unter and Harris is a labour of love and the family business of husband and wife team Milan and Mira Friscic. They built a reputation for building beautiful and high performing handcrafted canoe paddles and were embraced by the paddling community for their sought-after solid cherry and laminated paddle designs. Nova Craft commissioned H&H to build a limited edition run of 50th anniversary paddles in 2020. Shortly afterwards H&H closed unexpectedly after quietly selling off their remaining inventory.
Their hiatus didn’t last long though. Earlier this year Nova Craft Canoe partnered with Hunter and Harris to relaunch and distribute a limited selection of their solid cherry handcrafted canoe paddles. Hunter and Harris paddles are currently available for purchase online or in store via London’s Paddle Shop in London, Ontario and The Complete Paddler in Toronto, Ontario, with plans to expand the paddle distribution throughout Nova Craft’s dealer network in 2022.
We chatted with Milan and Mira recently to get the story behind their company, their comeback and their passion for paddling. The following is an abridged version of that conversation.
Tell me about how you got into making paddles. When did you start doing it and when did you decide it might be something that you could turn into a business?
Milan: About five or six years ago we bought a new canoe (a Nova Craft Prospector) and the old paddles we had weren’t good, they were kind of broken actually. Me, being a woodworker and carpenter by trade, decided I would take on the task of making some paddles (to use with the new boat). I thought it would be pretty simple … but I failed miserably. Mira and I went out to christen the boat with these paddles I had made and, I don’t know how else to say this, but they sucked. That failure sparked a challenge in me. I hate not being able to figure something out, so I went on a crazy journey to find out how to make a really good paddle. I kept R&Ding on my own until I figured out what the secret sauce was, at least in my mind’s eye. A few hundred dollars of wood and several splinters later I came up with some paddles that actually worked. At that point we had like 30-40 paddles just laying around and I thought … I might have something here. After somehow convincing Mira that it might be a good idea to venture into the canoe paddle industry – that’s exactly how Hunter and Harris was born. Mira was very reluctant at first but I had a feeling that I had made something really good. After some arm tugging she agreed and at that point we went all in and I quit my job as a carpenter in the family business to pursue this full time.
What year did you launch?
Milan: We started in 2016 and made it official in 2017.
What’s the story behind the name of the company?
Milan: In the early days of H&H I was making paddles so we would have inventory for our launch but we didn’t have a name yet. I was downstairs in the shop, making paddles, thinking about names, and Mira was upstairs, making our website, thinking about names. We had about a million names. And at lunchtime on one occasion, I came upstairs and she just said “I have this idea. I put your two favourite things together: Hunter and Harris.” Hunter being our beloved beagle that passed many years ago. She was a great outdoorsy type dog who loved going on adventures. I loved that about her and loved her free spirit so in honour of her we wanted to use her name. Harris is based off the Group of Seven painter Lawren Harris. I‘ve always been fond of his style and who he was as a person. I’ve always felt a strong connection with his art.
Mira: At the forefront of Milan’s mission with the company was making paddles that were functional but also beautiful. The name represents that mix of being outdoorsy and at the same time aesthetically pleasing. Milan is an artist in his own right so we felt it was a nice homage. And then the name just kind of stuck and we were like “Ok, this is it!”
After closing the business in 2020, what made you want to come back?
Milan: Closing in the first place was the hardest thing. I shed a lot of tears and to be honest I was pretty sad and mopey for the first few weeks. Then I would bounce back and be ok, but honestly I just missed it the whole time. I missed having that creative outlet and it was something that Mira and I worked hard to create, so it was hard to stop but we didn’t really have a choice.
I knew I wanted to come back but I wasn’t sure we could. I reached out to Chris (owner and president of Nova Craft Canoe) and I was just very happy that he was very welcoming and saw the value in working together to figure out how to make a comeback. I was super excited. Honestly I am ecstatic to be back in the shop being hit in the face with sawdust all day.
Mira: And I’m really happy to see Milan happy. What we really liked about the opportunity to relaunch and distribute through Nova Craft, as opposed to doing direct to consumer, was it meant that people could go in and touch the paddles in stores. That was big for us. We know that buying a paddle can be a really personal decision and people want to touch and feel them. We didn’t have that option before, when we were selling exclusively online. That was a really big draw to work with Nova Craft and get the paddles into retailers.
What’s next for H&H?
Mira: Continuing to build our offering of solid cherry paddles is our main focus right now. We want to focus on getting those into the hands of more people.
Milan: We’re also working hard to bring some more models from the original line back. Stay tuned!
Which H&H paddle is your go-to?
Milan: It’s really hard to choose because I like them all for different reasons … the Ottertail and Norseman are always with me. The only exception to this is if I know I am having a marsh day or playing in the swamps. Then it’s all about the Thomson!