A Safe Place to Land

Safe Harbour program gets local businesses on board to offer respect and equality for all.

From butchers and bakers to candlestick makers, arthritis Cumberland is a village teeming with creative talent.  It may be village of only 3, medical 000 inhabitants, but Cumberland is famed for its wide variety of artisans.

Nicole Partridge of Nicole Partridge Jewelry has been a resident of Cumberland for almost a decade.  Two years ago she decided to turn her jewelry making hobby into a serious business, and since then her beautiful, timeless jewelry has become well known throughout the Valley and even around the world.

Partridge, 33, clearly remembers the first time she sold her jewelry.  She was only 10 years old and it was at a meeting her mother was hosting in their home.  Partridge asked if after the meeting she could set up a table to sell her jewelry creations to her mother’s friends.  Her mom agreed and Partridge set up her display of pieces made from mouldable plastic.  “There were brooches that looked like small pieces of satin bunched up and hardened and also metallic looking geometric shapes—it was in the 80s,” says Partridge.  The response was more than Partridge or her mom expected—she made a cool $100 that night.

“I remember them saying things like ‘These are beautiful—you really made these?’   So I think they quite liked the pieces!”

Partridge tried other creative pursuits as she got older.  She dabbled in painting.  She also studied interior design in college.  However, nothing gave her as much satisfaction as making jewelry.  After her second son was born, she decided that she wanted to try selling her jewelry pieces again.  With the help of her husband, Mark, Nicole created a small studio in a seven-by-twenty-foot walk-in closet that once served as a baby nursery.

In her studio she has a worktable and tools, a computer, and a packing table for packaging online orders.  Though her biggest and most important job is caring for her two sons, Valin, 13, and Emmett, 4, Partridge schedules time to work in her studio.   “I really enjoy making jewelry,” she says.  “It’s my passion.”

Partridge also enjoys living in Cumberland.  “I fell in love with the historic houses and buildings, the crooked alleyways and the mountains surrounding the town,” she says, remembering her first visit.  A few years later when she started looking for a house to buy she looked first in Cumberland—even though she worked in Campbell River at the time.  She knew Cumberland was the place she wanted to call home.   “I love the friendliness of the people, the vibrant colors of the buildings, and the energy of the town is like no other town I’ve been in.”

Though Partridge’s first artistic medium was moldable plastic, she has come a long way from that humble beginning.  Today she uses sterling silver, gold and gemstones to create her pieces, including earrings, necklaces, bracelets and more.

All of her pieces are lead and nickel free.  “Eighty per cent of my jewelry is made from sterling silver that is either recycled or sustainably obtained,” Partridge says.  “I like the process of working with silver.  I like the ability to manipulate the metal and shape it into some other form.  After the piece is hammered and polished it barely resembles the piece of wire it was.”

Though the bulk of her work is in sterling, she is finding herself drawn more toward using 14 carat and 18 carat gold.  “I like working with 14 carat gold.  It feels luxurious and slippery under my fingers.   Maybe that’s because I know how expensive it is and I’m afraid it will slip out of my fingers and through a crack in the floor!”

Partridge explains that gold-filled wire is really a tube of brass with a layer of gold on the outside.  “Gold filled is 50-100,000 times thicker than a layer of gold plating and it won’t flake off.  It will last up to 30 years.”

She is also drawn to gemstones.  “I love the colors of the gemstones and the way the gold or silver enhances the beauty of each unique stone,” she says.  She uses many interesting gemstones, such as black hematite, lapis lazuli, fluorite, green quartz, swiss blue topaz, aqua calcedony, and labradorite, which comes from Paul’s Island in Labrador.

Since her jewelry is handmade, each piece is unique.  In fact, many of her jewelry pieces are limited quantities or one of a kind.  A customer can even commission Partridge to create jewelry according to their descriptions.  “I’ll create special pieces for people who have a general idea of what they’re looking for,” she says.  “In fact, I’m working on a project for someone right now and I think that this morning I finally figured out a way to create what she wants.”

