Local Business

A Time-Honored Trade

Local leather shop stays true to their trade while still keeping up with the changing times…

It’s popular these days to use the word “terroir” to denote the influence of place on the character of wine, prostate
coffee or food (the word originally meant ‘soil’ in French). But after spending some time with up-and-coming Comox Valley musician Luke Blu Guthrie, look I’m starting to think that “terroir” can apply to culture as well.

I met with Guthrie, a songwriter, singer and guitar-player, in the cozily hip Cumberland hangout Tarbells. We were joined by his band members Jenn Forsland (back-up vocals and auxiliary percussion) and Jack Roland (fiddle) for an unhurried conversation about their new CD, their musical influences and ambitions, and why they think the Comox Valley is a great place to be a musician.

In person, Guthrie has an unassuming charm and a friendly, laid back manner. He leans back comfortably in his chair, pauses before speaking, and answers questions simply, with occasional flashes of a mischievous humour. Forsland, on the other hand, speaks quickly and with impressive eloquence. I’m not surprised to hear she is a teacher (music at Courtenay Elementary); I have no problem imagining her commanding a classroom with her articulate energy. Roland seems to be the quiet one, which may be because he has a heaping plate of delicious Tarbell’s food in front of him. He speaks up when there’s a good story to tell or a funny line to add.

Guthrie says much of what he does is influenced by his home. He grew up at The Hermitage, a unique collaborative back-to-the-land project in Merville, which provided him with what he calls “a simple, rural lifestyle surrounded by a cast of eccentric and colorful characters.” This upbringing has influenced both his music and his personal journey in multiple ways.

“I feel very connected to a simple rural existence. I like to keep things pretty simple and honest. This kind of naturally feeds into my interest in roots music,” he says.

That doesn’t mean that his musical horizons are narrow, however. On the contrary, his influences range widely through place and time. He describes his style as a “fusion of folk, funk, dark country, rock ‘n’ roll, soul, blues and swing.” His interest in many of these genres dates back to his childhood.

“Lucky for me, I was exposed to lots of eclectic and old music when I was a kid, like folk and jazz tunes, a lot of old spirituals, prison songs, things like that going right back to the 20s and 30s. And I remember discovering Bob Marley when I was about seven. I wore that old tape to the bone.” And then there was the other Bob—Dylan—who has been a life-long influence.

“Also, my name comes from a family of slaves in Ohio and looking into my own roots led me to get really interested in the music and of the Southern States. And since then I’ve been introduced to many other styles that I love but still, what moves me most is the raw emotions of those early songs,” he says.

When I ask Guthrie about his training, his answer is all about place—literally, the streets of his hometown: “I learned a lot of what I know from busking. I’ve spent quite a bit of time out on 5th Street. There’s really no substitute for busking. When you’re out there, it’s a great opportunity to develop the skill to draw someone in,” he says, and adds with a laugh, “… and convince them to fork over their cash.”

Apparently the “school of street’ has worked well. Guthrie, now 26, has been performing solo and with other musicians for about 10 years, and since forming his band about seven months ago, his star has been steadily rising, as evidenced by their busy schedule.

“We just got back from Victoria, we’re on the Sunshine Coast next week, Gabriola soon, Nanaimo, and locally we’ve got a gig coming up at Joe’s Garage. We’re playing at the opening Farmers’ Market and then there’s going to be a CD launch in May at the Waverly,” he says. “As well, we do pretty regular bar gigs at places like the Griffin and the Mex.”

Part of what’s energizing Guthrie these days is his band. Although he is the songwriter and front-man, Guthrie says the group works in a truly collaborative way, bringing together diverse backgrounds into a creative partnership that is personally fun and creatively fertile for all three.
Forsland agrees: “In a relatively short period these lovely people have endeared themselves to me,” she says. “We have developed a really deep and genuine respect and trust. The vibe we feel together is just great. And this really comes across on stage.

