In the winter, I interviewed Louis-Phillipe Leonard, co-founder and marketing manager for Leon Lebeniste, for an article in about-to-land Coast Mountain Culture magazine.
Now that summer’s here, and I’m man-handling my bike onto its wall hooks in the garage after every ride, I’m coveting their signature bike rack even more.
Here’s the story behind it.
Jon and I had always dreamt of doing Leon Lebeniste in BC someday, though I had taken a couple years in a different direction from Leon Lebeniste and was starting a new career in TV hosting in Montreal.
Jon had shipped all the machinery out to Squamish and set up shop there. He called me from BC and told me to come for a few days and even offered to pay for the flight. He said: Come. If you like it, you stay. If you don’t, go back and do the TV hosting in Montreal.
It took me 3 days to realize that Squamish was the best place in the world. I decided to stay and that was the best decision I ever made.
The story behind those racks – after moving to BC to room with Jon we ended up renting a new place in Amblepath. The landlord, when we visited, was pointing our each little tiny scratch on the walls from the previous tenant and was asking us to sign everywhere on the lease so that we’d be responsible for any new damage..
After that, owning 4 bikes myself, Jon 2, skiis and snowboards (all leaning against the walls), I was like, how am I gonna do this without ever scratching anything. So then I thought, Okay, I have access to the coolest woodworking tools in the world… Let’s make a bike rack.
- Load 4 bikes
- made of Europly (multi-layered baltic birch)
- easy to assemble and disassemble
- no tools required
- flat pack so I can store it in a closet or underneath the bed or ship it easily all over the world, and it doesn’t take to much space to store in a bike shop
- Lots of hanging on both side for gear and equipment so you’re not looking for your helmet of pads all the time when it’s time to go for a ride, it helps drying wet equipment and keeps everything off the ground.
So it started that way. I made a few prototypes and improved all kind of details on it and I can say that they work really well now.
Usually when I explain all these details, people look at me and say that’s very smart.
The bike racks are cut with the CNC machine. We’re on to the 9th version of the original bike stand. I would say, especially for “LE GARDE” our most popular one that is made for 4 bikes front loading, there’s maybe 150 hours of design time in it.
A work of art and a talking point all by itself. Eric Goodwin
So nice I didn’t want to put it into the garage. Graham Bolenback
I love my stand, and my neighbours comment on it all the time. Chris Kiely
I recently had the chance to profile the design wizards – Louis-Philippe Leonard and Jon Hewitt – behind the Squamish woodworking and finish carpentry studio, Leon Lebeniste, for the upcoming summer issue of Coast Mountain Culture… and we digressed into a conversation about labours of love and honouring the life-force with our work.
Co-founder Jon Hewitt shared these images of what he refers to as “the more meaningful work we’ve done,” including a mantle for Rory Bushfield to remember the late Sarah Burke and a maple vessel for Jon’s late grandma.
We’ve had a few personal projects that have been labours of love. Those that stick out are those that have meaningful stories attached to them. Last year when Sarah Burke passed away, Rory and Gordon Burke dropped by a week or so after. Rory brought us some wood that he was gonna use to build a mantle in their home. Ryan Westfahl and Jon made a beautiful piece to hold the urn that Gord made. We were pretty honoured that they would come and see us for something important like that.
Here are a few other notes from an edifying back and forth with Louis-Philippe on behalf of him and Jon…
LR: We’re living in an era of disposable cheap furnishings and super contemporary design. Where does woodworking and traditional handcrafted furnishings fit into that? Is it a tiny niche? A growing one?
LL: I would say it’s a growing one. Now you can buy good looking furniture that is made for cheap overseas in stores all over the world. The purist will see the difference from miles in between a real handmade, crafted high end piece versus one made quick and fast. A well designed + made piece that can last for generations is an investment. Lots of people don’t know the difference but that’s the way it is. We educate them if we can. Our niche is definitely growing well and fast.
LR: What type of person seeks out custom work?
LL: We have a lot of fun working with our clients. They’re people who are looking for something that they get to participate in creating. They get something that has a story to it, and we put so much passion into each piece we create that it kinda gets a little of a soul of its own.
Often they have unique functional or aesthetic requirements so custom work is the obvious route.
