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The Canning Factory: Cliff Smith’s Vision

You’re looking for a place in the country.

You come across a derelict old building – infested by wild animals and, sometimes late at night, wild teenagers.

Blog - Country Road and Canning FactoryPhoto by Andrés Hannach

You have a choice: get the heck out of there, or look at the place – a massive former canning factory – and visualize what it could become.  Cliff Smith chose the latter.

8 years later, the building, surrounded by nearly 4 acres of land in the village of Grafton, Ontario, is a wonder to behold.

Blog - Canning Factory main floorPhoto by Peter Sellar

It’s home on the weekends for Cliff and his wife, Yasmin.  During the week, it’s a showroom for the Vincent Sheppard line of modern furniture Cliff distributes across Canada through his company Augustus Jones Inc.

Blog - canning Factory yellow bench and fireplacePhoto by Peter Sellar; Vincent Sheppard chairs with Daybed by B&B italia

My husband and I were  invited to visit with Cliff and Yasmin after a reading from my book A Good Home  in nearby Cobourg. We were grateful to rest and dine with them before heading back home.

“Go try out the various sofas and chairs till you find one you’re comfortable in,” Yasmin, an osteopath, encouraged me soon after we arrived. “Rest up a little.”

The problem was that they were all comfortable. But then I found the perfect seat: a beautiful red chair. Oh, wow! I sank into it, feet up on the matching ottoman, and didn’t want to move.

Blog - The Red comfy chairPhoto by Peter Sellar: TOGO Red chair and ottoman by Ligne Rosset

Cliff Smith and I attended the same school in Mandeville, Jamaica:  Manchester High School. We’d been educated by great teachers and an outstanding headmaster named Gerry German.

A world away from those days, as we sat with our spouses and another schoolmate, Paul, in Cliff’s astonishingly beautiful space,  we reminisced. “Gerry”, our principal, knew the name of not just every student, but our parents as well. Gerry believed that every child had great potential, and a duty to live up to it. If we didn’t,  there was a good chance he’d pay our parents a visit.

Cliff became a top-notch art director and book designer in Canada’s publishing industry. But as the industry faltered, he decided to do something different.

Blog - Cliff answering clients questionsPhoto by Gerry Taylor.  Cliff talks with potential clients about the Vincent Sheppard furniture.

The old canning factory in Grafton excited him. He saw what it could be: a weekend home for his family, a large space for cultural events such as book launches, art shows and other things, and a huge, airy showroom for modern indoor and outdoor furniture.

Cliff is a visionary willing to work hard to realize his big dreams. As his former schoolmate, I am intrigued, guessing at what he’ll do next, and enormously proud of his achievements.

Blog - Upstairs at Canning FactoryThis photo and the next by Peter Sellar

Cliff and Yasmin’s city home was featured in the Globe and Mail newspaper in late summer and the canning factory was featured in Azure Magazine.

What a remarkable space. What  an exciting selection of modern furniture. And what a distinctive home.

Bravo, Cliff Smith. Gerry would have been proud.

Blog - Canning Factory exterior

39 thoughts on “The Canning Factory: Cliff Smith’s Vision”

  1. This is a great piece Cynthia! We’ve been to Wycliff and Yasmin’s place in the country several times over the years and have seen the progress on the building… We have promised to go out to see the finished product, so proud of their accomplishment!

    Gail Scala Sent from my iPad

  2. I, like Gerry German, know that everyone has a potential. Wycliff was in the same form as my brother Errol Lewis now deceased. Prosperity and good luck. From Beverley Charlton( nee Lewis).

  3. Everyone has potential and when we don’t recognise our own, thank God for those around us that do! Believing is seeing, – not the other way round! Visions are the stepping stones to creating our own realities!

  4. Thanks for this information, Cynthia.
    I have fond memories of Wycliff from our schooldays at MHS, but had no information of him since that time.
    I’m thrilled at his achievements and would encourage him to keep following those visions.

  5. Cliff is truly a visionary in so, so many ways and a great example of what happens when the mind is freed from the bondage of comfortable conformity. Rather than get ideas from a book or a magazine, Cliff creates ideas that he turns into something amazing. As a Realtor, I am in and out of a lot of houses, it’s rare that one captivates. I’ve visited with Cliff and Yasmin consistently over the past forty years and they have a way of creating spaces that are inviting, comfortable and makes their guests feel like a million bucks. Way to go Cliff! Bravo on another masterpiece and congratulations partnership with Vincent Sheppard; your involvement already speaks to the quality of the furniture line. I have a feeling “Gerry” might be somewhere smiling.

