Kootenay Forge has become Canada’s largest artistic blacksmithing business, and produces an extensive selection of interior home accessories, which are marketed across Canada, in the USA, Japan and South Africa. But it didn’t start out that way. It started out as one man’s dream to be a self-employed craftsman, working at home doing satisfying and rewarding work.
John Smith (a good name for a blacksmith!) was born in England in 1943, and emigrated to Canada when he was 24 years old, looking for a bit of adventure and a change from the career of electronics, which he did not enjoy. After living in various cities, trying various jobs, he and his new wife Lorna purchased a small farm in Nova Scotia, and taught themselves to farm for a living. During this period John took a six week course at the local agricultural college on basic blacksmithing and welding. John had never seen a blacksmith before, and was not, (to his knowledge) interested. He just wanted to learn to weld to take care of his increasing amount of farm equipment. Was he in for a surprise!
As soon as the instructor lit a coal fire, heated a piece of steel bright orange, and hammered it over the anvil to make a poker handle, John was hooked! He had always enjoyed working with his hands, and picked up the basic blacksmithing skills quickly, and learned as much as he could in those six weeks. He also learned to weld, but it was the blacksmithing that was to change his life.
John set up a small and very basic blacksmith’s shop on the farm, and started to make ironwork for his home – hinges, latches, shelf brackets, fireplace tools – and soon his neighbours were ordering things, and John was in business! With a friend and neighbour he opened a bigger shop on the local highway, and was soon making a better living as a blacksmith than a farmer. John and Lorna , with two small children, left Nova Scotia in 1980, and with a truck full of blacksmithing tools set off for Lorna’s home of British Columbia. They settled in the very small community of Crawford Bay, which is on Kootenay Lake – one of British Columbia’s largest lakes – and called their new business Kootenay Forge.
Owing to a very small local clientele, John and Lorna had to travel to the large cities in western Canada to sell their ironwork, and gradually built up a wholesale business, making similar items to those of today. After a few years of constant hammering John developed severe tendonitis, and started employing people and training them to make ironwork while he developed new markets to keep up with the increased production.
John started attending trade shows with his unique forgework, and business grew quickly once larger numbers of stores saw what Kootenay Forge had to offer. Within a year they had five employees, and John and Lorna had to build a bigger workshop. As business kept growing, that building has been added on to twice, and Kootenay Forge also has a second workshop and a retail store in the more commercial centre of Crawford Bay. The business now employs twelve people, and supplies about 250 stores with ironwork, as well as furnishing several hotels and resorts in western Canada with ironwork. Markets have expanded into Japan and South Africa.
When John was approaching 60 years old he started planning for his retirement. Both his daughters had worked for the business during school holidays, and after graduating his youngest daughter, Marla, worked in the office as receptionist and bookkeeper for two years before moving away. Gina, the oldest daughter, had taken some business courses at college in Vancouver, and her and her new husband Cory moved back to Crawford Bay to work for Kootenay Forge.
Gina took over as office manager and bookkeeper, while Cory learned blacksmithing as fast as he could, and move on to become production manager. After a few years of managing the business, Gina and Cory officially took over as owners in January 2005. John continues to work at the business half-time, designing and developing new products, producing the catalogues, and generally helping out where needed.