Making the things ‘we’re proud of’

 

Beneath the Canadian flag is a small store bursting with pride. At Twisted Wood Works in Whitehorse, Yukon, shoppers can choose from an abundance of wooden household items, from bread boxes to children’s toys, that are made by people who face mental or physical challenges. The store on Front Street is run by the city’s Challenge Disability Resource Group.

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The wood used to fill the store is repurposed. Material is rescued from a variety of sources, including old city buildings and barns that have been torn down. Piles of lumber and splintered boards are protected beneath tarps in a fenced-off yard behind the store.

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Derek John Waugh, 44, happily takes an electric screwdriver to a bench he’s been building. Having moved to Whitehorse from Faro when he was 10 years old, Waugh says he decided around nine months ago that it was time to “make some money” and “try something new.” Since then he’s been learning his way around the shop.

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The wooden tables Waugh works at also double as notebooks. Their surfaces are coated in scribbled measurements and daily reminders.

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Waugh says he hopes the skills he’s learned in the wood shop will help him find another carpentry job in the city. Many of his ornaments have been sold in the store, he says, and he’s most proud of a large Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Christmas ornament he sculpted last winter. “It goes in the front yard for people to drive by and see,” he says.

The wood shop walls are lined with handy tools for the builders to use at their convenience.

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Derrick Gibbons, 22, moved from Oshawa, Ont., to Whitehorse four years ago, after his father accepted a job in the city. Shortly after, Gibbons fell victim to a devastating motor vehicle accident, when a large semi-truck collided with his little Pontiac. He spent the next four months in hospital with six broken ribs and other injuries. “My liver was punctured, my lungs both collapsed,” he says. “I had an equivalent of two pop cans worth of blood inside my head that had to be drained.”

Gibbons says the crash has taken its toll on his short-term memory. Three years ago, he stumbled upon his passion for woodworking. He’s learned to make shelving units, cabinets, crates, picnic tables and various other ornaments.

“It feels awesome to know that I’m making a tangible product, and whenever I walk around town I’m constantly looking for stuff that I’ve made on someone’s porch or in a window. It’s probably one of the things I like most about this job,” says Gibbons. He stands beside a recently made ladder-style planter box. It’s one of many he says flew off the store shelves.

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Expertly crafted cars are among the multitude of ornaments kept in the store.

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Tamara Perzan says she’s passionate about all the work and care that goes into the store.

Before becoming the store’s operations manager in 2017, she enrolled with the Challenge Disability Resource Group five years ago, when her health suffered from a traumatic event in her life. After completing the employability skills program, and working various jobs around the city, she soon found herself behind the counter at Twisted Wood Works. “I love my job,” she says. “I knew that it was important for me to try and give back in some way. I want people to be helped the same way I was helped.”

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Perzan peruses the store. She carefully handles the items she says she’s so proud of; many of them she’s painted herself.

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Perzan says she loves “seeing the smiles on the clients’ faces” when they notice their items have been purchased and are no longer in the store. “It’s that sense of self-worth,” she adds.

“We’re here to do things we’re proud of, and (to do) something that the community is going to benefit from.”

 
Adam van der Zwan