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Errol Caldwell: From scientist to social activist, artist

The woodworker, photographer and a driving force behind the creation of the Rural Agri-Innovation Network and Invasive Species Research Institute's greatest creations (teams) are essentially intangible but effective
Errol Caldwell with some of his woodwork and photography displayed for sale at the Mill Market.

For Errol Caldwell, the desire to successfully create things is his basic underlying drive, his passion.

Caldwell can be found at the Mill Market offering his woodwork and photographs for sale through his business, The Turning Point, or helping to direct the Rural Agri-Innovation Network (RAIN), and often, he can be found out in Algoma's beautiful landscapes looking for his next perfect shot of a raptor, old building or field. 

He serves as a director on the board for Mill Market and co-chair of the RAIN advisory board.

His creations range from turned wooden bowls and puzzle boxes to working teams aimed at supporting local farmers, crafters and markets.

Caldwell's work background is in the sciences and management. He has a Master of Science degree in entomology from the University of Guelph and a B.Sc. from the University of Toronto.

He also had an important role in bringing the Invasive Species Research Institute to Algoma University and before that he spent 22 years as a science director with the Canadian Forest Service.

In 2007, Caldwell followed his own advice and retired from the Canadian Forest Service to join the Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre as its research director in 2008.

"Retire to something," he said. "Not from something."

In 2014 he went on to lead the charge to develop the Rural Agri-Innovation Network (RAIN) and still serves as co-chair of its advisory board.

"I'm a big believer in buying local," he said. "I buy local whenever I can, even if it is maybe a little more expensive. I like to know that I'm supporting someone who lives and works in the community. I think that's really important."

It was that desire that helped motivate the creation of RAIN.

"We were looking for a way to support local farmers but also other food producers," he said.

As a result, he and a team of advisors, volunteers and community stakeholders came together to identify and fulfill the needs of the local agricultural community and together they sewed their seeds on fertile ground. 

"That was another highlight for me," Caldwell said. "The ability to work with and mentor young folks and graduates."

He worked on projects related to biosciences and the bio-economy while also serving in part-time positions as Director of Research and Managing Director of the Invasive Species Research Institute at Algoma University.

His advice is, "do what you love and love what you do. Life is too short to waste doing something you don't like."

He's been doing what he loves his whole life, and his love for woodworking started with time spent in his father's shop, watching and helping him create beautiful things.

He left it for some time as he worked on his career but picked it up again in his mid-30s as a hobby.

"27 or so years ago, because it was a hobby at that time, I had accumulated so much stuff in the house that my wife suggested that maybe I should go into a craft show. So I did that at what was the Holiday Inn, then. I made a few hundred dollars and I thought 'wow, I could have fun and make money, too!'"

Caldwell says he doesn't have a lot of his own work in his home anymore. He's kept a few of his favourite pieces that he just couldn't bear to part with but not a lot of them. 

Now, his work has found its way around the world with pieces sold or gifted to people in Australia, France, Germany and England.

"It's really cool knowing that something that I have created, with significant help from Mother Nature, now someone else is enjoying."

He said he most enjoys creating one-of-a-kind pieces that reveal the beauty of nature and of the different woods that he has access to.

Even when he augments a piece with epoxy, wood burning or other decoration, the focal point is still the wood and its natural beauty

His woodworking and photography products can be seen online, at makers' markets, the Mill Market, the Canadian Carver north of the Sault and other local storefronts but another project that's been occupying his time is very much in progress.

"My immediate focus right now is to help Mill Market get some funding to do what it needs to do," he said. "It needs to move and to create its own structure inside the building at 73 Brock Street."

The market is important to the community to help bring products from local food producers and creators to local people which is important to preserve our community's food security among other things, he said.

"It encourages others to grow food that the general public needs for a healthy lifestyle.

"The Mill Market provides our agricultural community with an opportunity to sell its goods and it's incentive to actually produce those goods as well.

"On top of that, there's the value-added component.

"People can support farmers by buying their products and converting those goods into other products, adding value to it. It also helps to support not just the farming community but all those who depend on the farming community for at least a part of their income.

"It's also a great benefit to people like me who produce handmade goods that are not food related. There have been quite a few artisans who have gotten their start at the market and some of them have graduated to open their own storefronts." 

Caldwell said he's been thinking about what will come next for him, once the Mill Market is safely situated and thriving in its new home on Brock Street.

"I might retire again, soon. I'm not sure, yet, what that's going to be but I'll definitely be retiring to something else."

He said that, whatever he does, he won't be alone and that makes him happy.

"It's not just about me. I've had the opportunity and the pleasure of working with a whole bunch of people during my different careers and, if it wasn't for them, I probably wouldn't have been successful at much of what I have done. It's been a real slice."

But working with teams of people with strong personalities has taught him a lot.

"It's like the great Canadian compromise sometimes.

"There's often an opportunity to incorporate other people's views into your own and to whatever approach you're looking to deal with.

"I don't consider myself a control freak. I'm certainly open to other people's opinions and I ask for them whenever I can.

"I can be stubborn at times but I like to know what other people are thinking and I try to incorporate that into something that's more of a unified approach. I think it's a good objective."

It's a method of team building that seems to have stood the test of time and the continued existence of RAIN, the Mill Market, and the Invasive Species Research Institute are testaments to its effectiveness as those projects have gone on to take on lives of their own, independent of the people who launched them. 


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Carol Martin

About the Author: Carol Martin

Carol has over 20-years experience in journalism, was raised in Sault Ste. Marie, and has also lived and worked in Constance Lake First Nation, Sudbury, and Kingston before returning to her hometown to join the SooToday team in 2004.
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