Cobbler Mike Waterman

SPECIAL REPORT: Traditional jobs

We set out to find people working in some old school fields as part of our celebration of Labour Day

  • Aug. 30, 2013 1:00 p.m.

Ancient art of farrier takes modern twist

At 17 years of age, Diva has gone through hundreds of horseshoes, and for the past six years farrier Cole Henderson has had the pleasure of fitting them to the big girl’s hooves.

Henderson and Diva renew acquaintances about every eight weeks, but you wouldn’t know it from this afternoon.

“She’s being complicated and she knows she’s bad too,” says Diva’s owner Taylor Henselin, who last competed in jumping with Diva in the spring.

Henderson exercises a blend of safety, patience and skill as he out-waits the fidgety mare.

“Usually she locks her legs up and sleeps while I go through the motions,” he says, sighing as she pulls her foot away for the umpteenth time.

“It’s not always an easy job but you get to play with horses.”

The Scotsman has been working as a farrier for 40 years, off and on. He started in England, hanging around the horse racing tracks, which took him to the heart of American horse racing, Lexington, Ky.

Diva kicks again, this time knocking the hammer from his hand.

“It’s not like any other industry. For starters, you have to be a blacksmith and you have to know the anatomy of the horse. There’s not many jobs where you hammer a nail into a living animal.”

Racing brought him to B.C., too. Though he’s now Saanich-based and works all over the Island, Henderson has worked the racetracks of Vancouver, and with horses on some big-time movie sets.

While some things have stayed the same – composite steel is still preferred over the new plastic shoes, which are all-around better – a lot has changed since Henderson started in the 1970s. Until recently, farriers made their own tools. But the biggest change is the travel.

“Back in the day, people brought their horses to the farrier’s shop. We didn’t do house visits.”

The main reasons is advent of the propane forge used to heat the shoe. Henderson’s truck, which used to serve horses at a New York racetrack, comes with its own propane forge.

Farriers previously stoked a coal forge. The portable devices took at least 30 minutes to set up and another 45 minutes to cool down, limiting the amount of daily visits.

“With the propane forge I can pack up and go in five minutes. I just sold my coal forge to a blacksmithing artist last year as I never use it now,” Henderson says.

Medicine has also advanced the life expectancy of horses.

“Horses are kind of like people now in that they are living longer because we can diagnose things like diabetes and blood disorders that we had no idea about horses having 40 years ago. Injuries and disease with the hoof are no longer a death sentence. Almost everything can be cured now.”

A little over an hour into the job and Diva’s nearly ready. Her front shoes are on (she doesn’t wear shoes on her hind legs) and her hooves have been trimmed. The hoof, which is made of the same component as hair, grows around the shoe and needs to be clipped, much like a fingernail.

Diva relents, mostly because Henselin is holding a bale of hay up to her mouth. The snack is just enough to give Henderson a window file her hooves with an even finish.

“She got her way, food and new shoes,” Henselin says.

Diva is usually an accommodating horse, otherwise Henderson might think twice.

“There are some very dangerous horses out there, I just don’t have anything to do with them,” Henderson says.

A farrier’s Workers Compensation Board rates are among the most highest in B.C., just above underground mining and below forest fire fighting. There are more dangerous jobs, but they’re really just a different type of danger.

“However careful you are you pick up a lot of scars – my hands are covered in them,” Henderson said. His legs are marked not just from being kicked by hooves, but by being ripped open when the horse pulls its foot away with a nail sticking out from the hoof wall.

“I’ve never had a really serious injury and haven’t had any stitches in about six years. I’ll walk away from dangerous horses rather than try to prove how brave I am,” he said, though that’s not the case with all farriers.

“One of the Island’s farriers retired a couple of years ago at age 84 and I expect I’ll be working to that age if I can stay healthy.”


Butcher’s compassionate approach makes top cut

People might be surprised, at first, to learn that Lloyd (Meatdogg) McLennan has a deep love of animals. He’s had dogs and other critters all his life, and takes the time to visit each farm he supports to ensure the animals lead vibrant and healthy lives.

