Can you wield a hammer like this prairie blacksmith?
Jonny Harris travels to Gravelbourg, Saskatchewan in this episode of Still Standing.
Gravelbourg is about an hour's drive from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. In its early history, it was home to many grain farmers — and now, the small town shares its Prairie charm with many immigrant families. It's where Toto Espanola calls home.
Toto was only nine years old when he started as a blacksmith in the Philippines. He took up the trade to support his family after his mother passed away.
Toto went on to specialize in marine repair, rappelling down from helicopters by a rope to fix ships in international waters. Toto tells Jonny Harris about a time when he was working on a sinking ship during a vicious storm off the coast of Madagascar.
Toto saw the rains down in Africa.- Jonny Harris
"Toto saw the rains down in Africa," jokes Jonny. "After that, Toto was like, 'Yeah, maybe I'll live somewhere far away from the sea.'"
Toto settled in Gravelbourg, where he welds, repairs and crafts in this little shop.
The forge, the anvil, the blowtorch... the machinery in Toto's shop looks intimidating. But for Jonny, it's hammer time. Toto teaches him the proper blacksmith hammer technique — an efficient swing that delivers full power without fatiguing your arms.
"I've never pounded heavy metal before," says Jonny in the episode. "I've pounded brewskis listening to heavy metal."
Stream the full episode below to see more of Gravelbourg, including this breathtaking historical hand-painted cathedral that the late Pierre Trudeau called the "cultural gem of the Prairies."
Stream now on CBC Gem