“One of the most gratifying things when we play on stage is the audience’s response,” Forsland adds. People come up to us afterwards and say, ‘The energy you share is very unique and very special; it’s almost tangible.’ “

Roland succinctly adds his take on this: “They can feel that we’re having lots of fun; they can feel the love between us.”

Forsland is a seasoned musician, but playing with Guthrie is a marked departure from anything she’s done before. Her training was very classical in focus, very much about music theory and reading notes, she says. She has a degree in music and education from the University of Victoria.
“I was introduced to jazz in high school and it blew my mind totally, taking me 180 degrees from where I’d been,” says Forsland.

For the past 15 years, Forsland has been performing in classical and jazz genres, and currently fronts the Jenn Forsland Group, a six-member band that performs jazz and light pop.

“I love working with Luke because this is totally new for me. I’d hardly ever listened to roots, blues, old country or bluegrass, so this is really stretching me as a vocalist. I love learning how to morph my voice to match what Luke envisions. And it’s also a whole new situation to not be the leader. I’m used to standing in front of choirs and being the one with the artistic vision. Now I’m surrendering to Luke and Jack. I love it!”
Roland’s background is equally steeped in music, but in a completely different way. He grew up moving back and forth between Salt Spring Island and the Comox Valley. “These are two pretty amazing places. I’ve been pretty lucky,” he says.

Roland comes from a musical family. He can’t even remember when he first started playing an instrument, but he does remember joining his first band.

“My dad played in a bluegrass band and a kind of R&B band. One day my dad said his band needed a fiddle player. I said I’d play,” he explains. He was eight years old.

Roland has spent his life immersed in music. This included classical training for six years and a summer with CYMC, which he loved. He’s also done a lot traveling—in Europe, North Africa, and the United Kingdom—which opened up some really fun musical doors for him.

“I hooked up with musicians everywhere I went. I jammed, I toured and I played with a lot of strange ensembles,” he says with a big grin. And like Guthrie, he did a lot of busking, not just for fun but as a means of survival.

“I’d wake up on the street, early in the morning,” he recounts with a happy grin. “It would be early morning; there was no one out there, but I’d start playing anyway because I was hungry. A shopkeeper might come out and throw me a piece of bread.

“Busking is one of the best ways to meet people,” he says. “One of my favorite experiences was one day I was busking in Spain and I met this guy who didn’t speak any English. But he taught me a song. Somehow we worked it out with nods and grunts and eyebrow flicks.”

Forsland nods enthusiastically. “Yes! Because music is a universal language. It can connect all of us.”

The connection between these three musicians has given birth to their CD, simply entitled Luke Blu Guthrie (available at Bop City in Courtenay and Seeds Market in Cumberland). The 10 tunes here showcase the trio’s wide range, with a rootsy vibe, funky beats and soulful melodies wrapped around Guthrie’s thoughtful, sometimes humorous lyrics.

“I like to think the CD shows how a real variety of influences and sounds can amalgamate into something really interesting,” says Guthrie.
The CD was made in 30 hours, which gives it the sound of a live session. It includes contributions from Jim Guthrie (no relation to Luke) on stand-up bass and Anela Kahiamoe on electric bass.

“We’re after a certain feel with the CD,” says Guthrie. “It’s cut live so there’s a certain vibe, a certain roughness, an in-the-moment feeling to it. We wanted to deliver something that is indicative of what we offer in a live show.”

Guthrie hopes that the CD will help his band connect with more listeners and get more exposure. Like most musicians, he would like to get bigger gigs and develop a larger following. But at the same time, he is content with where he is now.

“In some ways, my dreams have come true already,” he says. “I’m playing music with some great people and making some money at it. We’re writing some new tunes, and I know we’ll just keep growing. And we got a great camaraderie. That’s super important. Fun is number one ’cause if it ain’t fun, I don’t want to do it.”