LR: I’d like to believe there is a slow renaissance of craftsmanship brewing in the world, as a reaction to the extreme impacts of globalisation and the hyperkinetic pace that our world and economy operates at. We can only have the pace of growth we’ve sustained over the past 20 years, if most of what we consume is disposable. But we can also slow everything down and sustain craftspeople, working on products that are meant to last forever. What do you think it’s going to take for the model to actually shift in that direction?
LL: That’s a big question. I’m curious to see what direction we can take things in the future. Clearly pursuing our current direction has some significant issues that come along with it.
And just in case you were thinking about dropping by and asking for Leon, here’s the story behind the name.
LR: Who is Leon Lebeniste?
LL: The Leon Lebeniste name came to be on a cold winter day on the St-Lawrence River in the 1000 Islands (where we started the company). Prior to starting Leon Lebeniste, Jon and I were roommates while studying in Montreal.
Sitting around a wood stove at the end of the day while having a couple strong Quebec Unibroue beers, Jon + I were having fun and trying to come up with a name for our company. A few beers deep we were having a blast hanging out but we were still without a name.
At first we were considering the obvious names to do with architectural millwork, fine furniture, woodworking but nothing that really spoke to us..
Jon has a really nice tall black Labrador named Leon. Leon is a really fun dog, a very animated character. Leon was hanging with us in the original workshops on that night. After trying so many names, we looked over at Leon chewing a large piece of wood and said looks a Leon L’ebeniste.
The french word ébéniste was one who worked with ebony, a favoured luxury wood for mid-seventeenth century Parisian cabinets.
We kinda both laughed thought that it could be cool, different and nice to name the company with his name in it.
We decide to tweak the name a bit by adding the L in front so it looks more uniform and we removed the accents on the “e” so it would be more multi-lingual.
It’s funny ’cause people often call or drop by and ask for Leon. We say sure! We call Leon ’cause he’s always with us every day, since the first day. He’s been part of the crew for almost every single of the thousands and thousands of hours that have gone into Leon Lebeniste.
The most amazing thing about working as a journalist is the chance you get to have great, insightful, curiosity-stoking conversations with people – conversations which you document.
(This has turned me into the kind of person who hates to let a funny or insightful comment go unrecorded – I am forever reaching for my notebook through tears of laughter, to capturing a witty quip or hilarious moment. My workmates are so used to it that they have developed this collective Pavlovian twitch. When something comedic is said in the studio, they jerk their heads around to see if I’m getting it down. My husband has become desensitized to my pen-reaching reflex, although every now and then he’ll yell, “No! no! Don’t write that down. You’re just going to use it against me.”)
I write stories about mountain life. And people. In this small way, I’m doing my best to stop time. Or at least, slow it down, just a little. And when people die, as they are sadly all too wont to do, I am so grateful for the chance I had to sit with them, our attention completely focussed on the single conversation at hand. I think of the late Florence Petersen, Doug Deeks, Bruce Edmonds, Wolfgang Klautt, and Sarah Burke – and feel grateful.
The one year anniversary of Sarah’s passing has just passed, and the twittersphere and interwebs are abuzz with remembering and news of the foundation launched in her honour.
I interviewed Sarah back in 2008, as I was starting to do a bunch of pre-Olympic stories. She was 26 and one of the most recognizable skiers in North America, having won every major competition in superpipe and slopestyle in the previous two years, with golds from the X Games, the Nippon Open, the World Skiing Invitational, Japan World Cup and the FIS World Cup. Powder magazine had named her one of the most influential skiers of the past 35 years, FHM magazine named her one of the hottest women alive, and she was the first skier ever to win an ESPY award for Female Action Sports Athlete of the Year 2007, from the American sports cable channel ESPN.
As for me – I was pretty much a nobody, writing for little publications and grassroots magazines and constantly hustling for another story, another byline. Sarah returned every call or email or request I sent her on frantic deadline, from wherever she was on the road, without any suggestion that my bona fides were less than A-list.
She was a star, but her sport wasn’t yet an Olympic discipline. Going into the winter of 2008-2009, the 2010 Games was a year away and buzz was building about lobbying attempts to get halfpipe recognised as an Olympic sport, something that was looking increasingly unlikely for 2010 because of the molasses-clogged machinations of the IOC.
