For many the lake is a muse. Especially for creatives who draw inspiration from the scenic vistas of water, rock, tree and sky.
Throughout history, artists like painters obviously demonstrate their connections to the lake through every blended colour and brush stroke. Often the inventor, however, tinkers away – usually in a basement or garage far away from the beautiful views – with a link to the lake that is equally undeniable.
One of the earliest inventions around Our Lakes was the lake trout lure invented by Johnnie Green, known simply as the Johnnie Green Spoon.
There have been many versions of this story written down over the years for outdoor magazines, newspapers, websites and blogs, but one of our favourites remains Duncan Sinclair’s yarn on the topic for the Buck Lake Association. Click here to view his full piece on the BLA website.
In this tale Harold Green, one of Johnnie’s 10 children, relays that in 1933 Johnnie started making lures designed to mimic a herring, the primary food source of the lake trout in Devil Lake where the family lived and guided wealthy American anglers in summer.
“Apparently he made the first ones out of the chrome plate used in the headlights of old model T Ford cars, a metal that was pliable, reflective, and quite readily available at the time,” writes Sinclair. “Later, he adapted his craft to copper and a variety of other metals as well.”
“[He sold them in summer to clients] for 50 cents at the start and never over $2,” Green recounts, adding a full winter’s production would only amount to 10 to 12 dozen lures.
“Although the Johnnie Green Spoon has been made for some years by a number of companies, attempts to patent its design and commercialize it came for naught during Johnnie Green’s lifetime,” concludes Sinclair. “According to Harold Green, somebody from Kingston once contracted with Johnnie to make lures for a ‘cut’ of the profit on those sold, but ‘Dad lost a pile of money on that deal.’ There is also a story about his giving an American entrepreneur a pattern for the spoon to which his name would be attached once patented in return for the payment of $500. But no commercially manufactured spoons from that period carry the name of Johnnie Green and no American patent of the design has been confirmed.”
In the end, Johnnie was frustrated he was never able to commercialize his design, though to this day, you can walk into any Canadian Tire, tackle store, or bait shop and buy a Johnnie Green Spoon – although the spelling of ‘Johnnie’ and quality of manufacture will vary a great deal across the myriad of companies looking to lure anglers with his same basic design.
Other inventors around Our Lakes have been more fortunate in the decades since, and they or their heirs are still successfully selling the fruits of their lakeside daydreams today.
Just down the Old Perth Road a ways, retired mechanical engineer Ralph Wirsig, first designed his revolutionary KayaArm kayak launch system.
His wife, Kathy, loved to kayak with him on Buck Lake where they’d built their dream home. When Kathy began to have problems getting into and out of her kayak, Ralph’s inventor antennae went up.
“My dad was insatiably curious and always thought there must be a better way,” said son Jay, who now runs the family business with his wife, Margo. “His number one reason for designing the KayaArm was so that he and my mother could continue to enjoy their early morning and late evening paddles together.”
An R&D engineer for more than 36 years at the DuPont Canada Research and Development Centre in Kingston, Ralph had led and contributed to a number of national and international patents. His job was to generate innovative ideas that could be developed, patented and eventually marketed.
Now, faced with a challenge on the home front, Ralph marshalled his training, expertise and dogged determination to find a solution. Working on stabilization concepts, he methodically researched and revised his plans, and then fabricated an aluminum prototype. Finally, he had a working model for his wife to test.
“It was perfect for me,” recounts Kathy Wirsig. “I just stepped into the kayak and away I went. Then coming back, I would paddle my kayak up on the KayaArm and step out onto the dock. No more spills!”
Over the next year, Ralph focused on patenting and demonstrating his device to kayak outfitters. Blown away by its simple but effective design, ease of installation and “uncluttered” appearance on a dock, they were eager to carry the new product in their shops. But where it ultimately took flight was on the Internet.
Sadly, in March 2018, Ralph Wirsig suffered a massive brain aneurism while filling a customer order. Devastated by their loss, his family took comfort in the thought that he’d been doing what he loved: helping people to enjoy the outdoors through physical exercise.
