16 Apr Badger Paddles (in the) News
Pandemic Impact – An Update
When the pandemic hit, as a one man and one woman paddle-making business, we were wholly unprepared for the very sudden outsized demand for outdoor recreation gear. Thankfully, for us, our canoe paddles made the list of coveted gear. And while we had already been struggling to meet demand long before, the sudden unprecedented interest in our paddles created a whole new set of problems for us. Suddenly we couldn’t keep up with all the inquiries and continue to fulfill orders in a timely fashion. It was entirely too much for Mike and myself. Yet, as one must in any business, we slogged on.
Fast forward a few (hard) months, and a lockdown or two later, and supply chain issues started becoming a problem far and wide. Along with the infamous toilet paper shortage at the beginning of the pandemic, yokes and other solid wood canoe parts started to become scarce.
Swift Wood Shop & Badger Paddles
Swift Canoe & Kayak suddenly had a big need to fulfil in their canoe manufacturing process. Badger needed to expand as well. An instantaneously profitable top-of-the-line Wood Shop was needed by both Swift and Badger. As a result, in the midst of the pandemic related chaos, a new partnership was born.
With the help of Swift‘s employees and infrastructure, we were able to enlist a few worthy paddle makers to help grow Badger‘s paddle making abilities. It’s a wonderful relationship and one that allows Mike to oversee the Swift Wood Shop operations where Badger paddles, yokes, and other canoe parts are now made.
So Mike still builds Badger paddles, but now has regular help with the sanding, shaping, and oiling. He also personally brands every Badger canoe paddle himself, but only after he gives each individual piece a thorough quality control check – and that includes his own work!
So while the old Badger dusty wood shop (a.k.a. our garage) has moved to a nice new clean shop in Gravenhurst, we still do the vast majority of custom work via our home shop location in Huntsville.
Thus, you can still find Mike and Fiona at the home shop/office in Huntsville. However, you can now also find Mike at Swift Wood Shop location in Gravenhurst (or one of the other Swift Outdoor Centre locations).
It’s an unusual but pragmatic situation to be sure. Which is probably why we made the local news here… twice!
Read the Badger (in the) News articles below or follow the links to the original stories:
Huntsville Doppler: Badger Paddles Builds on Tradition with an Eye to the Future
Hunters Bay Radio:
Note: We have made the articles available below for our historical records as some can links change or break over time.
Swift Wood Shop Craftsmen Dylan B. (left) and Doug D. oiling Badger Canoe Paddles with a rack of finished solid cherry yokes in view.
When it comes to being on the water, there is one vessel that all of us know and many of us love: the canoe. Canoeing is a method of travel, a mode of fun, a physical activity, even an art form. But what makes the experience of canoeing possible? The answer is simple: the paddle. And for a paddle that provides dexterity, precision, and is durable, long-lasting, and uniquely yours, local paddle makers Badger Paddles has you covered.
Badger Paddles, established in 2009 and owned by husband and wife team Mike Ramsay and Fiona Westner-Ramsay, creates hand-crafted solid wood canoe paddles.
Sidney Badger, Westner-Ramsay’s great-grandfather, founded the family wood-working business, Badger & Son in 1945. It was passed down two generations before its retirement in 2010. It’s where Badger Paddles derived its name, keeping tradition alive.
Badger Paddles practices many of the same methods and techniques that Badger & Son used in their business. The paddles are machine cut from a single piece of solid wood such as cherry, sassafras, or walnut, are individually shaped using various sanders, and are then given a hand sanding to ensure a smooth and stable surface. Their preferred finishing method follows tradition: wood oil, applied by hand. They also offer watercolour paddles and laser-engraved or hand-painted customized paddles. At the end of the process, each paddle is a completely unique piece of art, because, as Badger Paddles says “no two paddles are the same”.
In order to know the business, one must understand its past.
“In some ways, our paddle business was a natural progression starting from the very first time Mike and I met,” Westner-Ramsay says.
Both are lifelong outdoor enthusiasts who have been part of the outdoor industry in Ontario for many years. When the couple met, she was an artist who painted wildlife scenes on paddles and he was a recent college graduate working for Swift Canoe & Kayak, endeavours they continued after they married. Their son, Makobe, was diagnosed with autism in 2002, so Westner-Ramsay put her painting on hold to focus on Makobe’s needs. In 2009, Ramsay was approached by an Austrian retailer who expressed an interest in a market for premium solid wood canoe paddles. Along with the support of an Austrian dealer and Swift Canoe & Kayak, the pair were able to create and launch their business in the paddle-making industry.
