When I was four years old, a man came to our door selling Ajax Laundry detergent. During the mid-sixties, Ajax ran a series of television commercials depicting a white knight jousting with the clothesline to get laundry clean. What was unique about this particular salesman at our door that morning was that he was wearing a suit of armour painted white. As he gave his sales pitch to my mother (in my mind, I can still hear his voice muffled behind his closed visor), I stood slack-jawed and wide-eyed, mesmerized by my first sight of a ‘knight’ in armour. Many years later my mother later told me that I spent the rest of the morning with my nose pressed against the front window, watching the salesman walk up and down the street, peddling his laundry detergent.
From that day on, I was hooked on all things medieval. All throughout my childhood, I would drive my parents crazy with my incessant requests for books, swords, and helmets, not to mention toys of knights, castles, and whatever else I could find with a medieval theme. My father was a carpenter by trade, and he and I both lost count of the number of wooden swords he had made for me. I became rather adept at making shields from plywood I had scrounged from my father’s scrap pile, and with his help, a number of helmets made from Bristol board spray-painted silver.
From my first, fateful meeting with the Ajax salesman, I wanted to have my own armour. However, the real thing was beyond reach for me, and there were no modern armourers making reproductions for sale when I was growing up. As a result, I was forced to conclude that if I was ever going to have any armour of my own, I would have to make it myself. I had no experience working with metal, and there was no such thing as an “armour-making school”, not to mention any books on the subject, but that didn’t deter me. My Grandfather taught metallurgical analysis during the Second World War, so I went to him for advice on how to make armour. He was somewhat uninterested in helping me, but I did manage to convince him to briefly explain to me how to shape a piece of sheet metal.
I took my Grandfather’s tidbit of advice, purchased a ball-peen hammer and an anvil, and went to work trying to make a great helm. My first attempt at armoring was rather unglamorous, but I was proud of it nonetheless. I began making armour in 1980, and through a lot of trial and error, I slowly began to rediscover the lost art of making armour. In 1986, I started a job in the Military History Department of the Glenbow Museum in Calgary, Alberta. Glenbow has the second largest collection of European arms and armour in Canada (second only to the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto), and this afforded me a unique opportunity to study authentic armour closely. I would handle and scrutinize the armour during the day, and then at home in the evening, I would attempt to copy what I had seen in the museum. The knowledge I gained while working at the Glenbow Museum was invaluable. As a result, I was able to give the armour I was making the same look and feel as the original.
In 1994, I was laid off as a result of budget cuts. I spent the next several months searching for work, but to no avail. At the time, I had several people ask me to make some armour for them, so I decided to try to start my own business making armour. I guess you could say I was one on the pioneers of the modern armour-making industry, along with the likes of Bill Radford, Robert MacPherson, Wade Allen, and Brian Price. My website is www.medievalrepro.com
Since I started making armour professionally, I’ve made armour for numerous museums, films, prestigious collectors, and re-enactors. Some of my clients include; The Gelnbow Museum, The Royal Ontario Museum, The Canadian War Museum, The Higgins Armory Museum, The Canadian Badlands Passion Play, Appleby Castle (England), Worchester Cathedral (England), Valve Corporation (Video game company).
I’ve rented armour for the following films and television programs; The Mighty, Dracula 2000, Night at the Museum 3, Mortal Kombat – the TV series, Warehouse 13.
My Armour can also be seen in the following books and magazines; The Modern Sports Helmet by James A. Newman, Vikings by Stephanie Turnbull, Focus on the Family Magazine, Routes Magazine.
I’ve also produced two instructional DVDs with Paladin Press, on how to make armour, and have done illustrations for books (The Book of Swords, and The Book of Knives, by the late Hank Reinhardt).
In 1997, I founded the Medieval Arms Society of Calgary (MASC) as a way to live out my childhood fantasy of being a knight in armour, and in 2000, participated in a re-enactment of the Battle of Hastings (on the original battlefield site) in England. I have lectured extensively on arms and armour for various institutions including the Glenbow Museum, Royal Ontario Museum.