Much of Guthrie’s contentment comes from his appreciation of the Comox Valley. He spent some time in Vancouver, lured by the elusive promises of the big city, but he fairly soon realized that the Valley was where he really wanted to be.

“I like the rural life,” he says. “People here seem to recognize that quality of life comes first. And growing up as I did at the Hermitage, I really became aware of the value of community. After living in Vancouver, that’s what brought me back. This is a place where you can know your neighbors, you know where your meat comes from, you stay connected to nature. That’s better than feeling cool ‘cause you live in the big city,” he says with a laugh.

“Plus there’s a vibrant music scene—so many great people to play with, and so many great people that just enjoy getting out to see live music. Every gig we’ve played, people have come out to see us.”

Forsland agrees: “The Valley is so rich in talent, and the community really supports live music and all the arts. Anyway, these days you don’t have to migrate to an urban centre to follow a music career. Everything can be done from here via computer.”

Clearly, Guthrie thrives by staying close to his roots. With a childhood spent tramping the forests and fields of Merville, school years spent at Courtenay Elementary and Vanier, and a craft honed on the not-so-mean streets of Downtown Courtenay, he’s very much a product of the Valley. I’d employ the word “terroir” to describe his musical flavor if only I knew how to use it in a sentence. Instead, I’ll suggest you get out to a local venue to see some truly local music.

For more information on Luke Blu Guthrie, including a list of upcoming gigs, go to: www.lukebluguthrie.com.
Most of us are familiar with the rending emotions we feel when we hear about atrocities taking place around the world.  We are horrified, there
shaken, sickness
depressed.  Sometimes we feel there is no sense going on with our daily lives—surely, ailment
we should drop everything and devote ourselves to helping alleviate all this suffering!

But we generally do carry on as usual, perhaps making a donation or attending a fundraiser, and somehow the disturbance in our hearts eases as the mass media moves on to other topics.

As heartwrenching as it can be, “It’s an honor to be doing this work,” says Linda Weech, at home on Denman Island.

Photo by Boomer Jerritt

Linda Weech, however, is an exception.  Six years ago, when the news came out about the Rwandan genocide spilling over into the Congo, she truly did drop everything and devote herself to reaching out.

Weech had no idea what she would do—she just knew she had to act.  That passionate commitment has evolved into the Children’s International Peace Project (CIPP), founded and run by Weech, aided by a wide circle of supporters.

Taking as its starting point Mahatma Ghandi’s oft-quoted statement, “If we are to have real peace in the world, we must begin with the children,” the CIPP reaches out to the children of Central Africa and Central America, supporting their well-being through expressive arts, multicultural wellness training, and peace and environmental education.

The Children’s International Peace Project has become the driving force for Weech’s life.  An artist and art educator by profession, Weech now channels those skills to her international work.  She spends her days and evenings researching, networking, and developing curricula.  She has travelled to Guatemala, Burundi, Kenya, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where she visits schools, orphanages, refugee camps, rescue centres, and other hotspots of need, sharing, listening and facilitating programs.

So that all this can happen, Weech has simplified her life.  “It truly is chop wood, carry water,” she says.  She has scaled down her paid employment to the bare minimum to make time for her aid work and readily admits that ‘financial stability’ is non-existent in her life.

Weech is not complaining about any of this.  On the contrary, she says she has never felt so alive.  “I’m up at 5:00 am every morning, energized, motivated, tremendously excited about my day.  It’s an honor to be doing this work.”

It is also deeply painful.  “Over-the-top heartwrenching” is how Weech describes the trauma she has witnessed.  An orphanage full of children who all have been accused of “witchcraft,” raped and often tortured.  A four-year-old orphan with bones like sticks who can’t walk due to life-long malnutrition.   Girls as young as eight facing severe health problems—not to mention psycho-emotional trauma—from genital mutilation and early forced marriage.

The work is also over-the-top heart-warming, as Weech gets to meet the “angels on the ground,” as she calls them—the brave and hardworking people who, like her, have dedicated themselves to healing and change.

