I had the pleasure of sitting down with the great folks at Roots Canada. Intrigued and wanting to get the scoop on the woman behind Norquay Co., turned out to be the perfect opportunity to dish out my creative process, how I got here, and share a few things in life that I just can't live without.
Painted by hand and inspired by the Great Canadian wilderness, we just couldn’t keep this rustic find to ourselves. Introducing the the exclusive Roots Norquay True North Paddle, from Natasha Wittke of Norquay Co.
We (ROOTS Canada) sat down with Natasha to chat about her unique (and totally Canadian!) business.
Q: What is behind the name Norquay?
A: Norquay is the name of a tiny island in Algonquin Park. I went to summer camp on Lake Huron and my first solo camping trip was on Norquay Island. When I was 14 the camp dropped me off on the island and I had to survive with nothing more than matches, granola and a tarp. I had to spend 48 hours on the island. I had no compass and lost all sense of time. I foraged for berries and mushrooms – I had all the knowledge necessary to survive. It was an incredible experience, to be by yourself in nature.
Q: Can you describe the process of making a paddle?
A: I start sketching my ideas and then I go to the computer to work out my designs. It’s an exhausting design process where I create about 200 different designs and colour combinations. I layout all of the different designs and start to make the really hard choices about what the collection is going to look like.
When I’m finally happy with the collection as a whole, I go into the studio and start masking off the designs on blank paddles. I test each design to make sure it suits the lines of the paddle. And then we paint, stain, and varnish. I’m obsessed with the perfection of the lines – to make sure every line is perfect, straight and that every point meets.
Where are your paddles from?
A: The cherry wood is sourced directly from woodcutters in New Liskeard, Ontario. I’m originally from Northern Ontario and I wanted to support job opportunities in the North. I wanted to stay true to my roots.
I found incredible paddle makers. We worked together to create a unique shape. I didn’t want a blade that was too wide – I wanted my designs to translate well. The paddle makers love what I have done with their paddles! They are a sweet older couple that have been making paddles for years and were thinking about retiring when I called. They make everything by hand so there is only a certain amount of paddles I can get from them a year. We are not into mass-production; my business will never be about that. Every design is limited.
My paddles are art pieces, but they can be used in the water. They are paddles after all! They are great for deep-water trips.
Q: You had an entire career before Norquay - how did you leave your career?
A: I used to work in advertising as an Art Director for about ten years. The last place I was at full-time was the place I met my husband; it was an office romance [giggles]. I started working freelance afterwards – I wanted to be my own boss. I freelanced for three years and on a spare month off I decided to start Norquay. I sourced paddles and found a studio space. It started off as a project and it took off! The whole experience happened to me, rather than it being a conscious decision. But I couldn’t be happier.
Three things you can’t live without:
1. Green tea in the mornings
2. Access to nature – it’s where my creativity happens. I need lakes and trees. I must be outside. I was not built to live indoors.
3. Family. That’s your foundation.
Q: Favourite Meal?
A: Beautiful fresh fish: I love having a fish fry on a camping trip!
Must-have in your camp-pack?
A: I always say safety never takes a holiday – so a whistle and matches. [Laughs]
Q: Perfect Sunday?
A: Being on the water. Whether it is sailing, kayaking or canoeing I love to be on the water. I like floating in a canoe while Jay - my husband - fishes.