The Whistler Insider

Bizarre Bazaar & Six Made-In-Whistler Gift Ideas

The greatest thing about late November in Whistler is the opening of the ski hills and all the heavy storm cycles that roll in one after another to blanket Whistler with deep, white, winter happiness. The not-so-great thing is that all those untracked pow days make it awfully easy to procrastinate on things like holiday shopping and the next thing you know you’re scrambling around for last minute gifts when you should be relaxing with a nice rum and ‘nog.

Well fear not. You can have it both ways, especially if you’re in town this November 25-26 for the Whistler Arts Council’s Bizarre Bazaar wherein you can unearth a veritable plethora of locally made arts, crafts, gizmos and gadgets.

“It’s always been Whistler’s original artisan market,” says Arts Council insider Magda Kwaterska. “This year we are featuring over 100 artisans and half of the vendors have never been before so expect some fresh, new stuff.”

It’s also safe to expect lots of kid’s games and crafts and a very festive atmosphere. The Bazaar is kind of the unofficial holiday season kick-off party and the more gifts you buy now, the easier it is to refocus your energy on cranking turns and catching big air on the hills.

The Whistler Insider presents a short (and by no means all-encompassing) selection of top local products you can find at the Bizarre Bazaar (or anytime online.) This is just the tip of the locally crafted iceberg however, so happy holiday shopping and remember—buying local is a great way to keep the “Occupy” movement folks off your back (or your front lawn.)

Soap Tree Studio – Soap Bars, Hand Balms, Bath Pouches

“What you touch you absorb,” says Soap Tree founder and soap master Alex Castillo. “I’m not going to make watermelon soap just because it smells good. Instead, we take natural ingredients that are awesome for your body and make soap out of it.” Pretty simple concept, and it’s working—Soap Tree’s seven different soap bars (including my fave—an exfoliating Peppermint Tea Tree blend) are selling out as fast as Alex can, or wants to, produce them.

“Each batch of soap takes a month to make and cure,” Alex says. “I like to keep the batches small, get back to basics and do things right. We’re not one of those ‘31 flavours’ kind of joints.” That sense of pride and purpose extends to the Soap Tree packaging as well—their logo is a sultry (and very clean looking) woman drawn in vintage tattoo style. “We just wanted to be the only natural, healthy soap company out there that doesn’t have a leaf or a tree for a logo,” Alex says.

Soap Tree’s newest creation is “The Black Bar,” a mix of charcoal, very fine ground coconut shell, essential oils and rock ‘n roll. Stay clean, live hard, have fun.

Soap Tree products are available at Hempire in Whistler or online at

Love Jules Leather – Handmade shoes, belts, wallets, key chains and bags

A born-and-raised Whistler girl, Jules Vagelatos apprenticed with an old-school leathersmith while she was at art school in Nova Scotia. Josh Blodans is an Ontario-raised accountant who couldn’t resist the call of the mountains. Together they are a two-person, Whistler-based leather factory that cuts, dyes, scores, etches, sews and crafts everything they make entirely by hand. Jules’ painstakingly etch-illustrated belts feature everything from sea monsters to six shooters and have long been a hot seller (everyone needs to keep their pants up) but these days she’s turning a lot of heads with her boat shoes and high tops.

“The shoes are super involved to make by hand,” Josh says, “so Jules is really sinking her creative energies into that. People appreciate a one-of-a-kind leather shoe.”

Love Jules mixes classically inspired leather craft with a fine art aesthetic influenced by the natural surroundings of Whistler. Get some while you can, both Josh and Jules are hard-core ski fiends and production really drops down once the mountains fill in.
Find the goods at target=”_blank”>Evolution Whistler or on their site.

Sünna Studio – Pottery for your everyday rituals

“I like to make functional stuff with a sense of ceremony behind it,” says Pemberton potter Amy Hazeldine. ‘For a lot of people coffee is a ritual.”

And Amy’s exquisitely crafted coffee mugs just feel right when you use them. Her mugs, cappuccino cups, sake sets and dragon bowls are all made entirely by hand, sometimes through great trial and error. “I’m a bit of a perfectionist,” Amy says. “I’ll make just mugs for months, working on the evolution of the handle. Or with glaze, you meticulously weigh out the little powdered metals. I’ve spent weeks at a time just mixing up 700 different recipes to get the right glaze and that perfect finish.”

The hard work and hot sweaty days over the kiln pay off though, Amy’s pottery is a beautiful mix of function and design and will surely impress any coffee, sake, soup or tea sipper on your gift list. Find Sünna products at Agnes Jean in Squamish, or directly from Amy at Sünna Studio

Nonna Pia’s Balsamic Reduction

“Whistler is such a great place to be an entrepreneur,” says Natasha Strim. “Everyone loves buying locally and we have visitors from all over the world coming and trying our product.” While touring through Italy sampling delectable aged Balsamic vinegars in the mid-1990s Natasha’s husband Norm was inspired to emulate the aged Balsamic flavours in a more accessible product. He spent fifteen years perfecting his Balsamic reduction recipe and process. Then, with severe urging-on from friends and dinner party guests, Norm and Natasha introduced 1000 bottles of Nonna Pia’s at the 2007 Bizarre Bazaar. They sold a bottle every two minutes and never looked back, currently producing up to three 300 litre batches a week from their industrial kitchen down in Function Junction.

“Strawberry Fig is the most popular flavor,” Natasha says, “but this summer’s new creation, Lemon Ginger is gaining momentum as well.” Rosemary and Classic varieties round out the Nonna Pia tour-de-flavour-force and they all taste amazing on salads, vegetables, cheeses, and pretty much anything else edible. But who is Nonna Pia?

“Nonna means grandma in Italian,” Natasha explains. “And Norm’s mother is named Pia. She helped him discover his love for cooking as a young boy and warned him he might marry a woman who couldn’t cook…guess what, it happened!” Luckily Norm prepares every batch of Nonna Pia’s himself, by hand, right here in Whistler.

Feel free to check out the Nonna Pia kitchen at #4-1040 Millar Creek Road in function or hit up their site for recipes and ordering info

Twig Prints—Hand-Printed Home Décor

Abbie Finestone likes to keep her production small, simple and old school. “I burn the screens and print everything by hand,” She says. “I mix the colours by hand, do the sewing myself. I work alone.”

Utilizing non-toxic water-based pigments and natural or found fabrics Abbie’s creations are functional, natural, stylish and local. And useful—who doesn’t have a bunch of extra stuff laying around that needs to get stored somewhere?

“A lot of people were asking for larger containers for children’s toys and such,” Abbie says. “And I ended up with a bunch of burlap coffee sacks from a local roaster and made some Tall Storage Totes, a product I just launched this summer.” Each Tall Storage Tote is a one-of-a-kind creation.

Keeping things small and manageable gives Abbie time to enjoy life in Whister. “Just waking up and breathing the fresh mountain air every morning keeps me going,” she says. “The landscape here is so special but so are the people. There is a real community of artists and so many people are out there doing their own thing and making it. It’s really inspiring.”
You can find Twig Prints product in Whistler at The Daily Planet in Function Junction or Celebrate on Main Street. Or hit up the Twig Prints site.

Many of those amazing local artist and craftspeople will be set up at the Bizaare Bazaar hawking their wares, showing off their talents, and reminding us all that the folks who are their own bosses tend to work really hard but they never have to ask anyone if they can skip a morning and hit the hills when it snows a foot of fresh. Plus they can barter their wares and get all the holiday shopping done in one fell swoop.