Sub Header

"We celebrate Life! We love good food. Drink too much. We cook with fire. We travel and live like there is no tomorrow."

Search This Site

Friday, January 29, 2016

Two Cowboys: Making Things That Lasts Longer Than You at Canmore Woodcrafters, Canmore, Alberta

Things that Last

(Learn: * Inspire: *** Amaze: ** Live: ****)
(The Two Cowboys Subjective Rate-o-Meter.)

Canmore Woodcrafters was founded by Ernst Salzgeber and Sandra Salzgeber. Ernst is originally from Switzerland and immigrated to Canada in 1974. Sandra was from Richmond BC.

In 1979 the business occupied a 600 square foot garage. The business was founded on the principals of exceptional craftsmanship, attention to detail, experience, honesty, and timeliness. It resulted in continual and steady growth. Canmore Woodcrafters Ltd. occupies 12,680 square feet of a building located in the Elk Run Industrial Park of Canmore.

Canmore Woodcrafters Ltd. Management and Staff continue to provide custom woodworking services with the same cornerstones that the business was built on in 1979.

There is no denying that Canada has a lot of trees. It is, therefore, inevitable to see a lot of wood construction. Wood is not only an excellent building material, but it also provides an outstanding opportunity for expression.

Wood is one of the most revered and versatile mediums. Many people are exposed to working with it during school when they have the chance to attend classes in wood shop. For this reason, we make a wood crafting producer one of our first stops. The art is as old as humanity itself. Canmore Woodcrafters is a business that does just that: combining construction with art. Brian and his team create one-of-a-kind pieces that are intended to outlast its makers.

The Bow Valley is world renowned for its luxury accommodation. Not only are there Multi Million Dollar homes owned by people from all around the world, but it also has iconic hotels such as the Fairmont Banff Springs, Lake Louise Fairmont Hotel, and many other. This luxury comes with a high demand for quality in construction and craftsmanship. A lot of the finishing is custom woodwork. A lot of it has been done by the Salzgebers over the last thirty plus years.

We find the people responsible for quality woodwork just down the road from our initially profiled producer: Valbella Gourmet Foods.


Our visit with Brian and his team left us with a few outstanding gems:

"Playing in the sawdust and humming to the sound of the machines," Brian tells the story of how he grew up in the garage where his father worked. He tried to "escape" as a young adult but had to return to continue in the business. He had no choice but to answer to the producer calling and values his parents instilled in him. He made something, and still continue to do so even in his spare time.

"Making something that will outlast us." It is amazing to realise that the items and finishes that are produced by the crafters at Canmore Woodcrafters are made to last. Very few things in the world are made to last anymore. The current focus in manufacturing is of quantity and consistency. It is incredible to realise that the chair, the table, door or bar counter you sit at when visiting an upmarket establishment in the Bow Valley is likely to be there decades from now - long after the producer departed. Also, that it is unique. It is the only one of its kind.

"We've delayed fourteen years to get a CNC Machine." Brian acknowledged that while they resisted departing from the traditional handcrafting methods for making quality articles, they eventually had to invest in a computerised machine to compete in the market. It was only after making the investment that they realised the machine is not detracting from their maker values, but rather serve a similar role to the first hammer or saw. It is just a tool that helps to take the craft of the producer to the next level. It provides more possibilities. Instead of replacing people (which to some degree it does), it also brings new people into the fold that can work with the technology. It allows more people to make something. It allows more incredible things to be done.

Canmore Woodcrafters provided an unusual glimpse into an age-old craft, with young and dynamic people that produce amazing unique woodwork, destined to outlast them. What a remarkable story.

Every time I am sitting at a bar in the Bow Valley my mind wanders. I think of meeting Brian, and wonder if this is a bar the Salzgebers made. When I asked Brian which ones they've done, he wasn't very forthcoming. I think they've done many. My suspicion is that it is not the article that held the value. Rather, it was the process of making it with fellow craftsmen and women. These are producers. These are the people that are making our world. I am glad to have met them.