Sarah, a veteran at accomplishing the improbable, (at 18, she had begun a lonely campaign to have women included in the X Games, competing against the men in order to be part of the field, and then saw women’s competitions added to most of the major events), was 100 per cent behind the campaign to take bring ski pipe into the Olympics.
“All of the top pros would be honoured to compete in the Olympics,” she said. “X Games is great, and a lot of fun, but the Olympics has something to it that makes it pretty special. It’s all the best athletes in the world. You can say to someone that you have an X Games medal and they’re like, ‘Oh cool, what’s that?’ People know what an Olympic medal means.”
Sometime in early 2011, my hard-drive was wiped clear and I lost everything. The first decade of my career, vanished into the ether. All I had left was a couple of notebooks and a box of magazine and newspaper clippings. I channelled Annie Dillard: “Process is nothing. Erase your tracks.”
But yesterday, I pulled out my old notebooks to see if I had any transcripts from those interviews with Sarah. I found 2 pages of my hard-to-decode handwriting with Sarah’s name scribbled across the top and re-read a skip-around-conversation that was rooted in a long-gone time and place. It didn’t amount to much, really.
Just one golden pull-quote, and an enduring sense of admiration for a true trailblazer. Hail the Queen.
I have a crooked tooth.
My left lateral incisor, to be precise, is raked on an angle that makes it seem like that friend who never stands normally in photos but twists herself into some Victoria Beckham “look, my waist is only 3 inches wide!” pose.
My dad once told me he found the tooth so distracting that he could hardly pay attention to what I was saying, that good teeth are pretty critical to career success, and would I like to get braces?
But my dentist had already covered that. It would be purely for cosmetic reasons, he said, because I have a perfect bite.
And I had thought, so what then? You straighten my crooked tooth and I move on to confront my next flaw in a long list of imperfections? Where would it end?
I was 13 at the time, and I thought to myself, it ends here. None of these imperfections are structural, biomechanical, medical. They’re just cosmetic. This is my body. If I can’t love it for what it is, (strong, healthy, well-aligned, imperfect), why would anyone else?
(I had some mini Buddha moments when I was a kid. Pity I couldn’t hold on to all that “fuck you, I’m beautiful just like this” wisdom for the entire ride.)
So, here I am at 37, with a good bite, plenty of laugh lines and a crooked tooth that may or may not have made it difficult for people to take me seriously.
I’m on a roadtrip and I can feel some residue of an eat-it-on-our-laps-to-save-time snack stuck in my teeth. I flip the sun visor down and look in the mirror, turning my head this way, that way, this way, that.
I notice that when I turn my head to the left, showing a mouthful of smooth straight teeth (what I think of as “my good side”), the crooked tooth sticks out, bigger and more obvious than ever. When I turn my head back the other way, putting the crooked tooth front and centre, it’s hardly noticeable. I turn my head, left, right, left, right. Huh.
If I try and hide my weakness, it sticks out. Like a calcified sore thumb.
If I put it out there, it fades into insignificance. It barely registers.
Mini Buddha moment, part 2: Self, I say, to my snaggle-toothed reflection. It seems you will make your flaws bigger than they are by trying to hide them. Your self-consciousness will be like a magnifying glass, like a tripping point.
For a moment, I wish I had some explosives in the glove box so I could blow up the book of wisdom (full of headlines cut out of women’s magazines) that says, ”put your best foot forward.”
I would write in the sky with sparklers, instead:
Put your worst foot forward. Lead with your imperfect self. And in that trailing space, in which nobody has even noticed you are anything less-than, follow through with the full momentum of your amazingness.
In Vancouver, New York and Zurich, they have Creative Mornings, a monthly breakfast lecture series for creative types who can get up early.
In Whistler, we’ve got The Point.
It’s a slightly less hi-fi version of the urban hipster creative klatches. But well worth putting on your radar, if only because the old Youth Hostel venue on Alta Lake might truly be one of the most [vocabulary falls short] spots in Whistler. [Genuine? Original? Stirling? Precious? Un-bogus? Spec-freakin-tacular?]
