Like any handy cottager, Ken Vanstraelen makes do with whatever he’s got lying around: scraps of wood, half-used cans of paint, 15,000 aluminum hockey stick shafts. You know, the usual.
“I used to manufacture sticks during the roller-hockey craze of the early ’90s,” he explains, “but when some big companies pulled their orders back in ’96, I was left with thousands of unused shafts.”
Rather than cash the sticks in for a scrap-metal payday, Vanstraelen held on to the lot of them and, after buying a cabin on Manitoba’s Gull Lake in early 2000, he found a home for some of his collection. The cabin needed a dock and, what with Vanstraelen’s connections at a local welding institute and the generosity of some friends at a window company (who donated the scrap aluminum for the legs), about a fifth of his sticks were quickly transformed into 30 gleaming metres of waterfront walkway, now known to locals as The Silver Mile.
“Nearly every single piece of that dock is made out of hockey sticks,” he says. “From the frame and trusses to the entire deck. We used almost three thousand shafts in all.”
Almost five years have passed since Vanstraelen’s dock was first conceived, and it has proved to be low maintenance, rustproof, and comfortable underfoot, even in the heat of summer.
Vanstraelen also fashioned a dock ladder out of sticks and a swim raft for his neighbour, and he has plans to whip up a matching bench with a few more. But if he’s looking to expand The Silver Mile, he’ll have to find some new materials.
“The rest of the 12,000 sticks got stolen two years back,” says Vanstraelen, sounding slightly relieved. “Some scrap metal guy really gave me the shaft!”