What defines a Cowichan Changemaker?
Our Changemakers are the activators, connectors and innovators within the Cowichan Valley. Whether working in business or volunteering for community organizations, they are the builders and collaborators who embody new ways of doing things. Changemakers see the potential that others miss and they connect the dots between people and ideas. Join us in celebrating and learning about the people who are shaping the future of the Cowichan Region.
Merridale Cidery & Distillery
Embracing their passions and traditions to become a tourist destination
Imagine walking with your children through an apple filled orchard on a warm summer’s afternoon. The children are wide eyed, on the lookout for the next set of fairies as many have been known to hide among these very apple trees. You wind yourself around the back of the property and then your residence for the evening comes into view. A picture perfect yurt, with every comfort you could imagine included. A family stay at Merridale yurts isn’t an adventure, but rather a place to stop, breathe, cuddle, talk, think, reflect, and reconnect.
Merridale is a 20 acre boutique farm set in the beautiful Cobble Hill region of the Cowichan Valley. Located a 17 minute rural drive out of Duncan, this destination cidery and distillery is the perfect place to stop for lunch and to stay for the evening when you’re in the Cowichan region.”
Merridale is a major employer within the region’s agri-tourism sector, and over the past two decades, the Merridale brand has helped to cultivate significant media and marketing attention for the Cowichan region. Through her volunteer role as President of the Tourism Cowichan Society, Janet Docherty has also blazed a path for new industry involvement and commitment within Cowichan’s tourism sector. Through her leadership of TCS, she’s bolstered the destination marketing reach of the organization by championing the adoption of the MRDT program and leveraging significant new marketing resources for Cowichan through Destination BC. These achievements are a testament to Janet’s industry savy and her respected place within BC’s tourism sector.
Riot Brewing Co
Brewing the Cowichan Dream
It takes passion and skill to start a craft brewing operation – and in Chemainus, they’re having a riot building a new marketplace for homegrown ale.
Former Vancouverite Aly Tomlin, one of the first female brewers in the industry, and long-time friend Ralf Rosenke decided in 2010 to take the leap and chase their dream of starting their own brewing company. After overcoming multiple obstacles and acquiring a new business partner, Morgan Moreira, everything came together for the grand opening of Riot Brewery Co in Chemainus in November 2016.
In just under two years, the brewery has built a reputation both locally and internationally. Most recently, Riot Brewing earned a gold and a bronze in the 2018 World Beer Cup making them the only Canadian business to receive two awards in this competition.
Aly, Ralf and Morgan never started the business for monetary gain or recognition. Their goals are built around customer service, providing a good product and becoming part of the community.
“Integrity, staying true to ourselves and community involvement have always been the most important thing to us” explains Ralf.
Riot Brewery hosts a number of ongoing community events, sits on the board of various community groups and continually looks for new opportunities to collaborate. They believe their success should be shared and celebrated with the local community.
Victory Barber & Brand North
Cutting the boundaries between business and community
Forward-thinking entrepreneur and barber, Ian Smith, was commuting daily to the Victoria Victory Barber & Brand from his hometown in the Cowichan. He had a vision to bring his passion closer to home and on June 15, 2017, this became a reality when he opened his own location in downtown Duncan.
The store offers typical shaves and barber-styled haircuts for both men and women alike. However, what sets them apart from other barber shops is their trendy yet authentic atmosphere, quality and stylish product line and full service coffee bar. The coffee bar proudly serves local Drumroaster coffee and was Ian’s personal touch to the business model.
Since opening, the store has been thriving with a consistent flow of customer’s far exceeding Ian’s initial expectations. The pool table, unique vibe and friendly staff make the shop a perfect venue for events and this has transformed the store from a typical barber shop to a vibrant hub for community gathering.
Ian makes a continuing effort to give back to community by participating in local charity work and co-hosting events with Riot Brewing Co in Chemainus. His success and innovative business model have not gone unnoticed. He is a recent recipient of the 2018 Black Tie Young Entrepreneur Award, which was ironically awarded to his Grandpa for his local business 40 years ago.
Merging fashion and function to become a destination
Jean Cardno, originally from New Zealand, made her way to the Cowichan Valley nearly two decades ago. Jean saw an opportunity to apply her expertise in the fashion industry to build a destination shoe store in the heart of downtown Duncan. Cardino’s Shoes takes customer service to the next level by providing visitors with a truly unique shoe experience. Jean and her staff take the time to understand the people living in Cowichan and this passion for connecting with customers is reflected in the store’s inventory.
Cardino’s offers internationally renowned styles that are exciting yet practical, which resonates with local customers. Jean’s background in nursing also allows her to provide an educational component to her business. She teaches customers about alignment and the relationship between footwear and overall health.
Cardino’s Shoes continues to attract visitors from across Canada, contributing to a vibrant downtown. Jean actively engages with new opportunities to support the development of a vibrant retail community because she understands that successful businesses can profoundly shape our perception of the region. Cardino’s Shoes, like other well-loved retail outlets in Cowichan, is a community gathering place and a place where new ideas gain a foothold.
