Woodcraft is in Dennis Hale's blood. A third-generation woodworker – his grandfather was a carpenter and his father, a forest ranger – Hale had been working in green building and fine carpentry when he stumbled upon a fallen butternut tree. He enlisted art school friend and Nuit Blanche collaborator Mike Sharpe to help mill the wood and "it got us hooked" on creating lasting objects out of wood that would otherwise go to waste, he says. "Typically we're working for clients who have a tree that's died or about to die and we can make them a piece of furniture that will last for generations and continue this relationship that they've had with the tree."
The pair started Storyboard Furniture, a business aimed at creating lasting objects out of "fallen and ill-fated" trees. So when they heard of a Brampton apple orchard slated for removal (the trees are no longer producing and strawberries are to be planted in their place), they saw the huge potential for "societal and cultural storytelling" that connects buyers with their rural neighbours and the reality of urban expansion.
The property belonged to the uncle of their friend Nick Ferri, and he was happy to share – "they have to pay to have them taken out anyway," Hale says. And since the 400 trees are a lot of wood for two to handle, they enlisted woodworking friends and launched a crowd-funding project on the website Indiegogo to bring in funds, with income split among capital costs, artisans and other expenses.
They have harvested the first 20 trees and are already milling the wood, preparing it to be turned into benches, platters, hand-carved spoons, ladles and jewellery, all available for pre-order via the site.
As for the orchard's owner, Hale says, he has retired and moved away from his property – but he'll have a lasting memory of the trees he worked so closely with for so long. "We agreed to make him something really beautiful," Hale says. "The emotion really came to his face and you could see that that would be the most valuable thing."