Facebook page for Canmore Woodcrafters


We are a content company. We earn our livelihood from producing great content about inspiring people and their stories. We use Patreon to help us earn from our work. It allows us to have a closer relationship with our collaborators and grow our audience. If you Sponsor us on Patreon: or Donate to our cause on GoFundMe: we can do a lot more for you, your business, event or community.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Two Cowboys on a Journey: Swiss Family Making Prosciutto in the Rocky Mountains of Alberta at Valbella Gourmet Foods in Canmore

Valbella Gourmet Foods 

(Learn: ** Inspire: ***** Amaze: ** Live: ****)
(The Two Cowboys Subjective Rate-o-Meter.   )

The business was established in 1978 by Walter and Leonie von Rotz in beautiful downtown Canmore, Alberta, Canada.

What began as a small 1,000 square foot plant has progressed over the last 30 years into a 25,000 square feet production plant overlooking Canmore’s Three Sister Mountains. The European style sausages, hams and air dried meats quickly found their way into Banff’s famous Hotels and Restaurants, and can now be found at gourmet dining establishments, fine hotels and first rate food markets throughout Alberta.

My experience with Valbella started in 2008 when I arrived in Canmore as a new immigrant in Canada. It is my favourite place to get an outstanding pork belly for a special barbecue. Valbella's beef jerky is an all time favourite with my sons. The bacon... well you have to come and taste it to know what I am talking about.

What I didn't know, was just how good their grilled cheese sandwiches are. You will see it in the video below. We are closing with the scene where I am enjoying it with a bowl of tomato cream soup. It is simply outstanding!  It is a sought after hearty lunchtime meal for locals in the industrial area of Canmore.  (A little secret not shared with many tourists.)


The von Rotz family family story in Canmore is a typical, and not so typical story of new immigrants landing in a country, seeing an opportunity, and setting out to build a future for themselves and their children. Inevitably over 30 years, they've also materially contributed to the community and character of the town of Canmore. It is a successful business that stands out.

Valbella's next generation is starting to take over. Daughter, Chantal (featured in the video) and Son, Jeff (still to come in our training videos) both pursued other interests at first, only to return to the familiar tables and counters of the family's business a short while ago. They've grown up up working side by side with their parents, and today is preparing to continue the legacy with similar values and commitment to make outstanding products. The business is clearly a family affair. Not just blood family, but people that's been part of the business for decades. This includes people in the community, and those that followed from their home country of Switzerland.

Young people have the opportunity to learn the old ways and traditions of butchery, cured meats and timeless delicacies. Valbella's doors are open to show you what they do, and the invitation is there to also learn from them, how it used to be, and still is done.

It is fitting that we made this video as Walter is stepping back from day-to-day involvement in the business, and slowly letting the new blood run with it. The video is a short look back at what was achieved by a family as landed immigrants, makers, entrepreneurs, parents, mentors, and masters of their trade. It is also a look forward as Chantal and Jeff recruit new "family" into the business and grow it with new ideas such as their food truck at the Canmore Mountain Market.

Several elements stood out for me during the visit with Valbella. Walter's passion for the trade, the products and the people. The young butcher from Quebec that is using his skills to travel from country to country. The role family plays in continuing a tradition and building a legacy. The authentic and outstanding products that are amazing. Who would have known that Valbella is the only large scale prosciutto maker in Western Canada?

The thing that stood out most: Every person we've met was making something. They were working hard and long hours, but they were all proud of their achievements and eager to share their passion. The values of producer clearly drives the business.

It was therefore no surprise to see the phenomenal staff lunch everyone enjoyed. What else can you expect from Felix the resident red seal chef!! More about this later...

We will be back. There is a lot more to tell about Valbella and its people.

Hendrik van Wyk

Get rewarded for supporting our local Producers: Receive special offers and invitations from the Two Cowboys and our Producers when you subscribe to our email list.

We are a content company. We earn our livelihood from producing great content about inspiring people and their stories. We use Patreon to help us earn from our work. It allows us to have a closer relationship with our collaborators and grow our audience. If you Sponsor us on Patreon: or Donate to our cause on GoFundMe: we can do a lot more for you, your business, event or community.