After running KayaArm for Kathy during the summer following Ralph’s death, Jay and Margo retired from their professional careers and purchased the company from her. Under their management, and with assistance from a small business support network, it has grown to become the top selling kayak launch stabilizing device in North America.
“Not only has KayaArm provided rewarding full-time work for both of us, our four daughters have become involved in all aspects of the business, living and learning the customer satisfaction experience,” says Jay. “Our family dinners can sometimes become board meetings,” he jokes. One daughter, Heidi, completed an internship at KayaArm’s manufacturer as part of her mechanical engineering studies.
The full KayaArm kayak launch, lift and storage system sells for $608. For more information or to purchase your own, visit kayaarm.com.
There must be something in the water on Buck, because that’s also where Art Graves first conceived his invention… or maybe it was his wife Shirley’s dream and Art merely made it happen. Either way, 57 years ago the challenge to create the Friddle was made when the family matriarch announced she was sick of having to cook breakfast twice each morning at the cottage just to be able to make enough to feed a half-dozen or more mouths.
“By the time I had my eggs made, everyone else was done eating and gone for the day,” Shirley used to explain when telling the story in her later years.
Art, Graves Brothers Ltd. scion, was President of the day at the plumbing, heating and metal fabrication concern. He was tasked with coming up with a solution. His eventual response was five pounds of copper-bearing aluminum, 21.5 inches by 11.5 inches in size. “We had a small anodizing line at Graves Brothers so that was the finish on the Friddle initially,” he used to recount.
Tested extensively at Alcan, the Friddle went through a number of design tweaks and changes to its finish over the years.
“At one point Dad decided to put a hole in one end so you could hang it in the cupboard for easier storage,” explains Susan Curran, Art and Shirley’s eldest daughter and together with husband David the current owners of The Original Friddle Company Ltd. “The coating has evolved now and instead of being done in the States it is coated in Montreal – it’s a durable, non-stick, easy to clean coating.”
In addition to offering enough space to cook an entire pack of bacon or eight grilled cheese sandwiches at once, the Friddle is a super-charged defrosting tray. “If you put your frozen meat on the Friddle it will thaw in a fraction of the time.”
Over the years, Friddles have been sold first through Graves Brothers, and later everywhere from specialty restaurant supply outlets to iconic retailers like the Hudson’s Bay Company.
Nowadays the Friddle is sold online at thefriddle.com and it retails for $129.99.
A little further west, in the Haliburton Highlands during June 2015, Kevin Marshall was sitting on shore visiting with friends and family. Suddenly it started to rain and as he ran to the dock to put the top up on his boat, he thought, there’s got to be a better way!
Especially if you weren’t there to cover your boat or didn’t have a top, the end result was “having to bail rainwater out” every time before you could use it again.
“Covering the boat was the only logical solution,” he explains, adding the Boat Shield canopy system was born soon after. “Additional benefits are that it can keep tree sap and sun rays from damaging the boat’s interior.”
Unlike boathouses, there is practically zero environmental impact and thus no permits are even required to install one on your dock.
“The Boat Shield canopy is a cantilevered system that protects your boat from the elements. It is made from powder coated steel and PVC fabric,” said Marshall. “The canopy mounts on the side of your dock and hangs over your boat or PWC.”
The Boat Shield system has been commercially available for six years now, after Marshall spent a little time developing and refining his design. “I sell 120 to 130 units per year now,” he said, adding the design has continued to improve over the years. “I have added more purlins (poles) and switched to a PVC fabric for the black canopies.”
An ingenious, custom fit winter cover – designed to store the canopy in place – is also now available. Visit boatshield.ca for more information.
So whether it was out of necessity to safely enjoy kayaking, eat together as a family, or protect a boat from the elements, these lake-inspired inventions are no less a part of Our Lakes than the islands, loons, and Johnnie Green Spoons.