At least, that was the verdict from a gang of local writers and editors, who moved tables and chairs onto the dock for Thursday night’s Freelance Writers Symposium.
“The panel”, magazine editors Feet Banks (Mountain Life), Mike Berard (Coast Mountain Culture), Adam Levitt (SBC Wakeboard) and Kate MacLennan (BC Business) gave no-holds-barred insights on what editors want.
Here’s an unofficial post-mortem of the top 10 insights, scribbled down in between moderating duties and laughing my ass off.
Life as an Editor
1. As an editor, I just can’t get enough… “time to fix up your shit,” says Feet Banks. So, make your deadlines. “I can always fake your shitty talent, but I can’t go back in time.”
2. Brutal truth? Grammar and punctuation aren’t as important as creative thought. “I can make your writing better. It’s harder to think of a good idea,” says Adam Levitt, SBC Wakeboard’s one-man-writing-editing-blogging-photographing-show.
How to Get Your Big Break
3. Put yourself out there. Make your own opportunities. Make friends with wordpress. Better, yet, learn to code. Then you’ll never be out of work.
4. Know what makes a pitch. That would be an insight. A fresh angle. A story. A hook. A reason to care.
This is an example of a non-pitch:
“I’ve got an idea for an article. Crankworx.”
5. Know what kind of writer you are and play to your strengths.
6. Be Google-able. (See #3.)
How to Stay Off the Black List
7. “Learn the difference between there, they’re and their.” ~ Feet Banks
How to Get on The Gold List
8. “Packaging is everything,” says Kate MacLennan. Send a pitch with sidebar ideas, suggested pull-quotes or a vision for the image, and you’re gold. And PS, write your own headline. “It drives me crazy when writers don’t even try to put in a headline. Yes, headlines are hard.” (Adds Berard: Headlines are mostly what we get in fistfights about at CMC.) “But at least try.”
9. Every magazine today needs more… “intelligence” “air-brushed naked chicks” “features” “illustrations.”
10. “The only rule: make everything awesome all the time.” ~Mike Berard
The Bonus Round: Advice for PR Peeps
Never call an editor. Email, email, email.
“Unless I’ve seen you naked, don’t call.” Feet Banks
Thanks to The Pointman, Stephen Vogler, for the hospitality, ketchup chips and for all the work you’re doing to incubate and house Whistler’s creative mojo.
The Symposium was the brain child of Stephen Vogler and Feet Banks and kicks off a summer of juicy culture events taking place at the Point. You could call them Creative Lazy Saturday Afternoons, a much more Whistler-esque approach to creative networking.
Workshops are also kicking off this week on Tuesdays (improv theatre sports) and Thursdays (kick-starting your creative writing).
Support them. It’s a magical place to hang out. (If we don’t, the muni will abandon the pilot project. Who knows what could happen to the space. It’s not as if there’s an abundance of opportunities or FREE spaces for creative people to get together in Whistler, make stuff, soak in million dollar views and jam.)
Yesterday, I planted some seeds in the garden. Cold-hardy things that the seed packets promised could be started in April. I just couldn’t wait any longer.
Today, I woke up and ran outside, to see if anything had happened.
All the garden bed had for me (NO signs of life! no sprouts! no little seedlings!) was one word of counsel:
A little reminder from the universe to slow the fuck down, let things happen in their own time, keep logging the hours of tending and nurturing even when it feels like nothing is coming of it, trust momentum, keep showing up. Patience.
Thanks, garden. As you were.
Confession: I have wanted to write a book for as long as I can remember.
This ambition embarrasses me – for its ridiculousness, its vagueness, its total lack of a roadmap, its audacity. For the sheer weight of it. For its unlikeliness – people are reading less and less, the world is already overflowing with books barely being read. For its foolishness. (A friend said once, “Writing books is like being a prospector. You could dedicate your whole life to it, and never strike gold.”)
In short, it is an ambition that spins me into an existential tailslide. I am envious of everyone I meet or hear about who has written a novel, who has an agent, who is putting together a book proposal. If I ever dare to confess, yes, I’d like to write a book, I am undone by the follow-up response, “What kind of book? What would it be about?” Right, yes, I should probably know that. That probably should come first.
