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CASUAL COUNTRY: Wheelchair Woodturnings

Allan Stafford loves the feel of living in a small town
Allan Stafford and his business Wheelchair Woodturnings are regulars at the Williams Lake Farmer’s Market. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)

Every week on Fridays from spring to fall, you can find Allan Stafford manning his booth at the Williams Lake Farmer’s Market.

With his supportive father Fred in tow, Allan sets out an array of handcrafted wood items for sale; everything from ice cream scoops to bottle openers; back scratchers to many different styles of pens.

Allan uses both domestic and exotic wood for his craft and spends his winters making his high-quailty products, and the rest of the year selling them.

At 24 years old now, Allan learned the basics in high school in Williams Lake when he took wood shop as an elective.

“Being in the wheelchair, some of the other big machinery, the saws, sometimes were a little too dangerous for me to be actively using them. But the lathe was something I could pull up right beside in my wheelchair and just carve away and if you get covered in shavings, that’s just half the fun.”

Mr. Sherman taught Allan wood work in Grade 8, and Mr. Hutchinson taught him the remaining years of school, giving him the basics before he started experimenting with his own design.

“I’ve always loved wood. I don’t know what it really is about it.”

Allan started his woodturning business as a hobby more than six years ago, but built it into a business about three years ago when he finished school to become an architectural draftsman only to have the pandemic hit and curtail those plans.

Allan was born with spina bifida and raised on a ranch by his parents Fred and Elaine Stafford along with his siblings Amy and Ian. He can walk, however, his stamina is severely limited so, short distances, especially if there is uneven terrain, easily fatigues him.

“This is his normal, is being in the wheelchair, and we have never let that stand in the way for anything he wants to,” says his dad. “It’s been a case of talking with him and telling him, ‘OK, some people may find one way to do something, you find another way. Just because you’re in a wheelchair, it doesn’t mean you can’t do things.”

Fred says Allan has always just been “part and parcel of things” in the family, but admits it is great to see him doing so well with his business.

“It’s fabulous to see that he’s able to find a niche that he can, A, supply things to people that are of a unique handmade fashion and, B, the quality and the pride that he takes in doing it. It really makes a person feel good to see him do that.”

Earlier this year Allan took part in the Williams Lake Stampede Parade alongside Rick Hansen as one of several ‘difference makers.’ He was also with Hansen at other key events at the curling rink and museum, where is there now a display dedicated to the Man in Motion tour.

“I have known him for several years. The earliest memory I have is back when Scout Island got the main accessibility trail opened up several years back when it was installed with the gravel running along the beach,” he said.

“He’s always been a bit of an idle to me. Basically, anytime I need inspiration I can always look to what he’s done and that sort of gives me motivation to keep moving forward and find ways to progress in my life. If I’ve come up with a roadblock, I find ways around it.”

Fred is grateful his son has someone like Rick Hansen to look to for inspiration.

“Rick is a fantastic role model for everyone, as we all well know. Allan has looked up to him all the way along and that’s been something we have encouraged. Everybody needs to have a role model as they go along through and we couldn’t think of a better one for him to have.”

Fred is happy to also be behind his son every step of the way, and works with him to help him reach his goals. Allan is independent, and has his own car with hand controls to drive into town from the family home in the country.

“Its just great to see him strive, and make advancements and carry on.”

As far as Williams Lake’s accessibility, Allan said the city is “on the right track” but that there are a few locations that need improvement, such as sidewalk ramps around some parking stalls, which he’s contacted the accessibility committee about.

Don’t expect to see Allan leave his hometown of Williams Lake for the city life anytime soon. He’s a small town guy.

“I like the feel of being in a small town. I went away for my university and that was for a 10-month course and I put up with it because I needed to for the course but outside of that I like my wide open spaces and small town feel.”

95th Annual Williams Lake Parade July 1st, 2023. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Allan Stafford and Rick Hansen visit outside the curling club in Williams Lake July 2023. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)

Angie Mindus

About the Author: Angie Mindus

Angie Mindus is the managing editor of the Williams Lake Tribune and the Weekend Advisor.
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