For Toronto-based artist Natasha Wittke, canoe paddles reflect not only a passionate pastime, but also works of art. Her outdoor lifestyle brand, Norquay Co. has become well known across the country and internationally for its colourful Artisan Painted Canoe Paddles that become coveted décor items in homes and cottages.

If you’re in the market for a refined gift for the lover of the Great Canadian Outdoors or your cottage weekend hosts, you can thank us later for the well-received suggestion (you’re welcome).

Made from quality cherry wood responsibly sourced from the Northern Ontario wilderness, the attention-grabbing paddles are available in a large selection of patterns and colours. The paddles artistically capture the essence of the Canadian summer, but are also varnished for practical use on the water. While the crowd-pleasing paddles are the stars of the show, Norquay Co. also produces wool camp blankets, warm winter toques and canoe accessories rooted in Canadian traditions.

As an advertising professional living in Montreal, the idea to launch the company came to Wittke after about three years of trying to connect with her artist’s voice. “I had been working in advertising as an art director for a number of years,” says Wittke. “With the craziness that is the industry and the demand of working overtime I no longer found myself ‘creating’ for myself. Leading up to the launch of Norquay Co. in 2013, I had gone back to drawing and painting, and started wood-working, making tables, refinishing cool wooden lamps and really just doing anything and everything to sink myself back into working with my hands and to express myself creatively without judgment. But none of it felt like ‘me.’”

Then one night, in her heritage apartment in Montreal, Wittke – who grew up in Northern Ontario – took a deep dive into asking herself what she was really all about. “The answer was pretty simple. I am designer who loves spending time outdoors,” she says. “Better than that, I’m a canoeist, a paddler, a woman of the water who’s done some pretty epic trips. That’s when I decided I would make the paddle my canvas. From there, I got into ‘art director mode’ and jumped on the computer and made something like 200 designs before I netted out with the collection I sell today.”

Drawing upon her instincts, the result was her “bold, expressive and iconic” creations and Norquay Co. was officially launched. The paddles have since become coveted additions to any property – whether you’re adding some outdoor inspiration to an urban loft or outfitting a cottage or boathouse. The paddles are as much personal as they are reflective of the quintessential Canadian summer. “There’s a cool story about the centre line that cuts through most of my designs,” says Wittke. “I met an amazing art therapist while exhibiting in New York City; that line is an expression of what I like to call my badge of honour, a heart surgery scar I’ve been sporting since I was 10-years-old. I think that’s some pretty cool badass sub-conscious designing happening right there.”

Norquay Co. canoe

Now living in Toronto, Wittke had turned Norquay Co. from a passion project to a bustling company and busy career – something Wittke harmoniously balances with her full-time advertising job. The brand has attracted the attention of a handful of the world’s largest publications and Wittke collaborates with some of Canada’s most influential outdoor-focused retail outlets, like Roots and Toronto-based Tuck Shop Trading Co. Last summer, she also collaborated with online retail giant eBay to create an exclusive line of paddles that represent some of Canada’s most breathtaking paddle routes.

Speaking of paddle routes, while the artisanal paddles do work for a leisurely deep-water tour around the lake (leave them behind on a grueling backcountry canoe trip), most of Wittke’s customers use them as décor items. “The majority of my buyers are homeowners, designers, hoteliers and restaurateurs who love to add an element of Canadian nautical flare with bold hits of colour punctuated by geometric patterns in their spaces,” says Wittke.

Whether they add colour and character to the walls or the water, Norquay Co. paddles serve as conversation starters and an impressive example of a fusion of form with function. With dozens of designs to choose from, they range in price from $385 to $425 CAD. 

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