PHOTO ESSAY

Oh Canadiana

Highlights of the Canadian Design Resource

By David Balzer
April 18, 2006
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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.

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