The following was pieced together by Fiona from various conversations with her father, Mike and her grandmother, Glady Westner (nee Badger). Fiona’s grandmother has since passed, but Fiona joyfully recalls the days that she spent with Glady and two of her sons recounting their memories of her late father and brother Don, and the extra twinkle she got in her eye when she spoke of her Dad. She was ever so pleased with each small success and gesture Badger Paddles was making in tribute to the very legacy her father started. And so we continue, in that tradition, below.
Sidney Badger, Fiona’s Great Grandfather
Like many great Canadian stories, this one began overseas.
It all started in England with young love and a girl, Marian, who gave up her claim to her family’s Taylor Safe fortune to marry an artist by the name of Henry Badger. Without the consent of the Taylor family, Marian and Henry were married newlywed Badgers settled into a subdistrict of London by the name of Edmonton. Married life brought them children, one of whom was a son, born in 1893, named Sidney. To make a living for his family, Henry, a talented painter, created frescos on the ceilings of London area churches. Sadly, his work was to be the death of him when one tragic day he became the victim of a horrible accident and fell from a scaffolding in the church where he was working.
Not long before the passing of his father, Sidney (upon the young age of 14) ventured to Canada with his brother Bill. They landed and made their way to Galt (known today as Cambridge, Ontario) where upon arrival they were greeted with signs reading “ENGLISH NEED NOT APPLY” posted by the local businesses. They eventually ventured on to Toronto with hopes for better prospects. Since Sidney had apprenticed as a wood finisher in England, stripping and refinishing the wooden store fronts and doors, he looked for for work where his knowledge lay.
A decade passed before Sidney found and married his true love Jennie McCarter, in Toronto, in the month of June of the year 1920. Settling along the “Lakeshore” in New Toronto, Sidney and Jennie made a home together and filled it with four beautiful children, Dorothy (Doe), Gladys (Glady), Donald (Don) and Gordon (Gord).
At one point in the 20’s, Sidney moved his family to Bathurst Street to be closer to his customers and work with RCA Victor (Radios) and Yollies (Furniture). But they soon moved back the the house that Sidney built at #8 First Street in New Toronto. This was during very hard times, as the Great Depression of the 1930’s was the harsh economic climate of their day, but Sidney was a proud and hard worker with many artistic talents. Thankfully, he was able to feed his family and keep a roof over their heads by working as a “touch-up artist”.
Sidney was a gentle, soft spoken man who carried around his little black box of oil paints and lacquers everywhere he went. He would take this little black box with him on calls for
RCA Victor Radios. As radios were the only means of electronic media available, they were prized possessions for families during this time period. It was Sidney’s job to ensure that these elaborate wooden radio cabinets looked as beautiful as was intended. He would ride the streetcar around Toronto touching up radio cabinet knicks, scratches and the like. He was such an excellent touch up artist that he was offered full time employment with Yollies Furniture in Toronto fixing damaged and marked furniture as needed. He was able to make a living with these talents never having to apply for “Relief” as so many families were forced to turn to government help during the Great Depression. While Badger longed to used his talents and wood refinishing experience to start a wood and furniture refinishing business, World War II put his dreams on hold.
When his son, Don, returned home from his Naval service where he was stationed in Canada for the duration of World War II, it wasn’t long before Sidney and his first son had a business started. The very first Badger & Son wood refinishers shop was located in Parkdale in 1945, in the garage of a family friend. When business became too big for their friend’s space, they moved the business to a new location in New Toronto – just behind the old post office at Seventh Street and Lakeshore Blvd. Unfortunately for them, the premises were located on the second floor of the building which made extra work when moving the furniture in and out of the shop for refinishing. Also, because it had a wooden floor, they were concerned about the fire hazard. A third and final move came not long after and Badger & Son took up residence at the rear of 3513 Lakeshore Blvd. W. for the remainder of its sixty year existence.
