Canvas and clay

March 2024

Learn, Make, Share, Repeat. That’s the motto for Canvas & Clay, a new collaborative gift shop and maker studio in downtown Fort William.

“The idea for Canvas & Clay grew out of the COVID lockdowns,” says owner/creator Jen Davidson. “My mom used to be in a lot of craft shows, but when they stopped, she couldn’t sell her work. She opened a small gallery in the basement of her house but struggled with marketing her new location. At the same time, I struggled with social isolation, and started crafting in earnest as a way of feeling productive during quarantine. When my husband and I decided to move back to Thunder Bay, I knew I needed to find a community to be a part of, and maybe, if some of us worked together, we could bridge the hurdles involved in starting a retail business.”

Those two ideas came together to create Canvas & Clay - a community of crafters, makers, and artists that bridge the gap between art and business.

“Our mission is to Learn, Make, Share, Repeat,” says Davidson. “Selling handmade items is just one part of the C&C experience. We’re learning from each other, collaborating together to create new things, sharing our experiences and supplies, and building friendships.”

And that’s how the name Canvas & Clay came about.

“I wanted to describe the transformation that we make as artists - using raw materials to create something new and beautiful. But it also describes the transformation that we ourselves go through as we learn and grow together.”

There are currently 12 vendors selling their goods out of the C&C storefront, with Davidson hoping to grow it to 20 vendors any given month. Each vendor takes one shift a week working at the storefront, and vendors are also encouraged to run one workshop each month. 

“The heart of C&C is our workshops,” says Davidson. “We have a Maker Space behind the storefront where vendors host regular classes for up to 24 people. It’s a great way to meet people, learn new skills, and build community.

I’m working on expanding the Maker Space by adding a 3D print farm, as well as woodworking tools. My personal goal is to prove that collaborations like this can be self-funding and sustainable, so that churches and community groups consider taking them on as a form of community development.”

In fact, Davidson has already one solid community partner on her side.

“Urban Abbey owns our building on Simpson Street,” she says, “When they heard about this project, they were really supportive of our goals, and they invited me to use their commercial space.”

It’s an ambitious project, with the building situated near the corner of Victoria Ave and Simpson Street, and I asked Davidson if she was daunted by the challenges presented by the neighbourhood.

“I’m really interested in the Simpson Street area,” she says. “There are so many great buildings here with so much history in them! I’m really happy to be working with Urban Abbey to be one small part of helping restore this part of town.” 

Davidson says the biggest challenges are the same as any business with a small operating budget - interior design, construction, graphic design, bookkeeping, advertising, recruiting, scheduling, etc. 

“There are a lot of hats to wear,” she says with a grin. “The great thing about running a collaboration like this, though, is that you’re surrounded by really talented people who are eager to help - whether that means cleaning, running an ad campaign, painting a table, or installing a shelf!”

For more information about Canvas & Clay, their products, workshops or becoming a vendor, check out their website at, or pop in to the store at 106 Simpson St and chat to anyone there. 

Nancy Angus is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Bayview. Contact her at

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