If you are into the art of blacksmithing and live on Cape Breton, then you probably have had a visit from Grant Haverstock in the past year, encouraging you to join the Cape Breton Blacksmith Association (CBBA). Now the president of the association, Haverstock combed the island high and low last summer, turning up thirty practising blacksmiths, ranging from 14 years to 80 years of age, who have joined with him to form the CBBA.
Before the industrial revolution, blacksmiths were an integral part of the community. Their skill of shaping iron and steel by heating it in a blazing hot forge and striking it into the desired shape, was needed to make everything from tools and hardware to armoury and swords. With the coming of industrialization, these products were manufactured in factories and the role of the blacksmith changed profoundly.
Now-a-days, Haverstock tells me, professional blacksmiths more often produce “functional creative iron work”. This might be a pot rack, fireplace tools, a staircase, or a garden piece. Despite the decline in blacksmithing as a profession, a strong international community of blacksmiths is preserving the tradition and history of the trade. Haverstock reports that the CBBA is already drawing the interest and attention of many blacksmiths from near and far. The CBBA is making plans to host the Canadian National Blacksmithing Conference, CanIRON, in 2013. This is a huge event that draws blacksmiths from all around the world.
Haverstock and his business partner, John MacDonald, have recently established Firehouse Ironworks in the old fire hall in Whycocomagh. The shop is the centre for the CBBA and will also offer workshops and training in blacksmithing in the near future. A row of modern forges lines the shop wall. Haverstock’s already had quite a few inquisitive visitors popping in to check out his facilities. He tells me two such individuals showed up the previous afternoon on their bikes and quizzed him on his fuel choice. “They’ve been on the internet doing their homework,” Haverstock says with a laugh. He’s thrilled to see the local youth show an interest in learning the skill and is excited to begin teaching in the new facility.
I am sure the young lads are not the only ones interested in the art of blacksmithing. I know I was pretty excited to go into the shop and watch the process first hand. Haverstock assures me that the blacksmith community is a warm and welcoming bunch of people, and females ought not be timid to join in. Although you should enjoying smacking things with a hammer!
If you are interested in learning about the blacksmith tradition, you should plan to pop into the Firehouse Ironworks shop on the May long weekend (May 21st and 22nd). The CBBA is hosting a Hammer-In, a long standing blacksmith tradition, which will include public demonstrations and excellent food with blacksmiths from all over the Maritimes in attendance. It is also a fundraising event for the CBBA and they would love to have you come out and show your support. Those interested in workshops or training can contact Haverstock through the CBBA website.