TABLED MEMORIES: BRYCE HILL’S 3CROW WOODWORKS
BY CHRIS TIESSEN
‘The dining room table is, arguably, the most sacred space in any household,’ notes ThreeCrow Woodworks’ Bryce Hill as we walk in a soft drizzle through a seeming ocean of woodchips towards the sawmill he and his uncle built for themselves near the back of the large property. ‘It’s where family, friends and neighbours come together,’ Bryce continues, ‘to break bread, eat, drink, and take refuge from the speed of life for a little while, at least.’
A place for community, to be sure. And a space for work too, I think to myself. To spread out documents during tax season. And to gather and fold clean laundry during the rest of the year – in my small house, at least. Briefly distracted, I recall a conversation with Guelph Member of Parliament Lloyd Longfield several years back, when he was my boss at the Guelph Chamber of Commerce. We were on a Porter Airlines flight on Chamber business, and Lloyd was reminiscing about his early years as an entrepreneur. ‘In those days,’ he told me above the low din of the turboprop, ‘the dining room table was my office. A space that would be cleared each evening of dinner dishes, and then transformed until early morning for business.’
These thoughts about mere pragmatic function are dispelled when we arrive at the mill – a sturdy post-and-beam structure held together by wooden dowels. The craftsmanship is impeccable. ‘We needed a place to keep dry,’ Bryce remarks, as the rain comes down a little harder, ‘while we milled the logs.’ All around us, mountains of uncut wood – some four feet in diameter – are carefully stacked. A little further on, piles of milled timber are drying in tin-roofed sheds. ‘This is home,’ says Bryce, nodding towards the wood and milling equipment.
Home, yes. Both literally and figuratively. Literally, because Bryce really did grow up here – on this piece of land in Hornby (now Mississauga), where his dad has run a tree service company for many years. And figuratively, because working with wood – everything from milling to creating the most fabulous cabinetry, bartops, kitchen islands and, of course, dining room tables – is where Bryce feels most at home. My TOQUE Partner Cai Sepulis and I watch as he mills a thirty-inch-wide trunk with an enormous handheld saw. Like butter, I think to myself in disbelief, as the massive saw blade glides through the even more massive tree – creating a slab that Bryce will most likely transform into a gorgeous table. Either meticulously finished or left as a live-edge masterpiece.
Later in the day we travel to Bryce’s workshop in Milton where single slabs – some over forty inches wide by eight feet long – are stacked along the walls. We pull up chairs alongside his most recent project: an impeccable table destined for a client in Montreal. A rich client, I think to myself, imagining how large the dining room must be to house such an enormous piece of carpentry. I note the custom brass bowtie inlays. The phenomenal wood grain that Bryce has managed to highlight with finishing oils. And his masterful use of epoxy filler to create a natural, translucent ‘window’ in the tabletop where once there’d been a cavity in the wood.
It’s a beautiful thing, really. How Bryce spends his days building furniture that, in turn, builds community. I think about all the memories that will be made around this table. And about the history he has been able to showcase in the piece through his treatment of the wood’s perfect imperfections.
As though he’s read my thoughts, Bryce remarks: ‘It’s what I love doing best: building custom pieces that will be used for memory-making. I’ve even had clients,’ he continues, ‘who have had us take a favourite tree down in their yard – one that’s sickly, or dying – and then turn that same tree into a dining room table, which becomes a kind of hallowed artifact. They’ll be able to look from that table to the stump and feel as though their beloved tree – with all the memories it invokes – is still with them.’ And remains part of their family. And their family’s story.