Mark Lafontaine is the builder and creative force behind Maskwa Paddle Company in Saskatoon. Traditional wooden paddles bring effective water touring and history together.
It comes as no surprise after meeting Mark Lafontaine that he prefers the pace of hand-paddled watercraft over that of engine-powered boats. His shop is organized around the detail-oriented work of refining raw wood into things like canoes and, most commonly, paddles. Lafontaine owns the Maskwa Paddle Company, the enterprise that fills his Saskatoon garage and most of his spare time. In the contemporary world of madly paced digital communication and its agitating effect on most of us, he impresses with an aura of calm and deliberation. “Maskwa” is Cree for bear, black bear, and seeing the analogies between Lafontaine and his company’s namesake is irresistible.
“I identify with the bear for some reason,” he says without pretension. “It’s an animal I like.”
Lafontaine’s affinity for the old-world craft of paddle making is rooted in seminal experiences as a child. “I’ve always liked the outdoors. I spent most of my childhood summers at my grandparents’ acreage and would spend all day outside. I’d go outside in the morning, someone would call me in for supper, and then I’d go back out.
“I’ve been paddling most of my life, but seriously for the last 15 years,” he says. “I built my first canoe in 2008. I was going on a large expedition paddling from La Ronge to Churchill. There was a boat builder in town who contacted me to see if I wanted to use one of his boats. So he and I built a boat.”
Lafontaine built his first canoe for sale in the winter of 2015. Paddles, though, are the heart of the business. As with many products that show up on box store shelves, the inevitable question is why someone would need to purchase a hand-made version.
The voyageur paddlers of the fur trade hold the answer to that.
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