Kagawong Cooperative brings outdoor market experience indoors

Lydia Burlein assists a visitor at the Artisans by the Bay shop.

KAGAWONG – From the moment you enter the revitalized space at the Aus Hunt Marina in Kagawong, you will feel the friendly, creative energy. Blue walls and a vaulted wooden ceiling decorated with strings of flags and a fishing net strung with clear lights, along with large windows overlooking the bay that open and allow a gentle cross breeze all create a welcoming nautical experience. Better still is the easy camaraderie of ladies who form the Artisans by the Bay collective and their variety of wares.

“We’re all part of Kagawong Farmers’ Market and we wanted an outlet where we could have our products on a regular basis rather than just one day a week,” said spokesperson Sharon Alkenbrack, who prepares and sells custom tea blends and paintings. “Deb (Flaxman) asked the township if we could use the back of the marina and that provided a facility for us.”

“COVID makes you think,” added entrepreneur Tracy Paris of Carousel Barn Boutique. “You have to find alternatives, so for a little cooperative such as ours, this was great because it’s almost like a permanent shop.” The space was previously utilized by Pat Hess, who ran a canoe and kayak business from the marina.

“It’s a nice addition to the marina building and to the town,” Ms. Alkenbrack said. “The township has been amazing and marina manager Jim Fowlie has been awesome for helping us out to get it going. He’s been very supportive.”

The cooperative model tackles one of the most prohibitive barriers for entrepreneurs in Kagawong: retail space. “We’ve actually been thinking about getting our own space,” noted Ms. Larocque. “We’ve been talking about it for a couple years. We were looking for front store space and it’s really hard to find. We said, what about the marina? It just all came together. We did this in about a month.”

Visitors are directed to the Kagawong branded clothing area almost as soon as they enter the cooperative by enthusiastic members. The t-shirts and ball caps show a stylized version of the iconic Kagawong lighthouse and are the brainchild of Deb Flaxman and daughter Maggie. “You don’t really find anything that says Kagawong,” said Ms. Alkenbrack. “It’s always Manitoulin.” 

“Visitors like to take home a memory of the particular place they visited,” said Ms. Paris. “Not just somewhere on Manitoulin, but where they were. Kagawong is like a port of call.”

Lydia Burlein assists a visitor at the Artisans by the Bay shop.

Ms. Paris is a distributor for Canadian-made leggings and other clothing items. Lydia Burlein repurposes old wood, furniture and other items into whimsical benches, shelves, garden art and more. Diane Larocque is a Norwex distributor and offers hand-knit items as well. There are paintings by artist Helen Siksek and Deb Flaxman is a distributor for Kagawong photographer Craig Jackson’s calendars and mugs. Ms. Flaxman sells t-shirts and ball caps with a Kagawong lighthouse logo designed by her daughter, Maggie. The cooperative also carries consignment items, such as beeswax candles and natural insect repellents and balms by Eternal Bee, bath salts by Lauren MacKay and firestarters by Brad MacKay.

Most of the products, art and crafts available are locally or Canadian made and many are environmentally friendly. “Norwex is great for boaters,” said Ms. Larocque. “It doesn’t use chemicals.” Containers and microfibre cloths are made of OceanBound Plastic, which is created from existing plastic waste that has fallen outside normal collection processes and that’s at risk of becoming a part of the eight million tons that is estimated to enter the world’s oceans each year. All products are concentrated so less is used and include detergents, cleaning paste, descaler, mesh bags for produce, tote bags and collapsible containers. Ms. Larocque’s hand-knit dishcloths are a customer favourite.

Ms. Burlein’s floor space holds an old farmhouse door repurposed into a hallway coat tree, an old chair that has found new life as a planter, and a bench made out of an old headboard and a dresser drawer. There are birdhouses, her signature lanterns, colourful garden décor and tree jewelry made from chair rungs and chandelier crystals. “You can’t sit in the chairs anymore but there’s still a lot of beauty to them,” she said. “People who come to the market and see my pieces are really pleased to see something that’s not going to the dump, especially the spindles. People are redesigning their homes and tearing out these beautiful oak spindles and basically throwing them in the dump.” Her products are designed for indoor or outdoor use and have a very durable finish that will stand up to the elements.

Carousel Barn Boutique came about when Ms. Paris’ husband pointed out a display of leggings at a local fair. “I’d never worn leggings before but they were really soft. They’re also unconditionally guaranteed and it’s a Canadian company.” Ms. Paris spoke with the Barrie-based owners and ended up as the Manitoulin area distributor. She has expanded her line to include sweaters, tunics, loungers, capris and joggers and will soon be adding handbags and jewellery. 

Ms. Alkenbrack is a tea lover who has been creating and selling custom loose leaf tea blends for 18 to 20 year and at one time was proprietor of Tweebles tea shop in Kagawong. As for the paintings (the ones at the cooperative included birds and wildlife), she’s painted forever and has been using art as a creative outlet to help her through the pandemic. “I decided with COVID, there was no place to go so I might as well paint.”

Artisans by the Bay is located at the Aus Hunt Marina, through the marina store. Although members will continue to participate in Kagawong’s market this year (Wednesdays as usual, at the Pavilion), it remains a seasonal affair. “We’re still tweaking the hours,” said Ms. Alkenbrack. The shop will be open seven days a week for July and August. For more information, or to inquire about consignment opportunities, contact Deb Flaxman by email at dflaxman@sympatico.ca.

As the season progresses, the women will have shifts and take care of each other’s goods, said Ms. Larocque. “We work very well together,” Ms. Paris added. “We’re a good bunch of ladies.”