WAK’D Crafts celebrates grand opening in Saint Andrews

Submitted photo Barbara McLean pictured outside of the WAK’D Crafts storefront.

SAINT ANDREWS – Life in Ontario would never be the same for Barbara and Kelly McLean after spending time in the captivating town of Saint Andrews.

Their 2015 vacation to the New Brunswick town changed both of their lives entirely. By 2016, they said goodbye to Ottawa and headed to make Saint Andrews home.

“I really wanted to take my son on vacation on a tall ship; we decided to come do that in Saint Andrews,” said Kelly. “All three of us knew we had to move here. Because we were so willing to do it together, it was easy.”

It wasn’t long before the whales of the Bay of Fundy captured the hearts of the mother/daughter duo.

“We were whale watching a lot. I think we went out 10 times one summer,” said Kelly.

Moving from an area in a province far removed from the ocean made witnessing whales in the wild surreal.

“The minute I made eye contact with a whale, I knew I had to do something for these animals,” said Kelly.

Barbara shared the life-changing experience with her daughter, saying, “the first time I saw a whale I went home and cried.”

Opening a business and giving back is a dream Kelly decided to chase after her family relocated to New Brunswick.

“When we moved out here, we knew we wanted to make money from art,” she said.

Named after Barbara’s three children and one grandchild, the McLeans opened WAK’D Crafts. They sell a wide variety of Barbara’s paintings, some of which includes Kelly’s added touch of three-dimensional elements such as rocks, sand and shells handpicked from the Bay of Fundy.

“It’s taking a piece of the Bay of Fundy with you,” said Kelly. “That’s the kind of thing I want to stick with … if it’s not got a part of the bay, it’s not something I want to sell.”

They had been selling their work in markets, which worked well for them, until products began getting damaged from being moved around frequently.

“We basically opened the store to stop breaking things; it was very frustrating,” said Barbara.

A space on Water Street became available, and they seized the opportunity.

“We liked the space so much, we took it right away and figured why not open if we’re paying rent?”

Barbara has been creating art for most of her life. She began sketching faces at 11 and would eventually become particularly skilled at painting a very famous face.

She first started painting Elvis in the 1990s after visiting Memphis where an Elvis painting competition caught her eye. The first year she entered, she lost. She continued to improve her work and would go on to win for a number of years until she was kindly asked to stop entering so someone else might have a chance to win.

“It was pretty funny. I was only doing it for fun, so it really didn’t matter,” Barbara shared. “Now I paint the ocean, whales, seals. Everything that inspires me, especially whales.”

“If it’s animals, I’ll paint the same thing more than once because I’m painting from a photograph … they never come out the same twice. Everything really is an original piece,” she said. “I’m sure I will continue to paint whatever people are wanting, but life changes in a second and you’re doing something else.”

If there’s one thing she can guarantee, it’s that she will always paint her biggest inspiration: whales.

“Moving here gave her a lot of extra new inspiration,” said Kelly.

“I could not wait to get back to Saint Andrews,” added Barbara. “I love where I live and what I’m doing, you can’t get much better than that.”

While life has been a whirlwind for the duo since trying to open their space on a short deadline, their excitement for this next part of their lives is contagious.

“We do our best for the whales,” said Kelly.

The McLeans are passionate about whales as they’re not just beautiful creatures but a solution to helping save the planet. Whale populations are crucial to the ocean’s ecosystem. Their excrement acts as a fertilizer for the ocean, which produces significant phytoplankton, essential in the absorption of vast amounts of carbon dioxide. By assisting in population recovery, greenhouse gas levels are reduced.

Entanglements pose the greatest threat to whales in the region, which is why $5 from each craft sold is donated to the Canadian Whale Institute, and 15 per cent from every Elvis piece sold is donated to the Campobello Whale Rescue Team. The McLeans’ hope is to help both organizations continuous efforts to protect whales and save them from entanglements.

“We’re always trying to come up with ways to help (whales). It’s in the blood, taking care of the world,” said Kelly.

We both really want to make a difference to the whale institute. They should be getting more support,” Barbara added.

Whales have changed their lives. The captivating sea creatures sparked a passion within them, providing them with a purpose within the community they’ve come to love, and made their home.

Though humpbacks hold a special place in both women’s lives. When asked if there was a particular whale that stuck out for them, Kelly answered, “the humpbacks. That’s the one I made eye contact with.”

Barbara’s answer?

“Humpback. Absolutely, without a doubt.”

heatherknight@stcroixcourier.ca