But it was the wrenching of her heart that moved Weech to action.  Weech had spent two years in the DRC prior to the conflict there, travelling and working in community development.

“I was so moved by the beauty of the people and nature there.  I travelled 350 kilometres by foot for 22 days, seeing remote communities, way out where people didn’t even have a candle or a piece of paper.   It seemed the farther away from a city or town we were, the more people were integrated with nature and each other.  The luminosity in their eyes moved me so much.”

When the civil war started in the mid 2000s she was back home (she lives part-time on Hornby, Denman, and Vancouver Islands), and was profoundly affected by what she was hearing.

“I was literally lying on the floor of the rainforest, wailing and wailing.  I couldn’t stop the tears,” she says.  “I could not understand how this could be happening— 5.6 million people have died in this conflict, and 1,200 die each day, mostly women and children, from preventable causes like malnutrition, diarrhoea and malaria.

“A turning point came for me when a friend warned me that I needed to regulate my emotions or else I was in danger of getting sick.  That galvanized me.”

Weech plunged into research, learning about conditions in the Congo, studying the work of various aid organizations, and learning about people working on the ground in Central Africa.  And she asked herself: What can I do?

The immediate answer to the question came from the many photos Weech had taken during her time in Africa.  These photos documented the spirit and beauty of the people and place which was now being devastated.  Weech produced a set of photographs which she began selling locally.  Naturally, this piqued people’s curiosity and engaged them in the issue.  Friends, family and community members began raising funds in support of Weech’s work.

As a result, Weech sent just over $8,000 to SOS Children’s Villages, a well-respected aid organization.  This was satisfying, but she still felt a strong calling to be involved directly.  She knew that her background in development work and art education could be valuable, but also she felt she needed more, so she went to study multicultural healing techniques with Dr. Patricia Cane.

A group of young Congolese Pygmy refugees in Burundi. “They are known as one of the world’s most peaceful societies,” says Linda Weech, yet “they are now living in desperate situations.”

Photo by Linda Weech

Cane teaches traditional healing techniques from cultures around the world.  She began over 20 years ago to provide people in Central America with tools to care for themselves in the midst of trauma, violence, poverty, and the effects of natural disasters.  The practices are now used in more than 30 countries in North America, Central America, South America, Indonesia, Africa, the Middle East and the Caribbean.

With training under her belt, Weech had a variety of resources to offer, and she had a groundwork of local supporters.  It was time to head out.  But to her own surprise, Africa was not her first destination.  Instead, in 2008, she went to Guatemala.

“It seems like this whole journey has been guided by something beyond me and it works best when I just surrender,” she explains.  She ended up in Guatemala because she saw a photograph of a lake on the internet and somehow knew she needed to go there.  When she stepped onto the plane to Guatemala City she knew she was stepping out into the unknown.

“I had no idea how dangerous it could be to land in Guatemala City at night,” she says.  “Luckily for me, a Maya elder sat beside me on the plane.  It was quite incredible.  Outside the plane the sky was pitch black and she started to ask me questions:  Is anyone meeting you at the airport?  Do you speak Spanish?  Do you know what you’ll be doing in Guatemala?

“I said no but that I was looking for some kind of sign to guide me.  She said well, look out the window.  There was a huge lightening storm out there.  Beyond worrying about our safety—here we were in this piece of metal flying through an electrical storm—I was in awe at the beauty, majesty and power of nature.  I’d never been inside a lightning storm before.  She said that in her culture thunderstorms were considered a very good sign.

“It turned out that this woman teaches Maya cosmology and peace studies all over the world, and she has a centre in the highlands which she invited me to!”  With this auspicious start, the whole trip unfolded almost magically for Weech.  Within days she was taking part in a five-day fire ceremony on the banks of Lake Atitlan, sacred to the Maya—the very lake she’d seen on the internet back home.

