East Vancouver resident Rhonda Nowak has some very good reasons to be looking forward to the holiday season this year. And it’s not only because this is an especially busy time for her small business, Vancouver Christmas Ornaments, which offers a collection of blown-glass, miniature statues of Vancouver landmarks.
She can also celebrate her dramatically improved health after being diagnosed with cancer in 2020.
“It was a really tough, tough year, but people have been so kind,” Nowak told the Straight by phone. “And I think I got a few sympathy purchases last year, but now people are buying them because they actually love them!”
As she approaches her fifth Christmas retail season, she has a new product that people can hang on their trees: one of the small ferries that take people across False Creek. She’s added this to a line of ornaments that includes the East Van cross, Science World, and the Gastown steam clock. For animal lovers, she’s created a statue of one of the lions that stands at the south end of the Lions Gate Bridge.
Vancouver Christmas Ornaments also sells statues of a spirit bear, a sockeye salmon, a dogwood flower, and a crow, which has become a de facto symbol of East Vancouver, thanks to the Eastside Culture Crawl. They sell for between $20 and $25 each and are available at vanchristmas.com.
The crow was Nowak’s homage to the dearly departed Canuck the crow.
“Bless his soul,” she said.
Nowak worked for many years in communications but lost her job in a restructuring a couple of years ago. She was looking for a new job when she received the cancer diagnosis. Because she couldn’t sell her statues at Christmas markets last year, friends and former coworkers launched a Facebook campaign on her behalf. They even paid for the advertisements, enabling her to earn enough to offset any loss of income.
“I am just so thankful for everyone who supported me this last year or two,” Nowak said. “I get emotional about it.”
In creating her designs, she relies on reference photos, prepares the drawings, and scales the models to size. She then chooses the finishes and the colours and has them manufactured elsewhere.
Making blown-glass statues of Vancouver landmarks is quite a leap for someone who used to make their living working for a large company.
So where did she come up with the idea?
“I was actually in counselling and my counsellor said, ‘If you can do anything you wanted to do, what would it be?’ ” Nowak recalled.
She replied that she would create a business of blown-glass ornaments showing off aspects of Vancouver and B.C.
“He said, ‘Don’t tell anyone.’ I kind of was taken aback. He said, ‘That’s a fantastic idea. Don’t tell anyone. You should just go do it because someone else will do it,’ ” she said. “And then I thought, ‘Okay, I am going to.’ Life is short. You’ve got to be doing something you love.
“Especially after I had my diagnosis,” Nowak added. “It was just like a wake-up call. You know, you can’t be in a job that brings no joy. I’m now in a job that brings a lot of joy.”