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Toronto shoemaker crafting custom footwear for Hollywood’s biggest hits

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You’ve likely seen Jeff Churchill’s handiwork all over big and little screens, or perhaps at a musical or ballet. Maybe even during a live show in Las Vegas or Macao or Sydney.

From his fourth-floor workshop in a century-old factory space in Parkdale, Churchill designs and crafts some of the most exclusive bespoke footwear in the world.

His innovative creations have the biggest forces in entertainment coming back again and again, from Hollywood studios to Cirque du Soleil.

This year alone, Churchill and his team made shoes and boots for four of the five films nominated for best motion picture (musical or comedy) at the upcoming 2020 Golden Globes: RocketmanJojo RabbitOnce Upon a Time in Hollywood and Dolemite is my name.

 

Actor Taron Egerton — playing Elton John in the film Rocketman — wearing shoes designed and made at Jitterbug Boy in Toronto. Elton John was so taken with the various shoes and boots for the film that he asked for his own personal pair. (David Appleby/Paramount)

 

They’ve also worked on a laundry list of other big-name films, including Marvel blockbusters like Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor: Ragnorok and the Oscar-winners The Shape of Water and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

He’s even made boots for a personal hero, American musician and actor Tom Waits, to wear in the film The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. Churchill is such a big fan of the acclaimed songwriter that he named his shoemaking company after Waits’ 1976 song Jitterbug Boy.

He’s a bit blasé about what seem, to any reasonable observer, like impressive accomplishments.

“Seeing our stuff on the screen is great, but it’s just a bonus really,” Churchill said in his workshop. “Developing something that has never existed before in the world — that’s the addiction for me.”

 

Jeff Churchill says he hasn’t bought a new pair of shoes in at least 15 years. (Lucas Powers/CBC)

 

The 45-year-old started Jitterbug Boy nearly 15 years ago, when it was just him in a small studio in a building that no longer stands.

Now he has a team of about 20, working at a break-neck pace to produce footwear for between 50 and 60 films each year. On top of that, there are the shoes and boots for television, live performances, and even for theme parks.

“Everything is made here, in Parkdale, completely by hand for shows literally all over the world,” he said.

 

The team works with a kind of synergy as they navigate the busy workshop. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

 

Churchill’s professional background is in theatre set and costume design, experiences that he says helped him develop the shrewd aesthetic and creativity he now brings to this pursuit.

And it’s a good thing — the workshop often finds itself pushing the limits on design, under tight deadlines for unforgiving clients in far-away places.

“A lot of the time, you have one chance to knock it out of the park. That’s because the actors need to put the shoes on and say, ‘Yep.’ And then do their thing,” he said.

 

The workshop is filled with foot molds made for famous people. (Lucas Powers/CBC)

 

“We have to anticipate all kinds of problems that the actors may encounter before each pair of shoes or boots goes out the door.”

He sees three basic challenges when making footwear for the arts: working effectively with a costume designer; ensuring actors are comfortable for long days on set; and, as Churchill describes it, “the more technical aspect.”

“They’ll say, ‘OK, we’ve got to have these really nice dress shoes made for this actor. And, oh yeah, he’s got to hang on the outside of a plane at 5,000 feet,'” he said laughing. “And they need it in three weeks.”

 

Churchill says his crew typically has between 15 and 18 projects on the go at once for customers from film, television (Lucas Powers/CBC)

 

It’s an allusion to a real life example. Churchill and his team made shoes for Tom Cruise to wear in the 2015 film Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. In one memorable action sequence, Cruise dangles off the side of a military cargo plane several thousand feet in the air as he tries to sneak his way into the fuselage.

Churchill credits his team for the workshop’s ability to turn out thousands of pairs of shoes, boots and everything in between every year.

 

Many of the employees at Jitterbug Boy started in the design world. (Lucas Powers/CBC)

 

He estimates that each pair takes at least 20 to 30 hours to make, and some take much longer. They start at about $950 per pair, up to a few thousand dollars.

Most of Jitterbug’s staff did not begin with any experience cobbling shoes. Many come from the design world and learned the craft over time.

 

Churchill estimates that he and his team have made about 15,000 pairs of shoes so far. (Lucas Powers/CBC)

 

“Fortunately I have a kick-ass team in here who can take everything and just fly with it, because it’s constant pressure and it’s not easy,” he told CBC Toronto, adding that there’s often no “prototype” they can work from.

“We’re reinventing the wheel 20 times a week, from the perspective of how to make shoes.”