Libre Naturals & Purica
Partnering to build brand synergy
Cowichan’s Libre Naturals is an international success story. Its founder, Alana Elliott, who started out creating allergen-free granola bars that her kids could eat, is now one of the world’s most sought-after food allergy experts and owner of one of the only large-scale allergen-free manufacturing facilities in North America. Purica, a family-owned nutraceutical business, creates supplements and wellness products sold across Canada. Now these two have created a product that unites their strengths and will create mutual benefits such as cross-marketing, expanded distribution and increased recognition for each other’s brands.
Taking skill and pride to new levels
Promac Manufacturing has had roots in Cowichan for over 40 years, building parts that are sold across North America. New owner Gary Powers, a highly successful entrepreneur, is ready to build on the company’s achievement and expand its capabilities to reach even more markets. Promac is renowned for its technical knowledge, fabricating capabilities and customer service – in other words, for the exceptional standards that all its employees maintain. Cowichan is the perfect place for Promac: its central location is ideal for servicing local forestry businesses, and its affordability and lifestyle help attract the 60 highly skilled employees that are the company’s greatest asset.
South Shore Cabinetry
Choosing Cowichan to grow business
Roy Sandsmark is so confident of the growth of his business in Lake Cowichan that he is expanding his warehouse to five times its current size. He came to Cowichan to retire, but instead started up a high-end cabinetry company, quickly becoming so busy that he opened a showroom in Victoria as well. However, he has realized that Cowichan, not Victoria, is the place to expand. The growth in the region’s cities and towns has created exceptional demand, and the central location makes it easy to ship up and down the Island. Add in Cowichan’s affordability and lifestyle, and you’ve got the perfect mix.
Victor Vesely and Margit Nellemann | Westholme Tea Farm
Defying the odds and growing a dream
When Victor and Margit planted their first tea plants on their Cowichan farm in 2010, they were taking a risk and following a dream. As it turns out, they were also on their way to becoming an integral part of the Cowichan slow food movement. As their tea plants have matured, thousands of visitors have made their way to the farm to buy artisanal blends, sip tea from Margit’s hand-built pottery and take a look at the plants that, according to all the experts, shouldn’t be surviving here.
Raising tea takes a true farmer’s patience, since the leaves take a full five years to reach maturity. In 2016, Victor finally created the farm’s very first all-Canadian tea blends. Foodies across the country have been charmed by this crazy dream, and by the two passionate entrepreneurs who are making it a reality.
Dora Wilson, Thulamiye’ | Cowichan Knitter
Keeping a traditional craft thriving
When Cowichan Tribes elder Dora Wilson was taught to knit by her mother, there was more to the lesson than stitches and needles: she learned to take pride in her work and to promote Cowichan sweaters as an important part of her culture. Today, more than 60 years after selling her first piece, she is fiercely protective of the art’s traditional methods, colours and patterns, teaching them to her own children and grandchildren.
As well as being a highly respected craftsperson, Dora spent 27 years as an elected representative on the Cowichan Tribes Council, has a degree in social work and once travelled to Japan to demonstrate the art of traditional Cowichan knitting. Now in her 70s, she has an Etsy store, a blog and a Facebook page so well connected that a video got 5,200 views. Thanks to her dedication and her savvy, the art of Cowichan knitting continues to flourish in the 21st century.
Ladysmith Maritime Society
Creating a hub for maritime life past and present
The Ladysmith Maritime Society is dedicated to restoring and preserving heritage vessels, hosting an annual Maritime Festival and educating visitors and residents about the city’s rich maritime history. Perhaps its most impressive contribution to the region has been the enhancement and upgrading of Ladysmith’s public marina, which has become an important attraction for locals and tourists alike.
Over the years, not only have the docks been repaired and expanded, but a picnic area, Welcome Centre and award-winning floating museum have been created, along with a display of restored wooden boats. The Harbour Heritage Centre, just down the road, tells the story of the area and its maritime history. And in all its work, the Ladysmith Maritime Society has been focused on the needs of the community: their volunteers built a special-purpose dock for the local disabled sailing program and have created a successful nesting site on the dock for the region’s endangered Western Purple Martins.
Judy Stafford | Cowichan Green Community
Bringing people back to the land
Vancouver-born Judy Stafford followed many paths before finding the job that, as she says, aligns with her passions. As Executive Director of Cowichan Green Community Society (CGC), she works with like-minded individuals and organizations focusing on topics such as environmental sustainability, social innovation and food security. Most importantly, she builds networks, connecting people, projects and communities with the land that sustains them.
Since 2004, CGC has initiated an incredible array of programs aimed at bringing people closer to the land, sharing knowledge between generations and increasing the region’s food security and diversity. Successful projects include an incubator seed farm, the FruitSave program, jobs training, forage gardens and an online farmers market, all coordinated from CGC’s offices in “The Station,” their green-sensitive facility in the heart of Duncan. This year, Judy has led the expansion of the CGC from being a non-profit society into being a charitable foundation—the next step in its continuing evolution.