Weech shared art, storytelling and healing practices at schools, an orphanage, and refugee centre, and she met many inspiring people working tirelessly to improve conditions and promote social justice.

She also listened and learned.  When she returned home, she brought a camera full of photos, a profound appreciation of Mayan culture, and some wonderful new ideas and resources for her future work.

And more than anything, she brought home a deepened awareness of the need to connect with and love nature, and of how much we have to learn from Indigenous people.

Weech, now relocated to Denman Island, shared the art she brought, created by Guatemalan children, with local children and began moving forward with an idea that had come out of her trip: an Eco-Peace Kit that could be distributed to educators, caregivers and activists all over the world, providing guidelines and tools to work with children.

The kit, which is near completion, includes a cornucopia of resources.  Various sets of laminated cards provide ideas and structure for storytelling and theatre: there are animal cards with simple drawings of bees, anteaters, elephants, and more; values and virtues cards with words such as kindness, humor, faith, respect and service; and a set that Weech calls “Heroes and She-roes.” These cards each contain a few paragraphs and a photo telling the story of someone who stood up against injustice.  The teaching manual that goes with the kit gives many ideas of how to use these resources.

These and other teaching aids come in a colorful cloth satchel, which is hand woven and sewn by Mayan families in Guatemala, thus providing income for these people.

Masai children help plant a sack garden at an orphanage in Kenya. The gardens, designed to work in their drought climate, accommodate up to 70 plants and help feed an entire family, as well as bring in some income.

Photo by Linda Weech

In 2010 Weech travelled to Africa, visiting Kenya, Burundi and the DRC.  She had a list of places and people she hoped to connect with, but little idea of how to find them.  “There are generally no phone numbers or addresses for these places.  The amazing thing is once you get there the doors just opened, as if I was being led to exactly where I was meant to be,” says Weech.  She doesn’t worry too much about logistics of travel and accommodation but instead trusts that things will show up, which they do.

“There have been a lot of guardian angels guiding me,” she says.  One of these angels is Mama Feza, who works with the Congolese Pygmy refugees in Burundi.

“The Pygmies have been recognized by international specialists as the world’s most marginalized indigenous people in this time.  Thirty three per cent of the Pygmy population of Rwanda was murdered in the genocide but we never hear about it.  They were chased out of the rainforest by rebel groups, after living there sustainably for thousands of years, and they are treated like non-people.  They are hungry, persecuted in school, and excluded from health care.  One Pygmy man was killed for sport while I was visiting.  Locals say that raping a Pygmy will cure your backache.”

And yet they have so much wisdom to offer, she says.  “They are known as one of the world’s most peaceful societies, resolving conflict mainly through humor and group consultation.  They know many of the natural medicines in the rainforest and have a profound love and respect for nature.  They are now living in desperate situations.”

Weech vividly remembers visiting a Pygmy refugee camp in Burundi after the Chief had invited her to lead the children through some art-making activities.  He had told her to expect 150 kids; she prepped for 450 but there were even more.  “They surrounded me so eagerly.  We had to snap all the crayons in three so everyone got one, and they were so excited!”

Weech asked the Pygmies what they most needed, and they answered food and education.  So she worked with them to establish a peace garden with nutritional and medicinal plants and trees, as well as a traditional beekeeping project.

The education component is also coming on-stream as Weech recently found a donor to fund a simple schoolhouse.

Weech also connected with the Masai people, another rich ancient culture facing extreme persecution.  Again, she learned that gardening could provide a key means of support, but it had to be adapted to the severe drought climate.  She responded by helping plant sack gardens at an orphanage and school, something she continues to support by spreading information and sending funds.

A sack garden costs next to nothing and can include up to 70 plants, not just helping feed a family but also bringing in some income.  “This is ideal for communities where there is not enough energy—even if there were enough water—for a full-scale garden.  I’m talking about communities devastated by drought, AIDS and famine, where many households are headed by grandmothers or children.”

