If upon hearing the phrase, “Men's Shed”, your mind calls up images of shirtless, longhaired men, sitting in a circle, not so rhythmically banging on drums, while others dance ecstatically within it, you aren't seeing the right picture. Different men’s movement. If those men in the forest got up, put their shirts back on and went to a workshop, and built some African drums only to donate them to a local school music program, then you'd be getting closer to the reality of a men’s shed. Add in some coffee, a few breakfasts and some tool talk and you are getting even closer still.
Born in Australia in 2007, where there are over 930 Men's Sheds and government funding allocated for support and growth, the movement has spread to other commonwealth countries, including New Zealand, Ireland, and Scotland. Motivated Winnipeg senior Doug Mackie founded Canada's first shed in 2011. There are now 21 men's sheds in Canada. Lanark County is home to three in Ontario.
"We were motivated by a Lanark County Mental Health workshop in Almonte", explains Ramsey Hart, one of the founding members of Perth Men's Shed. This was May 2015. One can see why. Loneliness and social isolation are health risks on par with smoking and obesity. The findings are clear in regard to loneliness and the elderly: less mobility, earlier deaths. Women tend to seek help while men do not.
"Men, unless under extreme stress, won't seek help", continues Ramsey. Hart was among a core group of people thinking of ways to help men be healthier without a therapeutic model. Someone brought up the Men's Shed movement. Lots of guys would hang out in a workshop building a project and sharing a joke before they'd ever step into a therapist’s office.
The group reached out to Doug Mackie who, by the summer of 2015, had helped create the Canadian Men's Sheds Association (CMCA). With funding from the University of Manitoba's Aging and Mental Health Lab and the Movember Foundation, the Association had just begun being actively engaged in advocacy and group start support. Doug Mackie visited Lanark county in the fall 2015 and early 2016. Perth Men's Shed and Hackberry Men's Shed began during this time.
In Carleton Place, the men of Hackberry Men's shed haven't built any musical instruments yet. They've been too busy making folding picnic tables for Lanark Community Programs, wooden toys for Toy Mountain, walking sticks for Christian Farmers, a shed for Carleton Place Community garden, bat houses for Canadian Wildlife Federation, and more. It helps to have a fully decked out woodworking shop available. A local widow, whose deceased husband left behind a formidable work space, grants the Hackberry shed full access in exchange for house repairs.
Not all sheds have access to such a resource, nor are they necessarily required to focus on production.
The CMCA tells men they should expect "...a gathering place for men of purpose. And others. Usually involving a work space. Productive. Maybe. A place to change the world. Definitely. A helping hand. You bet."
As David Steventon of the Naismith Men's Shed in Mississippi Mills notes, Canadian sheds are self-funding and self organizing. The Naismith shed just got up and running this fall and has over 35 members. They are looking for a workspace but do not want to be "beholden to anyone". Their recent field trip to the Hackberry workspace was fun and inspirational, and they intend to build some much-needed bat houses as their first project. For now, they focus on the social & educational, with weekly meetings that alternate between a morning breakfast at a local restaurant and "show n’ tells" in a Mercantile Gatehouse meeting room.
"Sheds are a product of the people involved. It's a flexible model and every shed is different" says Ramsey Hart when asked at the end of our conversation what message he'd like to convey. Perth Men's shed exemplifies his point with a diverse group of men that skews younger. Half of the membership is still in their working years. The focus is more on the social with a bi-weekly breakfast and technical outings to explore such things as 3D printers, custom bicycle-making and stove building.