“The request for premium paddles and Mike’s long-standing desire to create his own paddle-making business, as well as the opportunity for me to work from home while still being able to care for Makobe’s needs, became the catalyst and driving force for the birth of Badger Paddles,” Westner-Ramsay says.
Badger Paddles actively strives to be socially and environmentally responsible. They are the first paddle company to offer a maintenance oil for canoe paddles that is all-natural, made from cold pressed hemp seed oil. They are also the first to offer a reusable cloth paddle sock, an environmentally conscious alternative to the traditional one-use plastic sleeves.
Along with portageur.ca, Badger Paddles co-created the Paddle in the Park contest, a nature-advocacy campaign designed to encourage outdoor activity and appreciation for nature. In 2019, Badger Paddles celebrated their ten year anniversary by creating a special edition paddle in partnership with TreeEra, and planted ten trees for each of the ten special edition paddles that were created. They have also donated paddles to various programs and charity organizations, the most recent being Warrior Adventures Canada and Mike Ranta.
With the arrival of the pandemic, the interest in outdoor recreation increased tremendously. In order to keep up with the higher demand for canoe paddles, Badger Paddles partnered with Swift Canoe & Kayak, who were also in the process of expanding their business. This new partnership has generated increased recognition for Badger Paddles and has been a major stepping stone in their path of exponential growth. Their new shop is located on Hwy 11 at Paddle Shack in Gravenhurst.
“We are excited to see what the future brings,” Westner-Ramsay says. “Our main goal moving forward is to grow Badger to an even more internationally recognized and well-loved brand…and continue to put paddles in the hands of those who truly dig the water.”
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Bill Swift (left) and Mike Ramsay with a rack of Badger canoe paddles and Swift Canoes in view.
It’s a good problem for a business to have: the demand for a product outpacing the supply.
But, trying to keep up with a growing demand means adapting to the situation in the most efficient way possible.
This is exactly what the husband-wife team who owns Badger Paddles faced .. and they recently found the solution in the form of a partnership with Swift Canoe and Kayak.
“It’s just been my husband and myself all these years,” explains Fiona Westner- Ramsay, who owns and operates Badger Paddles with Mike Ramsay. “The demand for our paddles has always been more than we could supply.”
But the pandemic sent the demand skyrocketing and they connected with a long-time associate to better serve their clientele. They approached Bill Swift, owner of Swift Canoe and Kayak, who happily agreed to partner with Fiona and Mike to produce Badger Paddles.
“We’re aiming to meet the demand this year, because it’s been growing tremendously over the years,” says Fiona. She also mentions that Mike has worked with Swift, and the existing relationship has been a good one.
Badger Paddles has a long history in Muskoka – dating back to Fiona’s great grandfather’s wood enishing business, Badger & Son.
They have taken the family techniques and craftsmanship handed down since the 1940’s to create made-to-order premium sold wood canoe paddles. They make traditional canoe paddles from a variety of woods, including cherry, ash, walnut and other specialty selections.
Fiona and Mike started Badger Paddles in 2009, making a commitment to an environmentally conscious approach to their business and products from the outset.
“We believe in treating nature with respect,” she says. “We don’t ship our paddles out in plastic, we use reusable knitted paddle socks. For paddle maintenance, we sell a 100% all-natural hempseed oil, it’s food contact safe, so you can even use it on your cutting boards and in your kitchen.”
They also believe in giving back and encouraging people to spend time in nature, which is why they helped start the annual Paddle in the Park contest – combining the thrill of being in nature with attempting to end both points and actual paddles hidden in parks across the province.
According to the contest organizers, research has shown that contact with the natural world, ranging from better sleep, sharper cognitive skills, disease- resistance, improved self-esteem and relationships, as well as the desire to help protect our parks and wild places.
As Fiona notes: “The Paddle in the Park contest brings awareness to all the scientiecally proven reasons to be out in nature.”
Learn more about Fiona and Mike at https://badgerpaddles.com/
By Chris Occhiuzzi, for HuntersBayRadio.com
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