Métis artist Michel Labine turns snowshoes and drums into stained glass


Michel Labine of Fort Smith, NWT, has taken creating Nordic-inspired stained glass from a hobby to a full-time passion.

Labine, a Métis from Northern Ontario, has called the Northwest Territories home since 1980.

During his 27 years as a renewable resources commissioner, he has lived and traveled throughout the NWT and Nunavut. He draws inspiration for his artwork from these experiences.

“Most of my work relates to Nordic themes,” he said.

“A lot of my work is based on the places, the people I've met, the people, the places I've been, where I've worked, what I've seen.”

He started making stained glass in 1993 after watching a program on television. He said he wanted to learn the art so that he would have something to do after he retired.

His workshop is in his basement with Tupperware containers full of glass. A shelf is used to store multi-colored glass panes. Traditional drum and snowshoe racks hang on the wall.

Labine said a project could take two full days or longer, depending on the design. First he draws the patterns on paper and cuts them out. The patterns are glued to the glass and then the glass is cut. He then wraps the glass in copper foil and then solders the pieces together.

Labine said the inspiration for one of his most popular pieces came unexpectedly.

“I worked as [renewable] Resource officer … and I broke a snowshoe,” he said.

“I took it home to re-lace it, and once I unlaced it, I worked on a project on the table, put that snowshoe on the table and went about my business.”

“And then I came back and looked at this snowshoe laying on the piece of glass. It was an Inukshuk. And I said, 'This is a marriage made in heaven.' It happened to be there, but I said, 'I'm not going to put the lacing back in the snowshoe, I'm going to find a way to mount the stained glass into the snowshoe.'”

Labine's stained glass snowshoes and other works of art are becoming increasingly popular. He even takes orders from New Zealand and Hawaii and most recently for a wedding in New York. He also teaches stained glass workshops.

He gave a piece of his art to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about six years ago when he was invited to speak at a water conference in Fort Smith.

“He came here years ago for a workshop on water, and I have a photo of him and I giving him a beautiful drum with Virginia Falls on the Nahanni River because he and his father were there in my day Waterfalls were in Fort Liard,” he said.

“There are a lot of stories about him going there and enjoying that place.”

Labine said even though he doesn't have a website, he still can't keep up with demand. His sales come entirely through word of mouth.

Labine said the orders this holiday season kept him busy, but it didn't bother him.

“I have [got] Orders constantly. And it became a passion.”