A typical teenage curiosity with historical armour led to a Highland resident’s decision to forge a career as a blacksmith.
“My initial interest was in arms and armour,” Benoit Laurent explained. “I was looking around one of the local salvage shops and heard about a blacksmith club at Luxton Fairgrounds. I liked the process way more than the initial interest in armour, and architectural metalwork became my passion.”
The Montreal native has been doing forge work for 10 years, specializing in traditional European ironwork similar to what is found around French and English palaces. Early on in his career, he spent several years working in France and England.
Laurent spent much of his time in France working on traditional hardware such as locks, hinges, doors and nails that date back to the 18th and 19th centuries. His time in England included some restoration work at Buckingham Palace, as well as Kent House in Hammersmith, which was built in 1762.
“It’s a beautiful 18th century manor,” he noted. “I believe some of the ironwork predates the manor.”
Laurent opened his Stewart Mountain Forge in the Highlands about four years ago. He produces both traditional European and contemporary ironwork, including ornamental railings, gates, balustrades and custom knives, axes and swords.
He also restores old machinery and equipment such as power hammers and presses, many of which are no longer manufactured, as well as the tools for working with those machines.
The biggest difference he finds between contemporary or modern work here compared to what you’d find in Europe is that in Europe, the ironwork is more traditional, based on what was traditionally appropriate for a specific region.
“It’s way less of a rigid structure here than the design limitations in Europe,” he added.
“It varies from a hardcore group of 25 up to 60 or 80,” said Laurent, who recently took on the task of the association’s librarian, compiling the history and literature the group has accumulated over the years.
“The majority of the people there do [ironwork] as a hobby,” he said, adding that he’s now fortunate to earn enough to pay the bills. “The reason I’ve remained with the group is because it’s a nice group of guys, and it gives me the opportunity to give something back.”
Laurent will continue that tradition of helping other like-minded craftsmen when he attends the 2017 CanIron conference July 4 to 7 at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Cloverdale. He has been selected as one of the demonstrators for the event, which brings together blacksmiths from across the country every two years.
“I’ve done it before and it’s fun,” he said. “And it’s another good way to share what I’ve learned.”