How a candlemaker captures the smell of different parts of Canada

Updated: January 16, 2019

a-great-lakes-themed-candle-on-white-background Photo courtesy of Nick Rabuchin/Vancouver Candle Company

Nick Rabuchin was unemployed — taking time off as an event planner and floral designer, when his partner, Farouk Babul brought home an expensive candle to their apartment.

“How can you be buying this? I don’t have a job!” He admonished Babul.

But the moment they lit the candle, they stopped fighting. “It changed the mood; it felt like we were home,” he told Cottage Life, in a phone interview. “It really personalized our space.”

Rabuchin decided he wanted to make Babul a candle as a present and started exploring the candle industry. In 2013, at age 26 Rabuchin co-founded Vancouver Candle Company with Babul, using ingredients that are clean-burning, which was important to them both. “If you look at any candle wick and you peel back at it, you’ll see a piece of metal. It’s normally zinc or lead.” Vancouver Candle Company focuses instead on cotton wicks, soy wax, and perfume-quality fragrance and essential oils.

What goes into making a high-quality, environmentally friendly candle? Can you explain the process to our readers?

First I like to get inspired by something. For instance, the Great White North collection, which was inspired by Canada’s 150th birthday, as well as the land forms and environments that shape Canada. I was thinking about creating something, for example the West Coast candle, that really reminded me of being home — the forest, the trees, the moss, the salt water. I would go back into my studio and start mixing ingredients. I have 100, maybe 150 different types of fragrance. I start mixing them and playing around with them to see which combinations work together.

I do a lot of market research. We have our friends over. We get them to smell things, to rate things — what they like and what they don’t like. Then I start making candles. You heat up the wax, we also add a proprietary blend of botanical oils in our wax, which help with fragrance throw. Then you pour the fragrance into the wax, you mix it, center the wick and then we light the candle and test it out. Any given fragrance, we test out 20 or 30 different batches of candles. It takes roughly one to two years to reach the collection.

Where did you get the idea to create candles that evoke the scents of different neighbourhoods in Vancouver, Toronto and then later, parts of Canada?

It was actually a very serendipitous way. One day I was making fragrances — and this was when we just started — I was trying to figure out which fragrances work. We had a bunch of people over to our home, with bottles of wine, because that’s the only way we could get people, a drinking party. We always blindfolded people and asked them to tell us what emotion or feeling you get. And one of them was like, “this reminds me of Kitsilano.” That was the springboard of how we created the neighbourhood collection of Vancouver.

How do you decide what the Great Lakes or the Prairies, or Muskoka smells like? What does that look like?

We always like to use something that’s indigenous to the area. For instance, the Great Lakes — we wanted a fresh fragrance that reminded us of sitting on a dock in the summer. The Great Lakes has fragrance notes of sweet fern, blackberry, and white oak, and these are all indigenous plants to the Great Lakes region.

Aside from the obvious fire safety, do you have any tips for people who like to burn candles in their cottages? Where should they put them? How long should they burn for? Should you have two separate scents burning at the same time?

A candle is such a personal thing. You can put them anywhere you want (that isn’t subjectable to catching fire!) Different fragrances we put in different places. We like to have a more relaxing fragrance in the bedroom. In the living room, I like to have something a bit richer or more robust, in the bathroom something fresher.

The trick is that for every inch of diameter of the candle, you want to burn it for that long. So typically our candles are about three to three and a half inches wide, you want to make sure you’re burning it for at least three to four hours at a time. The fragrance is actually emitted by the melt pool of the candle. You want to make sure the melt pool reaches the edge of the jar. If you burn out the candle too quickly, it will essentially continue to burn from that location. Candles have memory.

We like to create our own scent stories. For instance, I’ll burn Rosedale and Distillery. Distillery is a smoky patchouli smell and Rosedale is a sweet, sensual rose, so mixing the two together creates your own scent story and it’s a smoky rose profile.

Now it’s time to pick your favourite child. Or, to put it another way, you’re on a desert island — is it Gastown or The Atlantic? Which is your favourite scent and why?

That’s so tough. They’re all our favourites! I love Gastown. It appeals to me. It’s sensual and it’s gritty and it’s a bit sweet and a bit musky. It’s my all-time fave.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

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