Creating a unique wine profile in the valley
Tim Turyk came by his love of the Cowichan Valley naturally – as a child, he summered at nearby Shawnigan Lake, just as his mother, Marjorie Unsworth, had before him. In 2009, ready for a second career, he heard of a small vineyard for sale in the region. He and his wife Colleen took one look at the property and quite literally bought the farm, naming it after Tim’s mother.
In the intervening years, the Turyks and their team have built up the Unsworth brand while embracing sustainable vineyard techniques – planting the right varieties in the right locations in order to create great wine. They have also embraced the region’s culinary movement, operating an award-winning on-site restaurant with its own chef.
Unsworth wines – red, white and rosé – have received recognition and awards in BC and nationally. With more grape varieties ripening in the fields, the future for this thriving business looks very bright indeed.
Cobble Hill Village
Shaping a future together
There’s a new energy cropping up in Cobble Hill Village. A community that has its roots in agriculture is now sowing new ideas about how to promote and enhance the village and connect it with other village centres across South Cowichan. Local merchants have banded together to form the Cobble Hill United Merchants Society, a friendly and collaborative organization that is putting their community on the map by honouring the village’s rural past and embracing new partnerships that will shape the future.
Marston Family / Coast Salish Artists
Melding tradition and innovation
John, Luke and Angela Marston grew up watching their parents, Jane and David Marston, and other accomplished Coast Salish carvers, observing the masters at work, absorbing traditional methods and listening to their people’s legends. John and Luke turned first to carving, while Angela became an expert in weaving cedar bark. As their mastery grew, they each realized the importance of carrying on cultural traditions while making room for the stories of a new generation.
Today, all three of them work in a range of materials, creating highly sought-after pieces that both honour the past and embrace the contemporary. Each of them uses traditional processes and tools to create highly personal expressions of their culture. Their work is represented in galleries, through important commissions and in private collections. Now masters themselves, they are turning toward the young people in their community, ready to support and nurture the next generation of Coast Salish artists.
Jock and Carmen Hildebrand | Shibui Fine Art
Bringing energy and expertise to a new stage of life
Jock and Carmen Hildebrand came to Cowichan from the Okanagan out of love, after falling head over heels for a property they saw on the internet. Far from wanting to retire, they came with the desire to build on their years of experience in the art community and, in Jock’s case, a career as a sculptor which has seen his installations displayed around the world.
As soon as they settled onto their property in Maple Bay, they got to work, making connections in the local arts community, building a bronze foundry and opening the Shibui Gallery, which displays pieces from artists around Cowichan. Carmen is now Executive Director of the Cowichan Valley Arts Council, and Jock is involved in a variety of public art projects. Together, they contribute energy, creativity and business acumen to Cowichan – a place they see not as a bucolic hideaway but as a dynamic hub for artistic expression.
Meg Cuthbert and Dan Pender | Potentially Famous Productions
Coming home to start a business
Dan Pender was born and raised in Cowichan but left to pursue opportunities in audio and video production in Victoria and Vancouver. Eventually, the desire to be near family and to live in a smaller and more affordable community led him to return with his partner Meg, a writer and video journalist. They had dreamed of setting up a recording and video production facility, but hadn’t been able to afford it in the city. Could they make it work in Cowichan? There was only one way to find out.
Their company, Potentially Famous Productions, has been working with local businesses and musicians and is starting to attract clients from outside the region. And while there are challenges to being slightly off the beaten track, Dan and Meg believe they can make it work – for them, being able to live in the place they love is well worth an extra investment in ingenuity, creativity and effort.
Creating exceptional local theatre for 25 years
Chemainus Theatre, like so many artistic endeavours, started small. Their first production was performed on the streets of Chemainus. By 1993, the theatre had created its own home, an award-winning building in the heart of the town. While early days were difficult and required huge commitment and hard work on the part of founders Ken Smith and LaVerne Erikson, the theatre has become one of Cowichan’s premier attractions.
Over the past 25 years, the theatre has presented hundreds of critically acclaimed shows ranging from mysteries to musicals. Its annual Christmas productions have become a family tradition around the region, as have its many musicals. Behind the scenes, hundreds of volunteers put in thousands of hours so that the shows can go on, and the founders continue to be involved as Directors at Large. As an artistic venue, a tourist attraction and a supporter of the arts, the Chemainus Theatre is truly one of the jewels in Cowichan’s crown.
Building an inclusive, dynamic workplace
Gordon Smith, owner of Cowichan Woodworks Limited, is a highly talented artisan and entrepreneur who constantly pushes his limits, reinventing his business and embracing cutting-edge technologies. Thanks to his forward-thinking approach, his company has become renowned for its extraordinary custom millwork and beautiful high-end cabinetry.
In the summer of 2017, Gordon was honoured to receive the inaugural Champion of Inclusion Award from the Cowichan Intercultural Society in recognition of his efforts to bring new workers from across the globe to his Cobble Hill location. “Of course I want to hire workers who are motivated to do well and create a better life for their families,” he says. “But if I can offer them a fresh start and a welcome to life in Canada, then it’s a win-win for everyone.” For Gordon, it’s all part of making his company the best it can be.
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