She is inspired by many things when she is looking for ideas for new pieces.  One day she was inspired by the wheels on her son’s toy truck, and another day she was inspired by a stick insect she saw on a nature program.

Fashion can also be an inspiration.  “Sometimes I see an outfit in a magazine and I think, ‘What would I wear with this outfit if I had it?’”

Though she sees inspiration in a variety of things, she admits that since she’s a busy mom of two young boys, her inspiration doesn’t always come at the best time.  “Oftentimes I just have to quickly write my thoughts down on whatever paper I can find.  Sometimes it’s days before I can sit down and try to work out the idea in my studio.”

She is also inspired by eras—especially for her sophisticated freshwater pearl and gem pieces.  “My gemstone and pearl jewelry is inspired by old Hollywood glamor and actresses like Katharine Hepburn, Greta Garbo, Elizabeth Taylor and Joan Crawford.”

Like such iconic Hollywood actresses, Partridge tries to create pieces that are ageless.  “There are a lot of jewelry makers in the Valley, so I need to stick to my unique style,” she says.  “I like to make pieces that the average woman could wear everyday—classic, timeless pieces that won’t go out of style and that a woman won’t get tired of wearing.”

Partridge isn’t hampered by the fact that she lives in and works from a small village, as she has customers from all over the world.  “Surprisingly, the largest portion of my business is from online sales—and many of those sales are from places far from here,” Partridge says.   “I’ve shipped my pieces to Russia, Ireland, Singapore, Italy, the UK and many of the States.”

As the holidays approach, Partridge is gearing up for her busiest season.  “Business is pretty brisk this time of year.  People are becoming very comfortable with online shopping, and it’s a great way to shop for friends and family who live far away.”  In fact, her online sales are such that she spends a lot of time putting orders together and sending them out.  “Sometimes it seems like I’m spending more time at the packing table packaging and sending out orders than I’m spending at my work table creating jewelry!”

The online portion of her business is a success because she has learned how to market herself through the internet and social media.  For some this may not seem like much, but Partridge admits that two years ago she wasn’t even computer literate.   She laughs.  “My husband had to show me how to turn the computer on and off!”

She now manages a Facebook page, a blog and a website.  This includes doing her own photography for the sites.  “The photography can be very challenging,” Partridge says.  “The light has to be just right to get photos that work well on the websites.”    She has also taught herself search engine optimization to get the most from her sites.  “I’ve spent a lot of time on that, but it’s really worth the time in the end.”  For example, she remembers one woman in Ireland who was searching for a very specific necklace.  The woman typed in the particular gem and metal she was looking for and Partridge’s site came up—showing the exact necklace she was hoping to find.

Partridge’s husband and children are very supportive of her business.  “My husband is great.  He encourages me to focus on the business end of things.  It’s easy to spend time just doing the stuff I enjoy, but Mark makes sure I focus on the parts that aren’t as much fun, but are necessary.”

Even her kids help out.  She laughs when she describes how her eldest son will wear her clip on earrings for a few hours to make sure they’re comfortable.

When asked about the future of her business, Partridge says she’d like to see her creations sold at more places in BC and maybe even outside of the province.  She’d also like to spend more time on her business, though she knows her time now is best spent raising her young family.  “I only work 20 hours a week right now, but hopefully, in a few years I’ll be able to make it a full time venture.”   In the meantime, she will continue to create unique jewelry that brings more bling to our Valley… and beyond.

Locally, Partridge’s jewelry can be found at Cody and Company, Be Clothing, South Hollow Gallery, and the Kingfisher Resort.

For more information visit or find her on Facebook at

All staff of a business with the Safe Harbour designation “must be aware and will be prepared to do anything they can to create a more welcoming facility, view
” says Kathie Landry, anorexia
local community organizer of the program, this
downtown outside of Laughing Oyster Books, one of many local Safe Harbours.

Photo by Boomer Jerritt

In the eyes of the law, all Canadians are not only equal in terms of legal rights, the implication is that they are entitled to be treated equally.

Rights aside, however, only the naïve would believe that we all, in our diversity, are always treated equally.

