Oh Canadiana

Highlights of the Canadian Design Resource

By David Balzer
April 18, 2006
Red thermos. Image courtesy of the Canadian Design Resource.

When New York City’s Museum of Modern Art reopened its permanent design collection in 1984, it included a modest trio of objects from Canada: a Cooper hockey mask by George Lynn, a Fasttrack speed-skiing helmet by Alan Randall Best and Kevan Leycraft, and a plastic jug, with mugs, by Koen de Winter. Here was a rather dismaying indication of Canada’s place within the international design community; apparently, we specialized in sporting equipment for cold climates, or in products conceived by non-natives and influenced by outlying aesthetics (de Winter is Belgian, and worked in Holland before settling here as vice-president for design at Danesco, a company that took its cues from the well-known Danish Modern movement of the ’50s and ’60s).

Much has happened since then to improve Canada’s design reputation abroad — luminaries like Bruce Mau and Karim Rashid did a lot to put us on the map in the ’90s — though a Canadian “look,” and its attendant history, remain elusive. To date, a mere handful of books have been published on the subject, and the sole institution in the country devoted to amassing and exhibiting Canadian-designed objects, Toronto’s Design Exchange, opens its permanent collection to the public only occasionally.

The just-launched Canadian Design Resource, by Michael Erdmann and Todd Falkowsky of the Toronto-based design collective Motherbrand, offers something new and necessary: a perpetually growing web database of homegrown products, past and present, from furniture to fashion to packaging design. A glance at the CDR suggests no tidy, overarching themes or trends — our design heritage is simply too haphazard and unsung for that — but rather a trove of clever, quietly innovative items, like Julian Rowan’s 1962 concept for Canadian Thermos (pictured), which used state-of-the-art polypropylene to create the company’s first two-colour, all-plastic container.

All images are courtesy of the Canadian Design Resource.

CBC does not endorse and is not responsible for the content of external sites - links will open in new window.

Top^     Next >

More from this Author

David Balzer

Culture Clash
Annie Pootoogook captures Canada's north-south divide
Reimagining Cuba
Stan Douglas's Inconsolable Memories
Oh Canadiana
Highlights of the Canadian Design Resource
Poster Expressionists
Canada's postering scene makes its mark