But it won’t go away.
Finally, I had an idea that interested me enough to sustain my attention for more than a few days. I had been married for 15 years, and I thought, “Monogamy isn’t so bad. I can do monogamy. I’ve been a total idea-slut, writing articles and copy and scripts, jumping from topic to topic… but I think I’m ready to try idea-monogamy.”
I knew nothing about writing books, but I wasn’t starting in complete ignorance. I knew an idea, alone, would not be enough to carry me through to completion. I knew that reading Steven Pressfield and stockpiling ‘advice from famous writers‘ on my desktop, would not be enough. I knew that a new laptop, special software or a fancy pen would not work.
I knew that the best way to light a sweat-inducing fire under my ass was to make a deadline, loaded with sense of accountability to someone I didn’t want to let down. Not some invisible future reader, who is perfectly able to attain self-actualisation without me, but someone who is expecting me to show up, like my running buddy when I was first out of college. It would be better if they weren’t already my friends, if they didn’t already have a fixed sense of who I was and how I should be.
So, I, (gulp), asked for help.
As someone kinda whizzy with words, I’m used to being the one who gives help. “Hey, can you help me write this cover letter?” “Could you write a bio for me?” “Would you mind whipping up a press release for us?”
No problemo! Consider the words whipped! And shipped! Easy-peasy.
Time to turn the tables around.
“Vulnerability is the birthplace of creativity, innovation and change.” ~ Brene Brown
I asked two people if they would form a writing support group with me. I was not looking for critiquing, discussion, or a nerdy social night out. I needed an accountability circle. I needed marathon training buddies.
I asked them to stand guard over my secret desire to write, and to protect it from my self.
I asked them to fold their arms across their chests and say, every other week, as sternly and kindly as they could, “You owe us a chapter.” And when I threw a couple of pages at them, I asked that they say, “Good. Now keep going.”
They were near-strangers to me. And yet, they said yes.
And there are no words for the gratitude that that has sparked, burning quietly beneath the fire-under-my-ass.
If you ask for help, it comes
But not in any way you’d ever know.
Women make groups smarter.
That’s the Big Reveal from latest research on collective intelligence. (And yes, it’s so radical it even makes the researchers uncomfortable.)
History has shown that great innovation happens in groups. But curiously, great groups don’t arise simply by filling the room with talented individuals.
What do you hear about great groups? Not that the members are all really smart but that they listen to each other. They share criticism constructively. They have open minds. They’re not autocratic. And in our study we saw pretty clearly that groups that had smart people dominating the conversation were not very intelligent groups. ~ Anita Woolley
Groups get smarter as the number of women in the group increases.
That’s not a call for more women, fewer men. It’s about saying, we’re better together. Let the ladies be part of it. Jean Brittingham writes for Fast Company that the wicked-big problems we are facing right now on our tender blue planet demand action, innovation, collaboration. The urgency demands sweeping egos aside.
If the research says, groups are smarter when there are more women at the table, then set out some pink napkins and let’s get started.
I’m taking this research out of the think-tanks and into the mountains next week, on assignment for SBC Skier. Heading to Revelstoke with photographer Robin O’Neill, who I haven’t worked with since our summer campaign for Choose Pemberton, and a crew of athletes including Laura Ogden, Izzy Lynch, Tessa Treadway, and Tatum Monod, we’ll put The Girl Effect to the test.
Dave Clark is the organiser behind some of Whistler’s most significant fundraising events – the Balding for Dollars bash, the Dusty BBQ Championships Tasting Series, SWELL and the Whistler Half Marathon.
I interviewed him recently for an article about the sold-out-in-record-time Whistler Half Marathon and we got a little side-tracked. Here’s what I learned about Accidental Awesomeness from our long-and-winding conversation. It all began with a good head-shaving.
1. Do not look askance at a man with a handlebar moustache.
In 2002, I was working at the mountain. I saw a Balding for Dollars event in Squamish and thought, maybe I can get a couple friends on this… I mean, kids with cancer? It’s not what being a child is meant to be about. It’s so intrinsically wrong. So I thought, I’m going to go and shave my head and raise a hundred bucks. I put a note in the employee newsletter, thinking I could rally a few other people to get involved, we could all raise $100. Then Mike Varrin phoned. He said, “I don’t think we’ve ever met before, but I’ve got this bad ass moustache, and I want to shave your head, and anyone else’s, in the bar.”