 

Almost every possible space in the workshop gets used. (Lucas Powers/CBC)

 

Sometimes, after all the work, Jitterbug Boy’s shoes are almost entirely cut from a film before its final release. But that’s just part of the gig, Churchill said.

Despite the workshop’s success, he has no immediate plans to make shoes for retail.

“I prefer being hands on, creating something for a person,” Churchill said. “I want to make shoes, and I want to send something out the door that I’m passionate about.”

 

The team works out in a shop on the top story of an old factory in Parkdale. (Lucas Powers/CBC)

 

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Change your Perspective (Plastic use)

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Ditch the Disposables (Plastic use).
Since 1950, the world has produced 9.2 tonnes of plastic, of which only 10% has been recycled. Did you know? that a single-use bag is used for only 12 minutes? Here are some small actions we can do that could add up to huge results.
There are many ways to reduce the use of disposable items:
Bring your own reusable mugs( many coffee shops offer discounts when you bring in your own mug).
Bring your own bags shopping.
Refuse single-use plastics like straws and utensils.
Use reusable alternatives like beeswax wraps and containers for food storage.

Swap, Share, and Repair

In today’s society products are short-lived and disposable. Sharing and repairing are some of the best ways to reduce household waste and money.
There are many actions we can take to extend a product’s lifespan.
Shop at thrift stores.
Borrow or rent instead of buying new, especially for a tool or appliance that you can only use occasionally.
Use the library system to borrow or download your next read.
Sell or give away items you no longer use.
Learn how to make basic repairs. Local repair groups are a great resource.
Get to know your local repair shops. Always go local.

Food-Just Eat In.

Did you know that 1/4 of the food the average household buys is thrown out, and half of that food is edible? The average Canadian household spends $1,766.00 on food that is wasted over a year and that costs the Canadian economy$49 billion annually.
What to do?
Make a meal plan.
Make a grocery list and stick to it.
Practice first in, first out positioning new products behind older ones.
Get creative with leftovers.
Understand best before dates and store food properly.
Participate in The Circular Economy.
A circular economy means moving towards a system of production and consumption that involves reusing, sharing, leasing, repairing, refurbishing, and recycling materials and products as long as possible.
Above all else, put pressure upon corporations that make your favorite products and products that you consume daily. You must demand better, longer-lasting, and longer-lasting products. Better ways to package items, and always buy locally, as it guarantees freshness and accountability. If you are not satisfied with a product, it is easier to communicate with a local firm other than one a world away.
Buying Locally is a democratic process we can all enjoy.
Saving our world, increasing local employment, and saving money all lie within our personal preview.
I know the holidays are upon us, but there is a point when we will need to stand firm against the wasteful economic system we live within. Waste not – Want not. Buy what you need, and not what corporate Canada tells you to buy.
We are the sum total of the choices we have made. it was true in Eleanor’s time and also in ours. We get the society we have made. Do you want your children to have a bright future? Make changes today.
Steven Kaszab
Bradford, Ontario
skaszab@yahoo.ca
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Coronavirus: Canada Post employees punished for N95 masks – CTV News

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Canada Post workers risk being sent home from work if they wear masks other than ones issued by the corporation, even if their masks are an upgrade in safety.

Employees who buy their own N95 masks and bring them to work are being told to switch to company issued cloth masks or risk being sent home.

“The mask requirements, like our vaccine mandate, are mandatory and necessary under direction from the (Employment and Social Development Canada [ESDC]),” a spokesperson for Canada Post said in an emailed statement. “Therefore anyone at work must comply.”

“If they don’t have the masks we’ve provided, we have additional masks and disposable medical masks on hand. If an employee still does not wish to comply, they are asked to leave the workplace.”

Canada Post said Public Health Agency of Canada supports the use of cloth masks and that the company following directives from the ESDC that require employees to wear company supplied masks to ensure their quality.

“The company fully supports these guidelines and therefore requires all employees to wear a Canada Post-supplied face covering, which is either a reusable cloth face covering or a disposable medical mask,” Canada Post said.

“Canada Post continues to monitor best practices and recommendations with respect to face coverings, and will update our requirements accordingly.”

In an emailed statement to CTVNews.ca, Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) National President Jan Simpson said the union is “concerned” that Canada Post is refusing to allow its members to wear N95 masks.

“Research on the new Omicron variant has established it is more transmissible through shared air than earlier variants,” he said in the statement.

