Appreciating Canada’s roots with The Kettle Boys

Winterlude may be over, but the impressions it left on attendees will persist long after winter ends.

Such is the philosophy behind the Kettle Boys and their own special brand of winter fun. The Kettle Boys, going by the nicknames Tiny, Tubby, Slim, Curly and Shorty, were set up in Confederation Park for Winterlude this year and entertained passersby with their woodsmen aesthetic through rope making, wooden cookie branding and storytelling.

They make maple syrup with 1800s style equipment when they’re not at Winterlude, so part of the attraction for passersby is getting in touch with the past through some of the old tools they have on display. Tom ‘Shorty’ Stephenson, an ex-professional forester, makes hand crafted wooden toys which he makes dance to entertain children who’ve stopped by the Kettle Boys’ fire pit to take a look.

“Most of the kids haven’t been exposed this because they’re used to their thumbs working on those new machines,” Says Stephenson, “but the old toys draw them right in.”


Tom “Shorty” Stephenson and his handmade wooden toys.

Even amidst the record low temperatures of Valentine’s Day weekend, the Kettle Boys had a steady stream of visitors. The fact that there was a fire burning in order to heat up the various brands the Kettle Boys use in order to fashion souvenirs might have helped. “They like the fire and the smoke and the smell. That draws them in” says Stephenson.

Glen ‘Slim’ Ritchie spent 45 years in the financial business and equates the fun he has with the Kettle Boys to having a second childhood.

Canada has a history steeped in forestry and frontiersmanship, so introducing people who can’t easily get exposure to Canada’s roots is part of the joy of being a Kettle Boy. “I think we get the world, people with different heritages who live in Canada now or are just visiting,” says Ritchie about the kinds of people who stop to see the Kettle Boys.


A collection of old tools and toys which The Kettle Boys had on display.

The Kettle Boys have been setting up shop at Winterlude for 15 years, and the interest in the connection they provide to the past doesn’t seem to be slowing down. For Scott “Tiny” McLellan, the repeat customers are a big part of the fun. “If the kids are learning a little bit about some old time things, it’s great. We just enjoy the people,” says McLellan. “We’ve had customers coming back every year. They come back and get a different brand or learn something different, so for us that’s the reward.”