Blyth's artisan alley
Blyth is known across the country for its nationally-acclaimed theatre and the award-winning Cowbell Brewing Company, but its creative economy has many active players along the main street. From just south of town on Highway 4 to the north end of the business district, the unsuspecting visitor will find a variety of artisan shops and creative entrepreneurs.
The Old Mill is a unique chalet-inspired building that overlooks the village from a hill about a mile south of town. That uniqueness continues inside through two huge buildings stocked full of the latest in fashion for all ages, including mohair throws and sweaters imported from Scotland and Ireland, world-class clothing, formal wear, footwear, sportswear, activewear and accessories from New York, Paris and Montreal.
The Old Mill designs products from their own tanneries such as leather jackets, wool blankets and wool work socks. Their tanneries are famous for creating the washable sheepskin rug (the first in North America).
The Old Mill has been drawing visitors from across North America and the world for nearly six decades. What started as a small project for owner Glenyce Snell to sell some of the overstock of her family’s tannery business has burgeoned into her own retail and tanning empire, along with her husband Dick who brought tanning expertise to her company. Now the next generation has joined and expanded the business to the online market.
While much of the Old Mill’s stock is available online, it is truly a visit that is the surreal shopping experience. From the beautifully arranged rooms of fashions, wools and leathers to the aroma of sheepskins and tanned hide products permeating throughout the buildings, it is an experience not to be missed. Visit them online at theoldmill.ca. 82790 London Road, Hwy #4 South.
Maple & Moose is a vendor co-operative that has been an anchor downtown since 2006 when founder Bev Elliott was encouraged to pursue her idea of an “all-Canadian” store at a Blyth Idea Group meeting. In fact, that dream culminated in three storefronts being renovated and filled helping to maintain a vibrant atmosphere on the main street.
Maple and Moose has between 15 and 20 vendors at any one time carrying goods from across Canada. The focus is on small cottage industries and unique one-of-a-kind items, resulting in a collection that has been carefully curated for quality.
First-time visitors to the store will be impressed by the how well the architectural details in the brick walls and refinished wood floors show off the carefully laid out merchandise. There are two storefronts committed to a range of products including Canadian food items, clothing, jewellery, hand-turned wood and art pieces. The store is open from April until Dec. 31 each year. 398 Queen Street.
Next door, Pianovations occupies the final storefront in the beautifully restored Pretoria Block.
Tamara Andre and Lianne Hoogenboom started their piano restoration business in 2002 in nearby Londesborough. By 2006 their business had grown to include sales and service of a wide variety of musical instruments, and they set up a permanent retail space in Blyth.
“We’re a music store, yet so much more than a music store,” says Tamara. Besides the retail business, they also specialize in restoring pianos, instrument repairs, piano moving and musical instrument appraisals.
The Pianovations team’s favourite part of the business has been watching their customers start out as kids and grow up to make music their career, or just an important part of their life!
Stop in and take a look at the extensive display of pianos, instruments, sheet music and accessories on display. 402 Queen Street.
Stitches With A Twist has been downtown since 2012. Irene Kellins offers a well-stocked store full of yarn (a huge variety sourced locally and internationally), but her shop does not stop there!
Besides patterns, sewing supplies and basic craft supplies, Irene’s specialty is really her casual and friendly service, for everything from help with pattern questions to lessons to her “knit and natter” social evenings. “What we offer is beyond full service,” says Irene.
Her alterations and sewing repairs business keeps the back corner of her store full with works-in-progress.
She is extremely proud of being a drop- off for Knitted Knockers of Canada, a not-for-profit that provides hand-knitted prosthetics to breast cancer survivors through donations and their nation-wide network of volunteer knitters. 404 Queen Street.
John Rutledge, Architect works from his main street office, providing a full-service architect firm that does a wide variety of work including historic and contemporary new design, contextually appropriate renovations and additions, authentic restorations of old buildings and storefronts, feasibility studies and barrier-free accessibility reports, tenders, site review and project administration.
Some of his favourite projects have been cottages along Lake Huron. He enjoys the challenge of an extensive renovation where he can balance the modern needs of the clients while respecting the original character of the building. 406 Queen Street.
