Many locals may be familiar with Alan Bennett and his 25 years of tapping trees in Saskatchewan to make the unique and ever-popular Assiniboine River Taps maple syrup. As the spring season warms up, Bennett is preparing for the 2021 syrup harvest from his pipeline setup in the bush along the Assiniboine River. However, what may not be common knowledge is the fascinating work that occupies Bennett’s down time during the winter months.
“I don’t watch any T.V.” said Bennett. “I’ve got plenty of projects to keep me busy.”
Bennett lives and works in a studio that many artists would likely envy. Inside the beaten-down and weathered exterior of the Sugar Shack on Kamsack’s Queen Elizabeth Boulevard, is a formidable workspace with cathedral style ceilings adorned with custom laminated trusses.
One area in the open space is undergoing renovation and closed off to the rest of the building, previously known as the Elks Lodge in Kamsack.
“That is my woodworking area,” explained Bennett. “It’s not finished yet, but that plastic works well to keep the dust down.”
Bennett grew up at his family farm in the Kamsack area. He admits that while there are many things he misses about life on the farm, there are also a number of things he doesn’t miss, like the financial hardships that came with the lifestyle.
In transforming the former community hall, Bennett has created a unique resident studio in which he lives and works. Aside from his private suite, the hall hosts stations for beading, wood working, sewing, and his Assiniboine River Taps maple syrup processing.
An avid outdoorsman, Bennett still spends much of his time out in the bush and uses a number of natural elements in his creations. Carpentry skills come in handy for Bennett, serving a number of his creative pursuits.
For his beading work, Bennett has created custom looms and bead organizers to streamline the intricate and time consuming nature of beading by hand.
Using his mitre saw to thinly slice tree branches, Bennett dips the pieces of wood in a sealant, punches a hole, and adds a ring to create a one-of-kind keychain. As a leather crafter, Bennett has made items such as moccasins, bags, belts, and custom clothing items. Porcupine quills are another natural element that Bennett uses in custom jewelry designs.
While some of Bennett’s creations sell locally, the majority of them are sent to members of his retail network on the west coast. Bennett says that tourists visiting the port city of Vancouver are eager to purchase items like his maple wood key chains or beaded giftware to take home as souvenirs that represent Canada.
Although most of his products are shipping across the country, Bennett has big visions when it comes to the Sugar Shack and his studio in Kamsack.
“I would love to make a gift shop in the front,” outlined Bennett. “There could be a place for people to learn how to do beadwork. There could be a storefront. I think it would be great to showcase some of the local artists and put their work up for sale. There is a lot of talent in this area.”