Finding time for new hobbies during COVID-19

Dr. Vera Etches advised people to take up a hobby as COVID-19 limits activities and keeps families close to home. CBC Ottawa discovered the local hobby economy is booming.

Slowdown giving us the gift of time to try something new this fall

Shannel Watt-Charley of the Ottawa School of Art says people are looking to try their hand at painting, drawing and ceramics. 'It's a great coping strategy for people who are not used to being on their own.' (Giuliano Pirani)

Amid all the sobering news about COVID-19 in Ottawa is an unexpected upside: the slowdown and exhortations to remain at home are giving many people the gift of time to try something new.

In the beginning, it was time to bake homemade bread or plant and tend a vegetable garden. Now, as the days shorten and winter looms, people are getting creative, finding new pastimes to carry them through the second wave.

"Now is a good time to think about a new winter hobby," said Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa's medical officer of health, during a virtual news conference earlier this week. She said she plans on doing more cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. 

Eric Kunstadt worried COVID-19 would kill the family sporting goods business. Instead, the local chain is having a record year. (Submitted by Eric Kunstadt)

Remember how bicycles, hot tubs, kayaks and trampolines flew off the shelves this past spring and summer? Kunstadt Sports in Ottawa says it's already seeing an increased and early demand for winter gear.

"People are coming to us saying, 'I'm new to skiing. I want to try cross-country for the first time, or alpine," said Eric Kunstadt, who described the response to an online ski sale this summer as "wild." 

In order to meet anticipated demand, the local chain has just purchased another $500,000 of equipment. What looked like a disastrous year for Kunstadt Sports, which was forced to close its three locations back in March and April, has turned into "a record year. It's our best year ever," said Kunstadt, 51.

"[People] have more free time now," he observed. "I find even for myself and our family, we have three kids and the pressure of rushing to piano lessons or soccer? We don't have that anymore.... The rat race is finished. Now we have time, we can do stuff."

Here are some of the new hobbies Ottawans are picking up during the pandemic

2 years ago
Duration 1:39
Richard Lapointe, with Northern Art Glass, and Martin Thornell, co-owner of Ottawa City Woodshop, say they’ve seen more people looking to take up a new hobby in the last few months, spurred on by an influx of free time during the pandemic.

Demand is also up over at the Ottawa School of Art on George Street in the ByWard Market. "We've been having a lot of calls … from people who aren't regular members of the school inquiring about … taking some of the drawing classes [and] painting classes," said Shannel Watt-Charley, the marketing and events officer at the school.

"People are looking for hobbies that they can do on their own time, in their own home in a socially distanced manner."

The Ottawa School of Art had to close down for two months in the spring, but was able to reopen with smaller in-person classes, or in some cases online courses. "Our members have been itching to get back into the school, back into our studios, to get back to print-making, or … using the pottery wheels for ceramics," said Watt-Charley, 28. "It's a great coping strategy for people who are not used to being on their own."

Martin Thornell says woodworking courses at Ottawa City Woodshop are selling out 'literally within minutes.' (Francis Ferland/CBC)

And it's not just the arts, but crafts, too, according to Martin Thornell, of the Ottawa City Woodshop at City Centre. "People are signing up for classes faster. Our classes are selling out in record time — in a few cases, literally within minutes," said Thornell, 62.

"People have time on their hands, so they want to make beautiful things for their homes," he said. "Now, since COVID, they're looking for an activity that's safe."

Masks, once recommended to protect noses and lungs from dust and shavings, are now required. "We work at a distance from each other, but people chat. It is very social," Thornell said. "People are just looking for a safe outlet for some of their energy."

Richard Lapointe says people who used to do stained glass as a hobby are finding their way back during COVID-19. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Some hobbyists aren't newbies, but old hands who are returning to a former love. That's what's happening at Northern Art Glass on Gladstone Avenue, which specializes in glass handicrafts.

"They had let it go for several years, and thinking of winter coming on, [and a] lockdown possibly, they decided to take up the hobby again," said Richard Lapointe, describing the lapsed hobbyists who are finding their way back.

Northern Art Glass is not holding in-person classes, but is offering online courses for beginners.

Lapointe is picking up a new hobby, too. At 73, he's learning to play the guitar. "Something I've wanted to do for ages. I'm learning the basics."

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