And it is to address that dichotomy of treatment that the Safe Harbour: Respect for All was created to address.  We might think equal treatment for all is not only a reflection of human decency; it would seem to make sound business sense.  And obviously it does.

“In a nutshell, Safe Harbour is designed to raise awareness that diverse people could benefit from customized service,” says Kathie Landry, community organizer of the program through Creative Employment Access Society in Courtenay.

Started in Nanaimo in 2004, the Safe Harbour program is not only to be found in the Comox Valley (since 2008) but has spread nationally to Alberta, Manitoba and Newfoundland, with more than 1,000 Safe Harbor certified locations throughout the country.

Is there a need for such a program in our community? Landry says that while the Comox Valley is indeed a tolerant and accepting community for the most part, there have been incidents that indicate that it is not paradise for ‘all’, even in this community.

“Although the Comox Valley is a friendly and welcoming community we also know we’ve had incidents of bullying in which scapegoats have been treated badly,” she says.  “If you’re from a marginal group you’re aware of that reality.”

Those in the majority have probably never noticed any lack of fairness because they haven’t been impacted by it. But, witness the realities faced by another group.

According to Statistics Canada, some 36 per cent of our visible minorities have experienced unfair treatment or discrimination due to their ethnicity, race, skin color, language or religion.  Indeed, Landry takes it a step further and notes there have been, for example, moments of unpleasantness experienced in this community due to an individual’s lifestyle choices, sexuality, or such esoterica as piercings or hair coloration.

Specifically to the point, what a Safe Harbour designation for a business means is that the business in question has signed onto three criteria. The first one is that the business designated as a Safe Harbour offers equitable service to all people, and equitable accommodation to all people.

“This essentially says that any complaint would be taken seriously,” Landry says.  “In that sense a low-income person, in the eyes of a Safe Harbor business, is no different from any other.  All concerns are valid and any discriminating remarks will not be ignored by the management. In other words, it’s the same due process for all.”

The Safe Harbour decal.

Photo by Boomer Jerritt

To qualify for a Safe Harbour designation, staff and management of the applying business must take a three-hour workshop designed to help people recognize we all have biases, says Landry.  And our behaviors are affected by our biases.

“The workshop helps us to recognize our triggers and provides us with some skills to give the sort of service that everybody deserves,” she says. “It’s an ‘awareness raising’, if you will.  What we’re trying to achieve is awareness so that businesses will respond to an individual who is different in some way with kindness, patience and respect.”

While the first commitment in receiving a Safe Harbour designation is for a business or service to provide equitable service to all people, the second commitment (of three) calls for the provision of an immediate safe place, a haven, for somebody who has been threatened on the streets. It’s a response to an immediate crisis.

“The business will then assist the victim in finding the help he or she needs, whether it’s the police or possibly even medical attention,” Landry says.

The third criterion is that all employees of a business are prepared to follow the mandate of Safe Harbor.  “All staff must be aware and will be prepared to do anything they can to create a more welcoming facility,” Landry says.

Upon completion of the workshop, participants receive the Safe Harbor: Respect for All window decal, a certificate and promotional materials to display as visible markers of their commitments to respect for all newcomers to the country and to this community, as well as Aboriginal people, youth, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities and other diverse groups. Those falling into one or more of those categories can rely on Safe Harbor as a symbol of trust in their neighborhoods.

Those seeking a Safe Harbor designation do not need to look too far in the Comox Valley.  Some 55 locations bear the logo, including the Comox Valley Airport, the Lewis Centre, North Island College, the Cumberland, Hornby Island and Bowser Credit Unions, Laughing Oyster Books, Zocalo Café, House of Color, and Safeway, which provides a haven from the elements for the homeless in times of bad weather. Also sporting the Safe Harbour designation are assorted social service locales, 12 schools and the school board office for District 71.

Businesses and organizations seeking more information on the program or wanting to arrange for involvement in the workshop, please contact Kathie Landry with Creative Employment Access Society at 250-334-3119 or visit