Blyth Printing has been a creative fixture in Blyth for three generations.
The Whitmores started the company by owning the village newspaper The Blyth Standard, but sold the paper in 1971 to focus on the printing business.
They offer a complete service including graphic design and can print signs, banners, vehicle wraps and business forms. Ken Whitmore anchors his company by providing creative solutions to your promotional needs, whether it be posters, signs or letterhead. 411 Queen Street.
North Huron Publishing is home to Stops Along the Way, but also their sister publications The Citizen, a weekly community newspaper serving northern Huron County and The Rural Voice, a monthly agricultural magazine serving Huron, Perth, Bruce, Grey and North Wellington counties.
Their biggest hidden gem is their bookstore, The Rural Reading Room that focuses on rural themed books and local authors. 405 Queen Street.
Pick-A-Posie is the latest creative entrepreneur to arrive on the street and is the brainchild of owner Jennifer Triemstra-Johnston, a professional costume designer who fell in love with the village over many years as head of wardrobe and costume designer for the Blyth Festival.
What opened up as a pop-up shop in 2017, has finally found a permanent home in the beautifully renovated Howard Block.
The store itself contains a wonderfully-curated, eclectic collection of costumes and vintage clothing. Everything in the store has been lovingly cleaned, restored and sometimes recreated to bring a bit of whimsy to a piece.
Jennifer can also work with clients to build a perfect piece whether it be a a formal party dress or an inspired costume for a Hallowe’en or cruise ship party. Custom builds are her specialty.
The store can complete your look with all the accessories, including hats, gloves, shoes and jewellery. Bring her your budget and she can put together a look that you can take out! 441 Queen Street.
F.A.C.T.S. (Fashion Arts and Creative Textiles Studio) is Triemstra-Johnston’s social enterprise business and adjoins the Pick-A-Posie shop in the north side of the building. Jennifer has established a gallery and creative space for local fibre and textile artists. The F.A.C.T.S. mission is to provide skills training, local resources and local production that can help support a sustainable future for practicing artisans, designers and communities.
The program offers workshops and classes so that traditional textile skills can continue to be shared and passed down from generation to generation. Jennifer acts a mentor and curator to assist the artists in turning their creative process into a business.
The studio itself includes on-site demonstrations by artists who are working in the gallery and an exhibition of pieces that can be bought and taken with you. “All of this fibre art is incredibly innovative,” says Jennifer. “People are blown away when they realize all of the art pieces in the studio are made of fabric or yarn.”
This winter the studio will be filled with a felter, a wool painter, macrame, weavers, knitters and rug hookers. For a complete schedule of their upcoming classes and workshops, visit factsblyth.ca. 441 Queen Street.
Wonky Frog Studio is as adorable and as quirky as their name. Owners Cat O’Donnell and Scott Ramsay have been professional artists for over 20 years. They fell in love with Huron County while vacationing here, and when a small house with two studios and a retail space came up for sale, they leapt at the chance to live their “artist life”.
Their retail shop space measures out at only 14’ x 12’ but they’ve generously allocated space to many local makers and artisans. You can buy locally-blended teas, hand-cut wood letter openers and birds, soaps, jewellery, even local apothecary products!
But the mainstay of their business remains their own creative output. Scott’s paintings are available by commission or you can purchase prints and imprinted merchandise through the store or online. Cat runs the pottery studio and offers classes and workshops.
Cat is also a sound reiki practitioner and an intuitive guide. Once you speak with her for a little while, you’ll get her artistic spirit. Everything in this space is made with intention, and is promoted and shared with that same intent and positive energy. 197 Westmoreland Street, shop entrance on Queen Street.
Bainton’s is located just off Queen Street on Westmoreland Street but worth the few extra steps for the best selection in wool and leather goods at tannery outlet prices. The company was founded in 1894, making them the longest-running business on our tour.
They’ve long been famous for their sheepskin throw rugs and leather motorcycle jackets, but more recently their woolen socks made from local sheep and alpaca wool have found a niche market, with phone orders coming in from all across Canada and the U.S.
A trip to Blyth is not complete until you stop in at Bainton’s. 206 Westmoreland Street (just around the corner from Queen Street).