Although Badger was a very talented furniture refinisher, he loved painting and the outdoors and so frequently escaped to his cottage, Circle B in Woodland Beach, Ontario on Georgian Bay. It is here that Badger enjoyed his wife Jennie, his children, his grandchildren and the great outdoors. On friday evenings he would have his oldest grandson drive him to the Circle B cottage, always stopping for chicken or a burger at the “Highview Restaurant” on Hwy 9 along the way. This road trip was never made without the raisin pie for desert. It was Badger’s favourite and he soon influenced his oldest grandson to feel the same.
When he wasn’t at the cottage or working at Badger & Son, Sidney could be found in his basement workshop painting outdoor and wildlife scenes with the oils from his little black box. He also loved his cigars. Unfortunately he died in 1964 of complications from Emphysema but not before passing his refinishing knowledge on to his son, Don and leaving a lasting impression of the love of the Canadian wilderness on his family and grandson Mike (Sr.).
Don Badger & Fiona (as a child)
Don Badger was born in 1924 and was the first son and third child of Sidney and Jennie Badger. Soon after, Don and his two older sisters, Doe and Glady, welcomed the youngest member of the Badger family, a brother named Gord.
As they got older, Don and Gord frequently helped their father, Sidney. However, they were still young and carefree and not very interested in the real work of building a family business like their father dreamed. And Don was unsure of what sort of work or life he saw for himself.
However, life got much more serious for the young Don Badger when he and some friends decided to join the Navy together. Like many youth in his day, he wanted to do his part to help win World War II.
Nevertheless, Don may have thought his luck ran out when they were called for duty the very next day. However, as it turned out, Don was not destined to see any real action during the war. He was stationed in Belle Isle, Newfoundland where he was ordered to defend the Canadian Coast. Thankfully he stayed safe during this terrible time period in human history, and returned home to his family at the end of the war.
After returning from Belle Isle, Don was still unsure of what future he saw for himself. That is when his father shared his dream with Don of starting his own wood refinishing business. When Badger & Son was started in 1945, Don quickly took to the wood refinishing trade. He never married or had children but loved to travel to different places with his sisters and his friends. Choosing the life of a bachelor, Don resided within the premises of the Badger & Son Shop, in a small apartment off the back of the office.
Don later retired to Circle B, the beloved family cottage of Woodland Beach on Georgian Bay and spent his golden years traveling with his sisters and friends. They went on numerous adventures together. And while Don loved living at the cottage, he was not an avid outdoorsman like his father or nephew. Although, like his father, he did enjoy fine cigars. Don died late in life of heart failure but not before living a full and happy life filled with many friendships and many travelling adventures.
During his time as the owner and operator, Don picked up where his father left off and continued to teach the trade and fine art of furniture refinishing and hand stripping by passing on his father’s knowledge to his young nephew Mike (Sr.), whom he took on as an apprentice right out of high school.
Mike Westner, Fiona’s father, took over the family business when his uncle Don retired from the trade in 1987. As it turns out, Mike Sr. inherited his Grandfather Sidney’s keen eye for colour and talent as a “touch up artist” as well as his love for the Canadian wilderness. His usual routine as a child was to head to the local woods and fishing pond every chance he was given and adored his Grandfather’s cottage at Woodland Beach. His mother, Glady, remembers that he would be out the door as early as could be with his rod and little tackle box and would come home just in time for supper with dirt from the day’s adventures covering his face and his clothes smelling of fish.
Mike Sr., who began to apprentice with his uncle after high school, soon met a shy young woman named Mhairi (the gaelic spelling for Mary) at the local hardware store on Lakeshore Blvd. W., where her oldest sister and her husband were owners.
Mhairi, as it turns out, was from the Peterborough area and was only there for the summer helping to babysit her niece and nephew while their parents tended to the store. But was love at first sight, or so the story goes, and soon Mike Sr. was travelling to Chemong Lake regularly to spend time with his sweetheart, later spending vacations in Algonquin camping with her and her family. Mhairi came from a camping family and helped to introduce her husband-to-be to the wilderness areas outside of the city, including Algonquin Park.