“The union has asked Canada Post to provide N95 masks or suitable alternatives to all postal workers, and at the very least, allow those who’ve purchased their own N95 or KN95 masks to wear them. As COVID-19 continues to spread rapidly, Canada Post Corporation should be doing everything in its power to protect postal workers, who continue to help people stay home and stay safe.”

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From howitzers to heli-bombs: Canadian province fights rising avalanche risk

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British Columbia is rolling out the big guns – literally – to control avalanches that are forcing closures on some major roads for the first time in decades as the Western Canadian province grapples with a snowier-than-usual winter.

B.C. was rocked in 2021 by extreme weather events, including a record-breaking heatwave, wildfires and unprecedented rains that washed out highways and cut off Vancouver, its main city and home to Canada’s busiest port, from the rest of the country.

The province, Canada’s third-largest by population, uses bombs thrown from helicopters, remote-triggered explosives, and a howitzer gun manned by Canada’s military to keep roads safe. But frequent closures for avalanche control are disrupting critical routes to Vancouver.

At the start of this month, B.C.’s alpine snowpack was 15% higher than average, according to the Weather Network channel.

Extreme winter weather, including November’s torrential precipitation, a deep freeze in late December and an early January thaw, has created weak layers in the snowpack, making steep mountain slopes more prone to avalanches that can release without warning onto valleys below.

“It’s been such a volatile fall and winter season so far, we have had rare ‘extreme’ avalanche warnings go out for parts of (B.C.’s) south coast in December and the risk is still considerable in the interior,” said Tyler Hamilton, a Weather Network meteorologist.

Avalanche control missions involve closing sections of highways while teams use explosives to pre-emptively trigger smaller slides, preventing the snowpack from becoming too deep and unstable.

This winter a section of Highway 1 through the Fraser Canyon, 150 km (93 miles) northeast of Vancouver, needed avalanche control for the first time in 25 years, B.C.’s Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure said.

Along Highway 99 north of Vancouver, avalanche control and risk-reduction activities are three times the seasonal average, with some slide paths producing avalanches big enough to hit the highway for the first time in more than a decade.

Avalanche control in Allison Pass further south on Highway 3, another key route connecting Vancouver to the rest of Canada, has also been above average, the ministry said.

‘BALANCING ACT’

All three highways were damaged by the November floods, and a busy avalanche control season is putting further strain on provincial resources. The Coquihalla Highway near Hope only reopened to regular traffic on Wednesday, and provincial authorities said record snow and avalanche risk had delayed repairs to Highway 1 through the Fraser Canyon.

Further east in the province, avalanche teams in Rogers Pass, a rugged 40-km section of Highway 1 running beneath 135 slide paths in Glacier National Park, are dealing with nearly 30% more snowfall than usual and control missions are also above average.

Highway 1 is Canada’s main east-west artery and approximately 3,000 vehicles traverse Rogers Pass every day in winter. A major Canadian Pacific rail line runs parallel to the highway.

Avalanche control missions involve soldiers from the 1st Regiment of the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery, which is stationed in Rogers Pass in winter. They use a howitzer to fire shells packed with 4 kg (8.8 lbs) of explosives in the direction of loaded avalanche paths at 17 different locations along the highway.

“Our goal is to bring down as much snow as we can and bring the hazard down to a point where it’s safe to open the highway,” said Jim Phillips, acting avalanche operations coordinator for Parks Canada, which runs avalanche control in the national parks.

The Rogers Pass program has been running since the highway opened in 1961. Before that, CP trains crossing the Selkirk Mountains in winter ran a higher risk of deadly snow slides, including one that killed 62 railway workers in 1910.

So far this winter the team has fired 333 howitzer rounds, produced 197 controlled avalanches and closed the highway for 43 hours over seven separate days.

Phillips said his team also uses heli-bombing and remote-trigger systems to set off detonations, and spends C$600,000 ($480,346) a year on explosives alone.

“It’s a balancing act. You want to keep traffic moving and minimize closures, but also minimize risk to people using the transportation corridor,” he added.

And winter weather in Canada is far from over.

Avalanche control is typically needed until late April or early May, depending on the snowpack, and the Weather Network forecasts above average winter storm systems returning to B.C. in February and March.

“We’re still in a La Niña situation,” said the Weather Network’s Hamilton, referring to a weather pattern that tends to result in above-average precipitation and cold temperatures in B.C.

($1 = 1.2491 Canadian dollars)

 

(Reporting by Nia Williams; Editing by Paul Simao)

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