I promptly invited Edie Hentcy, a friend and previous Bearwood canoe employee and first class chair caner, to join in. She jumped at the chance, and with both she and Jane helping, we had our work cut out for us.
The next two and a half months were busy, dealing with our normal canoe work load with spring fast approaching. And then there was G8 work - prepping a canoe form and bending all but 6 ribs, and finishing up two 15 ft Bearwood canoes, new display cradles, spiffier horses to go under the form, new steamer pipe, new logo t-shirts and shop aprons... On and on it went. The new canoes were fitted with larger decks, thwarts and seat frames, to allow for the spouses to all sign them. The canoes couldn't be painted red!! Security checks and then rechecks after they realized we would be in the same room as the leaders' wives, while carrying hammers and knives.
In the end, we were finally ready. An extra trip, early in the week, to the Royal York in Toronto was needed to deliver canoes and form and tools before the hotel was shut down mid week for security checks. It was quite exciting driving downtown Toronto with a canoe trailer. Unloading everything and heaving it all up onto a high loading dock normally used by transport trucks was a bit unnerving, but we managed to not drop the form (just). And the elevator for the hotel was huge - and could have handled a half dozen canoes at least!
Back home for last minute scrambling around and then back to Toronto Wed night. First thing Thursday morning found us at Exhibition Place having truck and trailer gone over by sniffer dogs and then an RCMP escort to the Royal York. Much waiting around, chatting with police from all across the country, and finally through security and into the hotel to set up in a Mezzanine level board room. Along with our canoes, two aboriginal women from Montreal set up a display of baby moccasins. Thursday afternoon saw us having a dress rehearsal. We were pretty nervous as you can imagine. That night we stayed at the Royal York, wandered the almost empty streets of downtown Toronto, both inside and outside the 'fence', watched the horse patrols, chatted with police and marveled at the whole affair.
Friday morning saw us up early, to make final preparations - we definitely had some butterflies. Mrs. Harper arrived at the Muskoka Room a bit early to get briefed, and met us all. She was warm and friendly, and very down to earth, and set us all at ease immediately. She apologized for being a kayak paddler, and started telling canoe jokes!!!
And then the show was on. The spouses arrived one at a time, were greeted by Mrs. Harper, and then milled around visiting with both the moccasin folks and us. Mrs. Russia and Mrs. Japan had interpreters. Also in attendance were Mrs. Nigeria, Mrs. Malawi, two women from the UN, and one woman from the EU. Some of the big name countries were not there - US, Britain, Germany - a bit disappointing, but much less nerve wracking in the end. I gave a short talk about wooden canoes and their direct lineage from the native birch bark canoe. Then on to bending some ribs, with Mrs. Harper jumping right in and the others following suit. They all took turns doing some seat caning and Mrs. Japan had great fun nailing in some planking. (The CP photographer later told us that this was the best event that he had photographed in his 25 years!)
Our hands-on segment was short-lived, unfortunately, as the women seemed to really enjoy themselves. They were quickly moved on to signing the two finished canoes for a press photo op. And we were quietly hustled out the back door while they had lunch.
Later that afternoon we packed up and escaped from the downtown, before all the marches and vandalism took place. A flat tire on the canoe trailer was a bit exciting for a while, but friendly (yes friendly!) Toronto folks helped us out.
The canoes came home with us, were given several more varnish coats over top of the signatures, and then delivered to two summer camps.
Throughout the whole time, from March right on through to the actual day of the program we were sworn to secrecy - for security purposes? Or for press releases?? We never really could figure it out. It was very odd as we continually found ourselves in the middle of conversations that were always negative about the whole G8 event, and yet here we were actually benefiting from it. It was difficult to hold our tongues. It certainly was a once in a lifetime opportunity - to actually be on the receiving end of one of these lavish events paid for by our tax dollars. (you will be happy to know that we were in no way lavish with our expenses/billing) We certainly were a better deal for them than the thousands of dollars of snack food!
We are still waiting for a new canoe order from Mrs. Russia for her husband, or perhaps from Mrs. Japan. You just never know...