Artisans and Local Manufacturing, Issue 21

Aromatics for Québec-distilled gin

Québec distillers make 116 different gins, many of them international award winners. There are over 50 craft distilleries, located from Havre St-Pierre to Gatineau producing not only gins but also vodkas, whiskeys, rums and even absinthe. There are well over 100 micro-brewers and if you are still buying imported or production beer,  you  don’t know what you are missing. The growth in micro distillers and breweries is not just a Québec phenomena. There are high quality, locally produced spirits in every Canadian province, across the US, and in Europe. Also, I have found over 20 micro-breweries in Australia that were founded since the year 2000. It is a global trend. 

Why the focus on booze? Well, Covid-19 has almost all of us drinking just a little bit more but the main purpose is to underline the explosion of “artisan makers” that have become such an important part of our economies. Sales of Québec micro-distillers grew over $780.0 million in 2019. 

I thought it would be fun to start this newsletter with the evolution of craft libations because of the very visible proliferation of new local brands wherever you may be purchasing your “stay at home” supplies. However, there are a multitude of other micro industries that have evolved over the last few years. Keeping with the original product group, there are small Québec companies making tonic for the afternoon “G&T” and ginger beers for Moscow Mules. My favourite mixers come from 1642: 

The artisan movement goes well beyond the alcoholic beverage segment. I counted about 200 independent Canadian cheese makers on the Canadian Dairy Information web site and about 50% of these are located in Québec. There are many other small producers making kombucha and specialty foods, roasting coffee, mixing spices, and milling flour. In the Montreal area, several  boulangeries mill their own flour and new bread shops have sprung up all across the city. Many people are now eating less meat but that sacrifice in quantity  has translated into a search for locally and ethically raised product resulting in more small producers of livestock and more butcher shops. For about six months of the year I buy almost all of my vegetables from an organic farm.Those who know me well understand my focus on food and beverage but growth in the numbers of small manufacturing companies and artisan workshops goes well beyond this segment and it is worldwide:

Hiut Denim, Cardigan, Wales At one time,  the jean factory in Cardigan, Wales employed 400 people. Thirty-five thousand pairs of jeans were made every week in this town of 4000 people.  The factory closed and production was shifted to Morocco. A London-based advertising executive longed to move back to Wales and started Hiut  and he took over the old factory space. The new company now makes 100 pairs of high-end jeans a week that retail for approximately C$300 to C$500.

The Workers Club, Goring, England Goring is a small town of about 6000 people. From this location, The Workers Club curates a collection of men’s and women’s fashion that are designed and made in Great Britain. 

Goodee, Montréal Goodeeworld, a certified B corporation, is a seller of  items from creators and makers around the world.  Browsing the merchandise on the Goodee website gives some sense of the international artisan movement.

Atelier Make, 1241 rue Gilford, Montréal, QC

Atelier Make, 1241 rue Gilford, Montréal From porcelain tableware to intricate paper cutouts, their products bring the beauty and pleasure of fine craft into contemporary daily life. With a design aesthetic that is at once rustic and contemporary, Atelier Make’s designs appeal to a new generation of fine-craft enthusiasts. The studio prides itself on a small batch, locally handcrafted model of doing business. –  This is an excerpt from the Atelier Make web site. You can purchase on-line or visit their store on Gilford. See picture on the right.

Mariposa Bicycles, Toronto Mariposa has been hand-building bicycles since 1969. There are other custom bike makers in Toronto and in other cities in Canada including T-Lab Bikes in Montreal. Covid-19 has accelerated cycling as an efficient way to get around cities and there are many local e-bike makers. The cycling accessories industry has exploded. Thousand , a Los Angeles company, launched on Kickstarter in 2015 with the goal of making bicycle helmets that people want to wear and with a goal of saving 1000 lives. They ship to Canada so visit their web site at

BC Blacksmith, Granville Island, Vancouver, BC BC Blacksmiths makes unique wrought iron items such as stair railings, gates, light fixtures, and curtain rods at its Granville Island studio. 

Table by Steve Wallin, Halifax, Nova Scotia

Steve Wallin, Modern Hand Made Furniture, Halifax, Nova Scotia Designs and makes modern furniture rooted in  simplicity, functionality, and attention to detail. See the table on the right.

Sabian Cymbals, Meductic, New Brunswick This world renowned  manufacturer of cymbals is located in Meductic, New Brunswick, a tiny town of 173 people on the banks of the Saint John River.

I have a collection of film clips and articles that celebrate the revival of small industries and specialty makers around the world. I am intrigued by Japan and iI though I should share this clip that is about six minutes long: The talent-seeker: Ryutaro Yoshida – Film

I realize that the final products of many of the makers that I have highlighted are expensive but the Coronavirus is accelerating another trend, the trend away from disposable consumerism. Why buy five dining room tables that all end up in a landfill? A Steve Wallin table is built to last and to be attractive for a lifetime. 

Also, It is interesting to see how many of these small businesses are in the hands of former corporate executives, lawyers, and advertising executives who wanted to live a simpler life and to support the communities where they grew up. It would seem that: “Making a modest profit that supports you through a firm that you can pass on and of which you’re proud seems closer to the goal than simply closing a big-money deal.” The Entrepreneurs, Issue 03, 2020

The same reminders: Shop local, support local businesses, buy from local farms, and support local artisans and manufacturers. As always, wear face masks as required, wash your hands, practice social distancing, hydrate, and exercise. 

Cities are in Crisis

March 7, 2024

Anastasia Mourogova Millin, March 5, 2024 Earth’s urban population will grow by 2.5 billion people over the next 30 years. Over the same time period, urban land expansion put at risk the survival of 855 different species and will threaten the homes of over 30,000 animal and plant species. Add in the impact of climate […]

The Co-working Concept, Issue 80

January 22, 2024

Co-working space came to mean the notorious We Work model. When I had been asked to opine on co-working I tried to steer the conversation away from the Adam Neumann / Softbank  flimflam growth model. Instead, I suggested that property owners look at usage and users. While I doubted We Work’s ability to survive I […]

The Affordable Housing Conundrum

October 3, 2023

Before I fall completely into the trap of opposition politics, I have decided to take a break from never-ending criticism and to start suggesting solutions to the affordable housing conundrum. Do I have a plan? No, more a collection of ideas To start with, I think there are three key issues: Home ownership is not […]

We Should Know Better

August 26, 2023

I know! I am going to sound like a grumpy old man. Maybe that is because I am. I have been scratching my head in wonderment at the Taylor Swift phenomena. Is she an Incredible song writer, composer, and performer? I really don’t know! A discussion for another time? But probably not. At my age […]

Not in My Back Yard

August 4, 2023

Don’t build it! At least, Not In My Back Yard ! I acted as an advisor  in the sale of a beautifully natural, 14-acre urban waterfront estate. Existing zoning allowed for the development of 30 to 35 single-family homes, which after road dedication would leave very little green space. I did not think that was […]

Glasgow – That Dear Green Place

July 31, 2023

We were visiting Glasgow (literally that Dear Green Place in Gaelic) to see where my father was born, grew up, and went to University. Fortunately for me, my cousin John from Australia had just visited and had met with historians, Bruce Downie  and Norry Wilson.  So,  we too arranged to meet them in the Govanhill […]