2. The universe responds to positive juju.
It wasn’t quite what Clark was planning. And it meant having to relinquish a degree of control over the program. But he went with the flow. The Hairfarmers were playing, the bar was packed, and a couple of guys in the corner getting their heads shaved turned into a movement. Guitar Doug and Grateful Greg shaved their decade-old beards. “People were like, ‘Where can I give my money?’ And we raised $6500. And that’s how it all got rolling. The next winter, Dusty’s called and said, ‘Do you want to do this fundraising thing at the BBQ Championships?’”
3. Your weakness is your strength.
Dave Clark’s vulnerability is his family’s battle with Inflammatory Bowel Disease. They could struggle in silence and shame, as many do. Or they could own it, claim it, try and make a difference. In August 2002, Taster passes were sold for the Canadian BBQ Championships, with proceeds benefiting the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of Canada, the organisation Clark believes is best positioned to find a cure for IBD in his lifetime. Last August alone, the sale of taster passes raised $9455. In October, Dave was recognised by the Foundation for his fundraising efforts, which have seen the Whistler Friends raise more than a quarter of a million dollars, and declared an Unsung Hero.
4. Listen up.
The #1 thing, if I had to put a sticky note on my laptop as a reminder of the key learning I’ve taken away from organising events, is to LISTEN. Listen to your partners, volunteers, athletes, the community, and ultimately collaborate with them to make it the best it can possibly be. If you surround yourself by people who are very good at what they do, and passionate, you’ll achieve great things.
5. Passion + People is a winning combination.
I don’t think there’s anything stronger than your own personal convictions, and it’s proven over and over again. And a community of passionate people. Whether that’s two or six people, it just takes more than one person, with a shared passion, and a willingness to do things outside the box, to have the agility to say, hmm, that’s not what I was thinking, but we could chanage up the plan.
There’s no just-add-water formula for greatness. But Dave’s recipe strikes me as a pretty solid formula: take genuine passion, informed by your own vulnerability and hope, and put it out in the world to mix it up amongst good people. Then, don’t be surprised if help comes your way, in shapes and forms that you’re least expecting…
The 10th annual Whistler Balding for Dollars is just around the corner. The GLC’s Ultimate Hair-Farming Apres takes it down to bare skin for the BC Children’s Hospital, Saturday March 24 2012. Over the last decade, $153,000 has been raised by the Whistler event, in support of kids in Vancouver’s oncology wards.
40 days is a good amount of time to grow some hair and garner some pledges… don’t you think?
A few years ago, as a New Year’s resolution, I decided to write one poem a day.
I was inspired by my grandfather, who, at 92, would jot down a few notes every day in his dayplanner about what had happened that day, even though from where anybody else was sitting not much was happening at all.
Still, it was a practice that helped him differentiate one day from the next.
The motivation was cured further over dinner with my partner’s grandmother. In her late 80s, she confessed that she regretted not keeping a journal. “You forget so much,” she said. The days all blur into one, she said, unless you make an effort to identify one true thing that makes today different from yesterday. “They just slip away so quickly.”
And in a way, that’s what the poem-a-day was. A word-Polaroid. A dated snapshot. An attempt to harness the velocity of this life, and if not to actually slow it down, to keep pace.
Some days, some weeks, I was swept up in the current of life and the notebook didn’t float. But I kept returning to it.
This year, I recommitted to the poem-a-day project. I dropped $55 on an A4 Moleksine notebook, so the dated page (and the audaciously expensive paper) would hold me accountable.
Today is December 31, and I close the book. I have written 365 ordinary poems.
I might have to write a thousand, in order to write one truly brilliant one (like strange and shining poets I stumble upon.)
But even if I never manage to write a poem that shines, and even if I never sit down at the age of 80-something and follow the trail of crumbs that leads back through all my days, to this new 2012 notebook, all fresh pages and promise, the exercise has allowed me to look at each day of my life as if there is something brilliant worth plucking out, burnishing down to a handful of words and holding up to the light.