Valbella is the first of a new beginning for us Cowboys. This picture says it all. 
Hanging on... 
Six Millimetres of pork fat heaven.
I'm a bad-cher!
My place...

Two Cowboys & A Camera

Today is a Special, Special Day...

Two years of planning and we are ready to move to the next stage in our lives as producers. We are embarking on promoting producers and creators of civilized life. We are showcasing people with purpose, who make things.

We are two Cowboys that travel between Canada and New Zealand to learn, inspire amaze and live while we showcase small Producers.

We believe that these Producers are the foundation of our communities. They drive the engine of our world. We should know more about them, and be inspired by what they do. We should learn from them, and discover for ourselves, the value of making something.

Please come along with us on this journey. Share it with as many people as you can.

We have a simple mission:
"Inspire people to make something, to discover meaning and purpose in life."

How We Do It 

  • Our plan is to record and publish small documentaries you can watch on our You Tube Channel.
  •  This will be followed by video training, where some of our featured producers will be teaching  you what they do. You will be able to get the training at

We are putting it out there for you to enjoy. Hopefully you will be as inspired as we are.

You can get involved:

  • Please follow and share our producer stories.
  • Tell us about producers you believe we should feature.
  • It all costs a lot of money, so we are open to sponsorships and financial support for our journey.
  • Please buy our producer training and other products online. It helps to keep the initiative, and our producers going. (

Hendrik van Wyk

Get rewarded for supporting our local Producers. Receive special offers and invitations from the Two Cowboys.
Please help us to bring you more of these programs by supporting us on 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

When Maker Becomes Artist

The ultimate fulfilment for producers and makers is when craft becomes art. The logical step from here is to pass this knowledge on to the next generation.

I dabble in leather carving (

On my maker journey, leather carving inspired me to make beautiful and useful articles. The articles I make has the potential to outlast me if I take care of them. It also means that once I have a well made article, I probably won't need another one soon.

My journey taught me about meaning and purpose. It provided the mind space and satisfaction to create. The articles I make are useful and valuable to me. Making it is almost a meditation. Other people recognized the beauty and uniqueness of the articles. As a result, I've produced some custom items for a select few clients.

It is therefore inspiring to see a select group of craftspeople sharing these values, and investing in the perpetuation of their craft. Be introduced to the Traditional Cowboy Arts Association.

Who knows, maybe we get a chance to meet these folks soon...

Hopefully we get to feature their craft, their motivation and also introduce people to the possibility of learning how to make things themselves.


Get rewarded for supporting our local Producers. Receive special offers and invitations from the Two Cowboys.
Please help us to bring you more of these programs by supporting us on 

Monday, January 11, 2016

The Simple Things in Life

"Our life is frittered away by detail."  Henry David Thoreau
Isn't it interesting how the simple pleasures in life has the most profound impact on our lives?

Busy lives

Our days are easily filled with all kinds of must-do's and do-not forgets. From the moment we open our eyes it is a rush to get ready for work. Get the kids to school. Be on time for the meeting. Grab a coffee. Do the presentation. Get the food ready for dinner. Do the washing. Walk the dog and get to bed in time to have enough energy for tomorrow to rinse and repeat.

We can be forgiven for getting tired and depressed just thinking of it all. If the daily grind is not enough, we have the weekly and monthly reminders that push us along: Pay the mortgage. Close the deal. Settle the bills. Buy the food. Service the car. Celebrate the birthday. Clean the yard. Make it to Summer and then to Christmas.

Then there are the goals for life: Pass the exam. Find the job. Marry. Earn the promotion. Buy the house. Build the career. Raise the kids. Retire. Before we know it, eighty years have passed and we are lying alone in bed with a drip and catheter wondering, what just happened?

In and Out of Control

The holidays provide a welcome chance to reevaluate what life is about.

