I don’t travel much. I haven’t traveled a lot in my life outside of Newfoundland. I visited Ontario and Nova Scotia a few times. I did go to a summer wedding in Bangor once, which fell on the 4th of July. There was paraphernalia and trinkets everywhere, I didn’t realize the joy that these colorful and meaningful reminders and replicas of history brought to so many people. I do now.
This time of year, the cruise ships and ferries are full of people, families, and couples ready to explore our beautiful province. Nothing, to me, is more beautiful than hundreds of birds standing on the ragged cliffs that overlook the water or whales breaching the ocean’s surface. Nature at its best, I’d say. However, you can’t take that home, except in pictures, and as wonderful as they are, people like to have something to take home.
That is part of what I do. In my little shop in Bay Roberts, my father, Rick, and I bring part of the beauty of Newfoundland to our tourists. Some of these tourists are actually Newfoundlanders who re-visit the province to enjoy its beauty or share it with their extended families who have never experienced the breathtaking sights. We want to help these people remember their experience and keep a part of it with them.
We manufacture and sell a variety of seal-skin products. The sealing industry is a wonderful part of Newfoundland’s history. As controversial as it is in some places, we are thankful for its contribution to our lifestyle, economy, history and health. I don’t know if it is the interest in the industry and its impact on our province that makes our tiny seal figures such a great souvenir or if it is, maybe, an interest in the controversy surrounding it, but people just can’t help but hold the little darlings in their hands. Even I have been caught petting one while talking to a customer in the store or at a craft fair booth. They are just so darn cute!
Creating our tiny seals starts in early January these days because the tourists start coming in the spring. We spread out our seal skin pelts and stretch them; then my father cuts out the many different shapes needed for the products we make. Later we get together for supper and do a swap. What good is it to be making traditional Newfoundland items without a bit of Newfoundland tradition of good food, family and fun!
I take all the cut pelts and start sewing them to get them ready for the next step. All of our sewing happens in my workshop, where my children and husband help with sorting and arranging to make the process a little smoother. It truly is a family business!
After the items are sewn, we have to stuff them and shape them and then turn them into one of the many creations that we sell at our store. Keytags, figurines, seals on rocks, coin purses, we have to make sure we have a variety of selection for each item. We carry a variety of items in our shop, making it an ideal place to visit to take home a piece of this great land.
We also make leather keytags. We manufacture them in large supplies to be sure that we are ready for the arrival of the cruise ships in the spring. These keytags bear the names of towns and Newfoundland scenes, representing places that they have visited, will visit, and or that are a part of their childhood or old time traditions.
Many little craft or gift shops in the area carry unique items that have their own stories. My father, Rick, loves to tell a yarn or two himself. We welcome people from all places into our storefront with smiling faces. Some visitors even get to meet our friendly mascot Tracy, my father’s dog. Although she can’t tell a yarn, she loves to sit with the customers while they listen to one. That is what brings tourists in, not just the wonderful items and unique gifts, the friendly people who make you feel at home with that renowned Newfoundland hospitality! After all, you can always feel at home, even on vacation, or even better, I feel like I am on a vacation, right here at home.
Kathrin Evans is the owner/operator of The Hands of Olsen, a manufacturer of handmade leather and sealskin products for souvenirs and gifts. The Hands of Olsen is a designated Crafts of Character Newfoundland and Labrador producer. For more information visit their Facebook page or website.