Visitors to Toronto will soon have a unique opportunity to explore the artistry behind an iconic Canadian symbol: the mukluk.
Starting in September, the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto will host the Storyboot School, a non-profit, artisan-run program that will showcase and teach the art of mukluk-making to visitors and Aboriginal youth. The school is a partnership between the TreadRight Foundation for sustainable tourism and Manitobah Mukluks, a Winnipeg-based, Aboriginal-owned retailer of handcrafted mukluks and moccasins.
The idea for the Storyboot School grew out of the Storyboot Project, an initiative started seven years ago by Manitobah Mukluks founder Sean McCormick to help artisans receive fair compensation for their work. The project enables artists to sell their one-of-a-kind items to a wider audience through Manitobah Mukluks' website and keep 100 per cent of the proceeds.
"When we started, we’d see women charge $100 for a pair of moccasins it took them a week to make. That's not sustainable," explains Tara Barnes, Director of Brand Development & PR for Manitobah Mukluks. "The Storyboot Project was a way to help revive an art that was undervalued."
The project caught the attention of the TreadRight Foundation, an initiative created and supported by tour operators like Trafalgar, Contiki and Insight Vacations. The foundation's mission is to foster authentic cross-cultural exchange by supporting small and medium businesses engaged in the tourism industry.
"Helping travellers achieve a greater appreciation for a destination is really important to us," says Shannon Guihan, program director at the TreadRight Foundation. "Mukluks aren't necessarily something a visitor would think of when they're coming to Toronto, but it would be great for them to leave with an impression of the rich history that we have in Canada."
Adds Barnes, "To do ethical travel in Canada you have to walk alongside its indigenous people. This is a way for visitors to make contact with a real life practitioner of a living art rather than just reading about it on a museum wall."
The Storyboot School will employ an artist to host weekly or biweekly demonstrations for tour groups. Barnes says so far interest in the project has been strong, particularly among local First Nations, and she hopes it will inspire a new generation of artists to take up the tradition of mukluk-making.