Weech has also inspired others to take her ideas and materials on their travels.  Although she is undoubtedly the driving force behind the Children’s International Peace Project, her vision, and the way the project is growing, is very much decentralized.

“There are no passengers here on spaceship earth; we are all crew, to quote Buckminster Fuller,” she says with a laugh.   She feels she receives as much, or more, than she gives.

“These children as so amazing, so tuned into their intuition and spirit in ways that we have often forgotten.  Their strength and resilience is so incredibly inspiring.

“I remember Jorge, a street orphan in a Guatemalan village,” she continues.  “His grandma supports the family by making friendship bracelets.  He’s a growing boy, and he never really gets enough food.  One day I managed to give him a muffin.  I have never seen anyone bite into something with such urgency.  You could see he was ravenous.  We were walking along and there was a tiny toddler in the middle of the path with red hair, a sign of malnutrition.  Jorge’s face lit up and he kneeled down in front of the boy with his hands out and offered half the muffin.  The toddler took it, then Jorge wrapped his arms around him and said with great pride, ‘Linda, this is my cousin.’ What a teaching about generosity, connectedness and compassion!”

Another beautiful and moving moment came at a centre for homeless children in Guatemala.  “One evening, I told the kids there a bit about what was going on in the lives of children in the Congo.  The next morning I got up and went outside and all the orphans were there, singing and dancing for the children of Africa.”

Weech is currently home on her trio of Islands, putting together the final touches on the Eco-Peace Kits, sharing her photos and stories, and staying in touch with her increasingly large network of supporters and partners, open to whatever happens next as things unfold in wondrous ways.

She draws strength from the incredible beauty of the natural world around her and the amazing support of the many people who have contributed to her work.  “I want to express my profound gratitude for the love, encouragement and support from family, friends, students and colleagues,” she says.  “The reason I do this work is to bring realization of our oneness.  It’s all about loving and connecting to nature and honoring the connection between all of us.”

For more information, to get involved, or to book Linda to give an audio-visual presentation about her work, go to www.LindaWeech.com or email [email protected].

For more information about Human rights abuses in the Democratic Republic of Congo:

For good sources of global humanitarian news:

For information on child soldiers in the DRC:

For information about the Congolese Pygmies:

For the opportunity to sponsor a child in the DRC:

Once upon a time there was a store known to Valley old-timers as the ‘Eaton’s Block’.  It was situated at Fifth and Duncan in Courtenay.  And then Eaton’s made the corporate decision to depart, ed much to the chagrin of many local shoppers.

But all was not lost. The structure remained and ultimately was transformed into a kind of mini-mall with a number of other businesses moving on-site.

One of the first businesses to take up residence there was Linda’s Leather, information pills
owned by the husband-and-wife team of Marty and Linda Grundy, who have been serving the public in Downtown Courtenay for 29 years, 28 years at their current venue downstairs in the old Eaton’s block.  Joining them in welcoming customers old and new is a friendly Blue Heeler dog named, appropriately enough, Blue.

True to the name of the place, leather is Linda’s stock-in-trade.  Leather in all its facets, incarnations and uses that run the gamut from the military to the movies.  It’s also more than leather as new materials encroach increasingly on a time-honored trade.  For leather working, whether it be for jackets, saddles and other riding tack, and especially shoes and boots, is both an ancient business and also an up-to-the-minute and ever-changing one and it is essential to move with new realities, even if you don’t always like those new realities, says Marty.

“It has changed a lot since we got into the business,” says Marty.  “The sad part is a lot of older people are getting out because of the changes.  We’ve stayed and had to adjust. And I think we’ve adjusted quite well.”

In that, being the only equivalent business from mid-Vancouver Island north, Linda’s is doing just fine, thank-you.  At the same time both are concerned that their craft may be a dying one in the sense that they understand it.