But to those who know McLennan, this is exactly what sets him apart as one of the Island’s premium and best-regarded butchers.

“I can physically take you to each of the farms I buy from and show you how well those animals are raised,” he says.

“I purchase the best meats from the best cared-for animals, and people can tell the difference. It is more of an investment, but I don’t care about the cost and, at the end of the day, that care pays off and we make money anyway.”

McLennan has been turning heads since taking over Cook Street’s Island Meat & Seafood in January. Yet the man who does everything from slicing to sausage-making is far from new to the industry. McLennan has been working with meat since he was 13 years old, and created the institution better known as Red Barn Market’s butchery.

McLennan, 41, works fast, and with furious precision, as he trims the grey meat off a roast, saws chicken bones and cuts portions of steak – all within mere moments in demonstration for the camera. He talks as fast as he works, and so do his staff. You’ll notice, he points out, that no one in the shop stops moving; there is much to do, but the staff are eager to please McLennan and the friendly camaraderie is clear.

Eroc Braidwood, store manager, is the first to apprentice under McLennan. Braidwood worked in the chef industry for many years before coming to Island Meats two years ago. Now, under McLennan’s management, Braidwood says he’s seen the store blossom in ways he’s immensely proud of.

“It’s the little details that weren’t getting done before, and Meatdogg and I share that real vision for doing things the right way,” Braidwood says.

“My sense of pride is back now, and time just flies when you are working here. We have a lot of fun.”

While McLennan spends most of his time preparing meats and products in a backroom, the size of a large pantry, he loves interacting with clients – which is why the crew hosts special barbecues every Saturday to fundraise for the SPCA.

He smiles as he points to the photos on the wall displaying some of his suppliers, like Tannadice Farms in the Comox Valley, Henry & Jones Grass Fed Beef in Cowichan Bay and Kildonan Farm chickens in North Saanich. He boasts about his good friends at Portofino Bakery who have recently helped supply the store with baked goods, he even comments on how you’ll never see exotic meats like veal in his store, as the animals he butchers must be raised and be local.

McLennan and his store also build a reputation on a “no growth-hormones, no antibiotics” mantra. And, Island Meats recently won first runner-up for favourite local meat or poultry supplier in the We Heart Local Awards. But while the nod is appreciated, the real win for McLennan is in the relationships he’s built with members of the urban and farm communities.

“I spend more time with the cuts, because I’ll never sell you anything I wouldn’t eat, and I won’t eat this,” McLennan says, pointing to the grey sinewy layer he’s just trimmed off a roast.

“A lot of places will turn this part into sausage, or use it other ways, but it’s garbage for me. I can’t justify ripping you off – of your money or nutrition.”


Shoe-repair business has never been better

The scent of glue, vinyl, leather and polish lingers like a thin fog inside Old Towne Shoe Repair.

Mike Waterman shuffles through ribbons of black dust along the concrete floor before sliding a weathered boot onto a steel arm, tracing its eroded sole beneath a neoprene rubber sheet.

The cobbler’s cramped workspace in the 600-block of Johnson St. hasn’t been renovated since its 1985 opening, though a half-dozen century-old machines give the impression of a staged museum.

“People come in all the time and say, ‘Don’t change a thing,’” Waterman says, his hands exploring a torn leather purse strap. He pulls out a 1905 eyelet press and thuds it on the table.

Despite the proliferation of cheap, one-season footwear, Waterman says business has never been better.

“What’s really coincided with my business picking up is the recycling concept. It took a long time for the idea of less consumption to catch on, but now people fix rather than throw away.”

A senior couple wander through the open shop door, peering at the stacks of mismatched shoes along the far wall.

“I just couldn’t walk by without looking in here,” says the woman, on vacation from Montana. “We don’t have places like this where I’m from.”

Waterman exchanges pleasantries with the couple from behind his vintage industrial sewing machine, methodically cranking its wheel while working the crest of a boot past its needle.

“People can always relate to the trades,” he says as the couple disappear onto the street.



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