1840 Journal

Meet the artisans, discover their expertise, and share their passion.

Chronicles

The Rich History of Woodworking in Canada

9 Mar 2020

Inheriting a long tradition that dates back to the Middle Ages, Canadian cabinetmakers have mastered century-old techniques in ways that are completely modern. Here’s a look at the craft of cabinetmaking!
 

Carpentry in New France

Even before the arrival of the colonists in the 17th century, the art of wood carving and furniture making already existed amongst the First Nations, especially amongst those peoples that were sedentary. For proof, you need look no further than the magnificent totem poles of the Northwest Coast Indigenous peoples. Archeological evidence shows that totem poles existed before the appearance of Europeans.

When the French founded New France, carpentry was a valuable trade amongst the colonists: in 1666, there were 36 carpenters in the tiny colony! At the time, furniture was made entirely by hand and imitated the French style. It was designed to be useful, sturdy, and functional. Today, we call this the Colonial style.

 

The Arrival of Industrialization

The first furniture factory in the country was founded in 1830 in Berlin (today known as Kitchener), Ontario. Little by little (first in Ontario and then in Quebec and the rest of the country), production industrialized. After World War II, it became automated, quickly placing Canada among the 10 largest furniture manufacturers and exporters in the world. It should be said that the wealth of dense forests throughout the country and the growing desire to create a sustainable economy helped contribute to this!

A Trade That Withstands the Test of Time

A finish carpenter or a cabinetmaker? Finish carpentry is a direct descendant of framing carpentry, or the building of framework and large wooden works. In France in the 14th century, finish carpentry was officially recognized as being distinct from framing carpentry, referring to the work of those who made furniture and the interiors of rooms. A little while later, the term “ébéniste” (the equivalent of a “cabinetmaker” in English) appeared in French, which referred to those craftspeople who worked with ebony, a rare and exotic type of wood. Prized by the bourgeoisie and aristocrats, ebony was only entrusted to the most talented artisans. That why today, the term “ébénistes” in French refers to those who have a talent for creating wonders out of wood!

At Fabrique 1840, the talent of cabinetmakers shows itself in many ways. It’s passed from generation to generation at Springwater Woodcraft, combines contemporary design with Huron-Wendat heritage at Onquata, creates whimsical and colourful toys at Atelier Cheval de Bois, favours clean and eco-friendly production at Coolican & Company, takes advantages of technological advances at Printable Minds, focuses on everyday functionality at Coop Établi, and, lastly, joins the minimalist movement with the lighting objects by La Fabrique Déco.

Four Woodworkers to Discover

Kroft

For Dustin Kroft and his team, every object must be both aesthetically pleasing and practical. “Creating order in the home is a large part of what I do. Everything should be in its place.” That’s why, in the collection offered on Fabrique 1840, he has a soft spot for the six peg hook rail inspired by Shaker style (1820-1860). “Shakers didn’t only use the rail for hanging clothes. They also used it for chairs and other objects. The versatility of this object really spoke to me. It’s directly in line with the type of products that we like creating at Kroft.” As Dustin points out, this rail looks as good in the entryway as it does in the kitchen or the kids’ room. Practical and pretty!

Beau Grain

The designer behind Beau Grain is Guillaume, a cabinetmaker from Sainte-Marcelline-de-Kildare who is committed to making kitchen tools that are inspired by nature. Each of his unique pieces expresses his respect for his material as he constantly seeks out quality and beauty. 

Arbol

Stéphane Dumont has been committed to Arbol (meaning “tree” in Spanish) for over 15 years now. At his studio in Bas-Saint-Laurent, he expresses his passion for cooking through rolling pins, spice grinders, and knife blocks, designed to be used daily for years to come. 

Atelier-D

Whimsical and minimalist, the objects designed by Jonathan Dorthe from Atelier-D demonstrate his former training as an architect. From checkers to dominoes to cribbage, Johnathan redesigns classic games in wood with the help of contemporary techniques like laser cutting and engraving.

Shop the Atelier-D collection
 

In Canada, trades are more alive than ever thanks to the vision and fearlessness of artisans who, at their core, want to build a bridge between tradition and modernity. To highlight our rich heritage, we have also discussed Canadian textiles, the artistic evolution of rugs, and our country's history of ceramics on our blog. They are definitely worth a read!
 

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