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Niagara Falls
Saturday, September 30, 2023
Father and daughter spotlight smithing at NOTL Museum
Ten-year-old Evelyn Blythin shares what she knows about blacksmithing with Dave and Emily Conrad who are visiting from Maryland. EVAN LOREE
Debbie Fabi, a rug hooking instructor, works on a wool rug which she says will probably be done by Christmas. EVAN LOREE
Barb Cole and Victor Packard present a collection of antique rifles at the Past is Present Heritage Festival. EVAN LOREE
Chef Dmitri Zakharchenko carves up the spit roast pig for the museum's visitors. EVAN LOREE
Neil Blythin, left, and daughter Evelyn teach people about the trade and history of blacksmithing at the heritage festival put on by the Niagara-on-the-Lake museum. EVAN LOREE

A dad-and-daughter duo is keeping the fire going for an ancient and artistic trade.

Neil Blythin and his 10-year-old daughter Evelyn were at the Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum on Monday with a display of hooks, hinges and other tools traditionally forged by blacksmiths, teaching museumgoers about the world of this historic practice.

They were there for the annual Past is Present Heritage Festival, one of the museum’s busiest days of the year.

Blythin said there’s something about the “permanence” of blacksmithing that has him coming back to the forge.

He said when he stamps his name into a piece of metal, it’s there to stay for his kids and grandkids to see years later. 

An electrician by day, Blythin works as a blacksmith in his downtime and has begun to share his historic craft with the next generation.

Evelyn said her dad taught her to make a hook so she’d have something to hang her new hat on.

Her favourite part of blacksmithing is how the heat of the fire pit makes the metal soft like clay.

This property is what makes metal reusable, Blythin said.

One tool he had on display, a 120-year-old hacksaw frame, was once a file. 

When the metal could no longer be used as a file, it was turned into something new he said.

With blacksmithing, “nothing goes to waste,” and old pieces can always be reworked to create something new, Blythin said.

Elsewhere inside the museum, three members of the St. Catharines Rug Hooking Guild were making wool rugs.

“It’s like painting with wool,” said Debbie Fabi, a rug hooker from Welland.

She and the other crafters use hooks to pull loops of wool yarn through a fabric mat, often made of burlap.

Each loop of yarn forms a small part of a larger picture, which slowly becomes visible as the rug gets closer to completion. 

Outside on the sidewalk, antique gun collector Victor Packard was showing off a few of his collection’s historic rifles.

As people stopped by his table to view the weapons, he explained how each was operated and how old each gun was.

The oldest model in his collection was part of a line of rifles first used in about 1450.

Packard said the model was used right up until 1700, but he wasn’t sure exactly how old his rifle was. 

The gun in question, called a match lock model, was loaded from the top of the barrel and used a burning rope to light the gunpowder inside.

“The history of firearms is just a fascinating subject for me,” Packard said.

Sarah Kauffman, the museum’s managing director, said the heritage festival is a good opportunity for visitors to enjoy the museum grounds free of charge.

Unlike some of their fundraising events, the heritage festival raises very little for the museum.

For Kauffman, it’s “all about the community.” 

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