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Nostalgia, craftsmanship driving Shelburne toboggan business

Dan Peacock and his wife Dorothy enjoy some winter fun on one of his handmade toboggans.
Dan Peacock and his wife Dorothy enjoy some winter fun on one of his handmade toboggans. - Submitted

Dan Peacock wasn’t surprised by the layoff notice.
He got the heads up a few months before Eastlink announced cross-province job cuts that his TV production position in Shelburne would be toast.
That was seven years ago. The father of two hatched a plan.
He figured he’d turn his woodworking hobby into full-time work.
In short order he went to work building a 20 by 36-foot workshop behind his home. Besides the concrete foundation, he built it largely himself.
Cedar canoe restoration is now his bread and butter but he’s evolved his business into furniture restoration, too. Five years ago, he gave toboggans a shot. He hasn’t looked back since.
“I guess it’s a nostalgia thing for me,” said Peacock. “I like the look of a well-made wooden toboggan, putting something out there that’s good quality and knowing that a child will have fun with it.”
“They also have an interesting history and once served a very practical purpose, moving goods back and forth if you didn’t have a vehicle or a snowmobile.”
Last year he sold about 20 toboggans. They go for $160 each.
Each ingredient is homegrown, whether it’s the locally grown oak or ash wood he gathers from various lumber mills in Southwest Nova Scotia, or the rope he purchases at Novatec Braids in Yarmouth.
He tops out at three a week.
On occasion he allows a few of his customers to join him in the shop, paring each board down to five, three-quarter-inch by four-inch dimensions, sanding and staining.
Peacock takes care of the trickier stages, which includes the steam box. The tool allows the wood to become malleable, allowing the toboggan to take shape.
“I’ll generally make them in October through to December when people are looking for Christmas presents. But when the weather is nice as it is now, people aren’t really thinking about buying toboggans. I’ll get more orders when the snow flies.
“Some people talk about hanging them up on the wall and I say, ‘No, no, go out and have fun with it.’ It’s meant to be used.”
He isn’t making a fortune but he is getting by. He also runs a photography business.
“But I love being in the shop and every year I’m refining my process and adding some new equipment to make it a little bit easier,” he said. “When I was laid off I didn’t really want to leave Shelburne. I like it here and I wanted to keep raising my family here.
“You don’t have to make $100,000 a year to survive and have a good life, you can get away with a lot less. I’m fortunate that through the business I’ve been able to sustain my family and keep the bills paid.”

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