“A lot of older people are getting out, and fewer and fewer young people are getting into the business because of all the changes,” Marty says.  “And, even though the business is called Linda’s Leather, and that was what we dealt with almost exclusively when we started, today plastics and other synthetics are very much part of what we do and to continue with the business we have to get comfortable working with those materials.”

At the same time, environmental concerns are prompting people to avoid their former discard impulse and instead to renew shoes, boots, jackets and so forth that might have been chucked out at an earlier time.  Consequently repairing of items is every much part of Linda’s stock-in-trade.

Returning to the point that younger people aren’t getting into the business—which has been a business benefit to Linda’s but not ideal for the public in some other communities—is the reality that there is virtually no longer any training in old fashioned ‘cobbling’ and other forms of leather work.

“Vancouver Vocational Institute used to have a really good shoe repair program in the old days,” Marty says.  “Unfortunately, that has gone now and nothing else has come in to take its place.

“Except the prisons,” Linda adds.  “A lot of people when I started had an Oakalla (a reference to the former provincial prison in Burnaby, now closed) background.  Even today it’s a popular program in the prisons and it’s a good trade to learn.”

But there is a downside to going into the trade.  It’s a costly business in terms of start-up costs and a costly business in which to remain current in order to meet ever-changing demands.

“Just the machinery for a little mall operation can run you $125,000 to $130,000,” says Marty.

While there is another shoe-repair business in the Comox Valley, the Grundys’ operation is unique.  It’s not just about shoe repair.  That’s only part of the overall picture of the operation.  Years ago they recognized that in order to thrive they had to diversify.

Part of their diversification has resulted in Linda’s getting some nice contracts and return customers over the years, Marty says.  They still retain a contract for jackets and jacket and other leathergoods repairs for Westjet, something that began when that carrier began utilizing the Comox Airport.  Meanwhile, Linda is the saddle and harness specialist in the business—the outlet offers virtually any leather item a rider would want or need.  Where can you specially order leather chaps for your western equestrian endeavors?  At Linda’s.

“It’s ideal for me since I also drive and ride and have for years,” she says.  “But (moving into a more current transportation mode) I also do restoration leather work for cars, including my own because I’m in the process of restoring my own MG.”

Linda also makes a further concession to contemporary specialties with her impressive handcrafted and custom-made motorcycle leathers.  This is a “booming” aspect of their business—leathers for ‘weekend warriors’ but also leathers for racers.  The elaborate suits are specialized, heavy duty to withstand falls and to offset road-rash, and they are costly, running as high as $4,000 for a complete outfit.

“But, if you’re into that sport it’s worth the price if it’s going to save you from serious injury, or even worse,” she says.

Alterations of jackets and other types of leather clothing fall within Linda’s bailiwick.

“People have some beautiful garments they don’t want to let go and often they are surprised at how nicely they can be restored,” she says.  “What I do is remove the stitching, take the entire garment apart, put in new lining that is a better quality than the lining that often comes with jackets and coats, and then put it all back together so it’s not only like new, but actually better than it was when it was new.”

Boot restoration and alteration is also a mainstay, Marty says.  While you can buy new specialized footwear at Linda’s (they are the local agent for Viberg Boots), they also custom-build boots to the customer’s specifications.  For example, they build marching boots that are used in the annual Armed Forces Nijmegen March in the Netherlands, where the boots have to withstand the rigors of marching up to 50 kilometres a day for a period of four days.  Boots created by Linda’s have been quite up to the task, Marty says, which is why participants keep coming back to them.

Another area of specialty for Marty and Linda is orthopedic boots and shoes for those who have either undergone clinical procedures on legs or feet or who are suffering from a disparity of leg length in which a specially fitted shoe must compensate and give comfort to the wearer.

“We work directly with local orthopedic surgeons so that we can custom-make just the right build-up in shoe modifications,” he says.  “The type of footwear created for the patient is going to be vital to not just comfort but can also alleviate stresses on other parts of the body, such as the back.”

