After CBC’s Land and Sea profiled him earlier this year, Newfoundland’s Jack Carey (a.k.a. The Snowshoe Man) received so many phone calls he was, one might say, stunned as a caplin. “Have you ever called before?” he asked when we telephoned for this interview. “No? Well then, have I ever called you? No? So, you’re not waiting for snowshoes yet? Then hold on while I get a pen, in case you want to order a pair.”
Although we called just to find out what makes Carey’s snowshoes so special, be advised: better start thinking about ordering his creations for next Christmas. This year, the 69-year-old Newfie’s order list is already “about three miles long.”
WW What got you started in the snowshoe biz?
JC I had one of the first snow machines in my part of the country. I also had two pairs of wooden snowshoes because I thought they looked a little sharper than those I made myself. But when I got on my Ski-Doo with my snowshoes, the back of the snowshoe stuck off the back and broke off. So I went back home to get the other pair, and the same thing happened again. So I decided to make my own – the wooden ones broke too easily.
WW How long did it take to perfect the design?
JC I tried out various materials, but only in my fourth year or so did I finally come across the steel I use. I don’t tell too many people where I get it – it’s a trade secret. I’m the only one who uses this particular material, and it’s the best on the market.
WW What makes your snowshoes unique?
JC A lot of people in northern Newfoundland know how to make snowshoes. People here are very self-sufficient. But I don’t know if they make them as good as mine. Mine are lightweight steel, covered with rubber and laced with poly-propylene twine rather than hide – which stretches when it gets wet. The twine doesn’t shrink and it doesn’t stretch, and the ice won’t freeze to it. Also, it’s not possible to break my snowshoes under normal conditions. You could drive over them with a pickup truck, and they probably wouldn’t break.
WW What’s the difference between traditional handmade snowshoes and manufactured ones?
JC One thing you’ll notice is that the new-fangled aluminum ones have ice cleats on them. If you’re going to climb a mountain, you need ice cleats but you don’t need snowshoes. If the conditions are that extreme, you’ll wreck your snowshoes. The new companies even recommend their snowshoes are best used on a groomed trail – I guess they don’t have much confidence in their product. I’ve heard from about 1,000 people who said, once they stepped off a groomed trail, those new snowshoes didn’t work.
WW So the future bodes well for handmade snowshoes in Newfoundland?
JC Not only in Newfoundland. I have clients from every part of Canada – the NWT and everywhere. It’s like a chain letter. If I sell a pair of snowshoes in a town like, say, Pincher Creek, word gets out and everyone else in town wants them. I get orders from the U.S., too; I’ve sold quite a few in New York. Everyone says it’s so nice to get something made in Canada.
WW How many pairs have you made?
JC I’ve been making them for close to 50 years . . . so, about 12,000. The first year I sold only about 15 or 20. Now I make about 500 per year. If I were a younger man, I could make a big industry out of this.
To order: “People just need to give me their weight and shoe size”: 71 Clarence St., Cornerbrook, Newfoundland, A2H 1L2 (“though I’ve gotten mail addressed simply to ‘The Snowshoe Man in Newfoundland,’ too”); 709-634-6280.