  6. Deuan German here, second son and third child of Gerry. Just reading what Marlon Rankine wrote above …”What happens when the mind is freed from the bondage of comfortable conformity”….? Well it seems we expand our consciousness of what is… what is possible… we see truth……. ! This seems to be the challenge for life ….. I remember Dad saying to me a long time ago, he only said it once but I remember where I was when he said it… “Happiness is to look into the eyes of insecurity … and to smile!” Peace and Love and so great to hear from the ‘Jamaicans’ here. By the way I am now Director of Communities Empowerment Network which Gerry founded and which I assisted him in running till his passing last year (www.cenlive.org)

    1. Terrific to hear from you, Deuan, and to know that you’re continuing the good work of the organization that Gerry founded. And now we have another great Gerry quote too. “Happiness is to look into the eyes of insecurity.. and to smile!” Thank you, and my best wishes for CEN and the many people it helps.

  7. I knew Cliff first as a creative director – he was my boss a lifetime ago. We became fast friends also thanks to a common passion for furniture design and architecture. Cliff’s ability at creating spaces echoes his MO: cool attitude and emotional intelligence coexhist smoothly. The result is that you don’t want to leave any of the spaces he puts his hands on. Just like one never tires of hanging out with him

  8. I enjoyed reading this post. What an amazing place! The furniture looks very exciting and I’m glad you found somewhere extra- specially comfortable to sit. I also found all the comments from a year ago fascinating. All those people who had known or been influenced by one or other of the people in your post!

    1. Clare: Thank you. I sometimes wonder about the 500+ individuals who were in the school at the same time, and all who were influenced by Gerry. The ones I know went on to exceptional achievements – but there are so many whom I lost track of. The combination of Gerry’s influence, our parents determination and the sense of optimism that comes with a newly independent country – plus one of the finest school systems in the world — all had a strong impact on our generation.

  9. You meet and share stories for such interesting people Cynthia. I love how they both had a dream and were willing to make it happen. And to have early teachers and parents who encourage and push to bring out the greatness in our children. A priceless gift…


    1. Y’know, Gallivanta: I think he would. I think he was. Many of us connected with Gerry back home in England (he’s originally Welsh) and discovered that he had such hope for us, and pride in our achievements.

      Being the tiniest kid in the school, and very young, I was a misfit who got sent to his office routinely. He engaged me in intellectual discussions about everything, and actually listened to my replies. A wonderful gift to a small child. He and his wife Patsy told me that I was bright and had a right to be in the land of the giants called high school.

      1. Bless him! Good teachers/mentors like Gerry are priceless. I was only sent to the principal’s office once….and I don’t even remember my crime. The Headmistress was a bossy dragon. I came away angry, that I remember. If only we had had a Gerry….

      2. Only ONCE? MY goodness, I am severely disappointed in you, Gallivanta. A stain on your otherwise sterling character. Did you really only get into trouble at school once?
        (She declares, trying to find some way of justifying her own transgressions…)

      3. Sadly, yes. 😦 Or maybe it was twice. Only once to the principal, though. I did take part in a protest at boarding school; we sat on the lawn outside to demand our right to wear trousers/jeans after school and at weekends. We won! 😀 Although I think at first we were only allowed proper trousers. Jeans came later.

  10. Sitting here in the office of Communities Empowerment Network (which Gerry founded in 1999 and where he dedicated his time and energy for the benefit of pupils excluded from school, particularly those from the Caribbean) as the Director and it’s beautiful to read these. Gerry would be so inspired and joy filled to see the vibrancy, passion and dedication that fills this organisation as it continues to grow, evolve and contribute . Gerry German a spiritual warrior.

  11. Deuan: You have no idea how thrilling it is to be reminded that you took over CEN and have carried on the good work that your father started. Thank you, and my family sends you and your family our love. I keep up with Glynis via her blog and am glad to hear from her. How’s your mother? How is CEN doing?
    Keep up the great work, Deuan. I forget, is CEN based in London?

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