Culture

SO CANADIAN: New website sells collectors on the accomplishments and eccentricities of the Great White North

This story appears in the Winter edition of Ottawa Magazine. Buy the magazine on newsstands or order your online edition.

Josh Fine can find no definitive list of Canada’s icons — those things that we, as Canadians, can agree are “definitely Canadian.” He and his father, Ray, have set out to rectify the situation, launching the website Canadianicons.ca as an online exhibit that rejoices in, and tells the stories of, Canada’s national treasures. And — bonus — if browsers like what they see, they can purchase a bit of that Canadian cool. By Matt Harrison

Josh Fine and his dad Ray (not shown) created a website for all things "Canadian." Photo by Dwayne Brown.

How did the idea for this online exhibit come about?
For the past 10 years, I’ve been marketing and distributing Canadian items abroad. I realized that people weren’t buying these items just because they’re exceptionally made. They were also buying them because of their history.

You call your website “an online curated exhibit.” What are the criteria you use to determine Canadian icons?
While we seek to represent different geographies and cultures in Canada, there’s nothing definitive. We see it as a kind of living exhibit that we can continue to add to as people approach us with items and a desire to share their stories.

Were there any items that you had difficulty deciding whether to include?
At the start, we had lists of hundreds of items. There were iconic things like the hockey stick, which was not included because it isn’t a Canadian invention although it’s become a symbol of Canada.

What is the most significant icon?
I wouldn’t say any one icon is more or less significant, but I’m personally connected to mukluks, the parka, and the culture of Aboriginal people of Canada. When we speak about defining “what is Canadian,” we’ve got to go back thousands of years before Confederation.

Are there not already places where people can go to see collections of Canadian icons?
There are various lists online, but there was no one site that presented a collection of Canadian icons and rare Canadiana from east to west, north to south.

That’s surprising, since one would expect to find this sort of collection included in, and online at, many of our national museums.
A lot of organizations offer collections, but they often present Canadiana within specific categories. We wanted to promote a diverse mix of icons and give people the opportunity to purchase them.

Unlike most museum shops, however, Canadianicons.ca has a $380,000 Emily Carr painting and a $22,000 Walter Walker canoe for sale. Even the most ardent of Canadiana buffs might not be able to cough up that kind of money.
That’s why, in addition to providing an opportunity for people to purchase rarer Canadiana, we have more affordable icons for sale. Items such as Canada Goose parkas or Manitobah Mukluks.

Has anyone expressed an interest in purchasing the most expensive icons?
Not yet.

Why has the private collector of the Emily Carr painting Metchosin (1935) chosen to sell it through you and not through an auction house, where they’re more likely to obtain a higher price?
The collectors aren’t just out to sell a painting. They wanted to share Carr’s story, and they liked the idea of celebrating her as an icon. The focus is as much on sharing their stories as it is about selling the items.

How often will new items be added?
We add items as we go. Since the launch, we’ve had a few collectors approach us with Canadiana. For example, someone has a collection of historical photographs that we’re considering.

What’s your favourite Canadian story that hasn’t really been told?
I think it’s the stories of the moccasin and the mukluk. When people put on a pair of mukluks, they don’t often appreciate that 1,000 years’ worth of innovation has produced this footwear.

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