With the years ticking by, I've slowly and painfully learned a profound lesson about the things with which we fill our days. It doesn't matter how much money we make, it is likely not going to be enough. It doesn't matter what house we live in, it is likely going to be too small. I've realized that some things are inevitable like hair loss, being despised by your teenage son, or the death of your dog. With this realization I've learned that while we may not be able to control these things, we can control how we think about them. We can choose to be helpless or hopeful.

There are many other things that are there by choice, and not by chance. Most of what happens every day is with our consent, consciously or otherwise, and within our direct control and influence. We can choose how busy to get, how many things we have on our minds, and what we must and mustn't do. Another profound lesson I've learned from this, is that no matter what happens, there are only a few simple pleasures that make it all worthwhile. Without these, we may as well head straight to the drip and catheter.

Simple Pleasures

Some people meditate. Others read or run. For many, the pleasures are primal. All of them have the profound power to put life into perspective. When everything is stripped away. When the noise gets too much. When we realize that our mind-space is out of control, then we can withdraw to this simple zone for perspective. We can again become basic human.

For me it is a campfire, a piece of meat, cold beer and sharing it with good friends. This is my happy place. Simple.

When everything we do as people are stripped away, the simplicity of a shared meal around a fire with good company may just be the most profound equalizer. No matter where we live, what we drive, which job or qualification we have, it all simply comes down to those moments humanity celebrated for thousands of years.

These are the moments we must collect most of all along our life's journey, before we're booked for our appointment with old-age plumbing. We should cherish the simple pleasures in life.

Disconnection and Control

We live in a bizarre world. We are disconnected from our local communities and neighbours, yet have all the news and gossip about people and events, that has little to no bearing on our day-to-day lives. We know more about our Facebook "friends" than we do about our neighbours. We eat food, wear clothes and use tools from people we don't know, and is unlikely to ever meet.

Every month we hand over the majority of our earnings in taxes and interest to bureaucrats who profess to have our best interest at heart. They assure us, they have a higher moral compass and knows best what we need. This we do while these people have no knowledge of who we really are. We are connection rich, morally sedated, responsibility abdicated, and community poor.

We worry about things we cannot influence or change. I am trying to find a term for this state, and is open to suggestions.

What we miss is to be mentally and physically involved in the things around us. We should consciously choose our world and give it priority. Not someone else's fabrication somewhere else. We should choose to interact with people we meet on the street, in the shops, by talking to them. The old fashion way.  We should get to know the people in our community. These people, and us make the community. The butcher, the baker, the carpenter and builder. Our producers.

In our shrink-wrapped ready to wear, ready to eat world, we walk past these people never really knowing who they are. We don't know what they do. How they do it. We are worse off because we don't take the time to reach out to them and get to know them. In the process, we lose the opportunity to get to know more about ourselves. It is time for us to take time to meet each other.

If we do, we are likely to buy their bread - our community's bread - instead of the bread from a faceless corporation, paying minimum wage. We can drink our community's beer. Eat our community's meat and vegetables. If we support our local producers, we are directly and indirectly supporting ourselves. Then our children have true meaningful opportunities to learn to make something and be part of a place and its people. Then our youth will become the engineers, carpenters, builders and bakers of the future, instead of aspiring to careers in minimum wage mindless corporate jobs. Then the values in our communities and our people are restored.

In the following weeks we are going to feature some of these producers.  We hope you like what you see. We are certainly having a lot of fun getting to know them better.

See what happens if you support your local producers:,8599,1903632,00.html

"At the most basic level, when you buy local more money stays in the community. The New Economics Foundation, an independent economic think tank based in London, compared what happens when people buy produce at a supermarket vs. a local farmer's market or community supported agriculture (CSA) program and found that twice the money stayed in the community when folks bought locally. "That means those purchases are twice as efficient in terms of keeping the local economy alive," says author and NEF researcher David Boyle. (See the top 10 food trends of 2008.)"

Hendrik van Wyk

Get rewarded for supporting our local Producers. Receive special offers and invitations from the Two Cowboys.
Please help us to bring you more of these programs by supporting us on