While it was his Grandfather Sidney that first connected him to fishing and the outdoors, it was Mhairi’s family that connected Mike Sr. to the near north. It wasn’t long before he started canoeing and taking regular trips into Ontario’s backcountry. The next logical step for this young canoeing couple was marriage, and their daughter Fiona joined them the year after.
Mike Sr., still a passionate outdoorsman like his grandfather, lived the life of an avid fisherman and canoeist while keeping the family business in operation for another 3o years. During that time, he also took his family into the backcountry as often as possible, taking trips throughout the Kawarthas and Algonquin, eventually favouring Lake Opeongo where he spent many years exploring the legend of Captain Dennison and his farm. Captured by the Dennison family story, he began to search for the elusive grave in the early 70’s, finding it shortly thereafter. He shared his findings with the Ministry, and after multiple letters and much convincing, they finally agreed to take a look. Years passed and the small metal plaque that mark Captain Dennison’s grave was found by Mike Sr. one year broken in half and buried in the leaves. He feared the plaque would be lost forever. Thus, took it upon himself to create a simple rustic looking wood frame to keep the plaque intact and adhered it to a nearby tree, saving the plaque and making his mark on Opeongo history.
Mike Sr.’s Opeongo story was eventually highlighted by Kevin Callan in his well praised book, Once Around Algonquin. In later years, Mike Sr. ventured further to places like Killarney and Quetico but always held a special place in his heart for Algonquin Park.
Mike Sr.’s only child and daughter, Fiona, also inherited the artistic gene. Mike Sr. encouraged his daughter’s art as well as her love of paddling and the wilderness. So much so, that he provided a space for her at the Shop to paint and, for a few years, Fiona had a small studio at Badger & Son, where she painted Canadian wildlife scenes on canoe paddles, rocks, and other unusual mediums. He also finished Fiona’s paddles for her to sell. In return, and she helped her dad around Badger & Son as needed.
In the spring of 2009, Fiona and her husband, decided to bring paddles back to Badger & Son using Sidney’s finishing methods by developing a new series of solid wood canoe paddles, fittingly named Badger Paddles. It was at this time that, in order to easily differentiate between Mike Sr. (Fiona’s Dad) and Mike (Fiona’s husband), we began to affectionally refer to Mike Sr. as “Poppa Badger”.
Although he did not carry the Badger surname, Fiona’s father maintained the business as Badger & Son in honour of his grandfather and uncle until 2010, when he retired to a life of fishing and closed the doors of the Shop forever.
Mike Sr. has undoubtedly made his family proud with his high level of expertise with wood and knowledge of this old and disappearing profession, as he still used the same stripping method that his grandfather and founder of Badger & Son used until the end. Everything was stripped by hand. No dip tanks. The hand method Badger & Son always used has proven to be much easier on the glue joints of the furniture and was especially recommended for delicate or fine antiques.
Thankfully Mike Sr. still teaches his craft of wood finishing/furniture refinishing through the Continuing Education program with the Toronto District School Board where it has become a very popular and cherished class by his students. Teaching them the skills and methods that he inherited from his grandfather, Sidney’s Badger’s legacy continues to live in many different ways.
Mike Sr. has been featured for his expertise in the local papers a few times over the years, but he says his own personal recognition of success is just being able to admire the beauty of the wood brought back to life after refinishing it. Each piece is a source of pride. Still, to this day. Nothing matches the depth and beauty of wood, especially when finished the old fashioned way.
And so the old traditions continue…
SPECIAL THANKS TO GLADY WESTNER AND MIKE WESTNER (POPPA BADGER) FOR PROVIDING US WITH THE MANY DETAILS FOR THIS TRIP DOWN BADGER’S MEMORY LANE.