Blacksmithing always brings to mind a certain era. Ages of old when Black Creek Pioneer Village may have been a bustling downtown core, when horses were hondas, and dragons were the stuff of legends.
Back then, it would have been rare to see a female blacksmith, but today, Leaside’s blacksmith Tom Mourgas says women are the way of the future and he couldn’t be happier about it. A third-generation blacksmith, Tom owns Metro Iron Works and says he’s had more women than men come to him to learn the trade and says female interest in blacksmithing is definitely on the rise.
As I approached 10 Canvarco, where Tom’s been for 21 years, I saw a large iron bench with two men chatting quietly. One of them was Tom, the other a neighbour passing by. “He’s a veteran,” Tom said later. “He fought for us and now his son is doing the same.” Five minutes later, a car slows down, window rolled low as a man shouts asking if Tom is around, says he’s got a question. Roula Stentsiotes, his diligent apprentice, says he’ll be back soon. These customer drop-ins and “how-do-you-dos” go on all day, showing how deeply this shop and its people are immersed in the community.
Tom had cancer a few years back and since being in remission says he’s a different person. “Every day, I try to have a good laugh with good people and eat good food.”
After I got a tour of the facility and some safety tips, it was time to work the machines and do things with metal.
First I tried the drill press, a machine that carves holes into pieces of steel. Holding the mould in place was difficult since I’m a left-hander, so that didn’t last long. Next I wanted to slice some metal using the cut-off wheel but had to suit up first. In my official leather welding jacket, hair covered and goggles on, I approached the spinning, shark-toothed beast that had been spitting fire at Roula all morning. Now it was my turn to cut a 20-ft. piece of steel bar down to size – to make railing balustrades.
With Roula’s guidance, I handled the machine/beast well enough.
Once the blade makes the first cut into the bar, you need to pull down with greater intensity to guide the saw the rest of the way. I followed instructions and kept all fingers attached. I have to admit I was a bit rattled after only one bar, as the noise of the saw and the heat of the sparks are a bit staggering.
Tom showed me more toys around the shop, but before we broke for lunch, I had to forge some iron to earn my keep. Tom got out his box of fire called a forge, heated up a bar of steel and showed me how to hammer it into a flattened tip. Using an anvil in a real life situation was awesome, and so was the feeling of the hammer bouncing off red-hot iron.
Roula found the path to blacksmithing after many other roads traversed. From working with young offenders, switching to the culinary arts and again switching gears to apprenticing at 45, Roula feels she is where she’s supposed to be. Roula and Tom plan to host some welding and blacksmithing classes for women of all ages in the near future, to promote the trades as an option for women. Roula seems excited for the future of the shop and says she can’t wait to share what she’s learned with others.
I had a wonderful time learning the art of blacksmithing and would definitely join a workshop once the classroom is ready. After all, I didn’t get a chance to weld!