The Comox Valley is a significant recreational area and backwoods hiking in the far reaches of Strathcona Park and elsewhere in the hinterland demands high quality boots and supplying of such boots is an important aspect of their trade.

“In some cases the traditional hiking boots are inadequate for the needs of hikers who gravitate towards more extreme trekking,” Marty says.  “So, a lot of them are switching to caulk boots and we can put the caulk spikes on their regular hiking boots.  They’re much safer and largely eliminate the fear of losing your footing.”

Speaking of caulk boots, increased activity in the woods in recent months has meant for Linda’s an increased demand for caulk logging boots.

“Caulk boots have always been an important aspect of what we do,” Marty says. “And it’s good to see that people are again working in the woods and want to get the right boots.”

But, the whole scenario has changed, Marty says with some dismay.  While they are doing a good business there have been huge international trade repercussions within Canada and it doesn’t bode well for the Canadian shoe industry especially.

“Shoes from China are the big issue,” he says.  “We hear a lot of complaints about ill-fitting shoes and boots and that’s because the sizes are different.  People know they take a certain size and then they make a purchase at one of the cut-rate stores and find that the fit isn’t as it should be.  When you go to a cut-rate store be aware that the items is probably manufactured in China.”

As an example of the changed scenario he cites the case of the Montreal firm of HH Brown that formerly manufactured 5,000 pairs of shoes a day.  Recently, however, they went offshore to China and now import their product from China.  Canadians in the industry all lost their jobs as a consequence.

There are other changes as well, though they aren’t entirely negative ones.  The vastly increased use of plastics in the business has wrought a different approach.

“We’ve had to learn to work in plastics rather than just leather,” he says.  “We use a heat activated process with an oven and in a most respects that has been a good thing. In resoling, for example, the bonds are stronger than they were in the old days.  So, we’ve been forced to adjust to the times and we’re constantly changing.”

Then there’s the matter of leather supply and the problems in that realm.

“You literally can’t buy soling leather in North America,” Marty says.  “This is a problem because there are still customers who demand good leather shoes.  The reason you can’t get the soling leather is because we butcher our cows too early so we are left with immature hides.  Consequently, we have to go offshore to get the leather we need.”

But along came showbiz to add a new facet to the operation.

One of the more intriguing business ventures, Marty says, came about when a Hollywood production company was filming the movie The 13th Warrior (based on the Michael Crichton book Eaters of the Dead) in the late 1990s.  The Antonio Banderas-starring Viking flick was filmed in the Campbell River area and the filmmakers wanted somebody to fabricate Norse garb—particularly authentic-appearing boots and riding gear that would have been realistic for the time of Viking conquest.

Linda did her research and came on board.  Not only did the company hand-make the boots used in the film, Linda also turned out saddles and saddlebags with a distinctly 12th century flavor.  Her involvement called for her to be on the set many days—for very long days.

“It was great,” Marty says.  “It was exciting to be around a film that was under production and get a first-hand view of what is involved.  And they always treated us very well.”

An aspect of the business that is very near and dear to Marty’s heart is manufacturing equipment, especially harnesses, for disabled skiing.  At one time Marty worked hand-in-glove with the late Herb Bradley, the guru of disabled skiing in the Comox Valley and throughout the province.

“I taught disabled skiing,” Marty says, “and am one of only nine qualified instructors in the province.  I can honestly say I learned virtually everything I know about it from Herb. In fact, he trained us all.  Due to his enthusiasm it was easy to become passionate about it, and I did.”

Consequently, Linda’s Leather is a mainstay in the harness business for that calling and it is something Marty remains devoted to. He adds that the ski harnesses and the other specialty areas of the operation “represent the kind of diversification that has kept us going all the years we’ve been in business.”

Linda’s Leather is located at 307-5th Street in Downtown Courtenay and can be reached at 250-334-4533.