Made in the shade

Revelstoke isn’t known for its manufacturing sector, but local company Shade Sails Canada is proving that it can be done.

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Photo: Danielle Hebert/Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine

This article first appeared in print in the October/November issue of Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine.

By Danielle Hebert

Shade Sails Canada is a family run business which operates right here in Revelstoke and serves customers across the country. Located on Highway 23, sitting right at the base of Mount Revelstoke is the head office, manufacturing workshop, and warehouse of Shade Sails Canada.

Photo: Danielle Hebert/Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine

The business was started 19 years ago by Neil and Brydon Roe, a father and son team. It was first conceived when Neil Roe, who owned a successful dock and deck building company at the time, was visiting his sons who were living in Australia. It was there that he was first introduced to the concept on tensile structures (such as shade sails) and he immediately saw the potential of producing and selling shade sails in Canada.

Together, Neil and Brydon started the company in Ontario, where they are originally from. The company grew as people in Canada began to see the beauty and utility of shade sails. Brydon eventually relocated the business to Revelstoke where he met his partner, Anne Murphy, who worked in the manufacturing workshop sewing the sails.

Andres Suarez at work at Shade Sails. Photo: Danielle Hebert/Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine

As the business continued to take off and grow they made the decision to split the business into two separate entities, the residential business remained as Shade Sails Canada and the commercial business is now called TensArch.

Both parts of the business are continuously growing as awareness of shade sails and tensile architecture grows in Canada. Tens Arch has provided high quality shade solutions for many businesses and municipalities across the country including outdoor spaces such as libraries, playgrounds, condo buildings, vineyards, and retirement homes to name a few.

Sample bags at the Shade Sails warehouse. Photo: Danielle Hebert/Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine

All of the conceptualizing design work, and manufacturing for Shade Sails Canada and Tens Arch happens in Revelstoke at their building on Highway 23. Sales inquiries come in and the design team then begins to work on designing and rendering the shade sail and the structure that will hold it. They work with the customer to customize the shape and colour of the sail or sails, as well as the shape, material, and colour of the structural components.

Once the design is agreed upon, special software for an electronic cutting machine is used to cut the material very precisely into the right shapes. The panel of the material, which is made from woven high density polyethylene plastic, is nine feet wide and up to about 30 feet in length. Once the material is cut, the sewing begins. During the busy season, over the summer, there are up to 17 people working full time to complete the high volume of orders and the sails are usually able to be completed within two weeks. During lower volume seasons, sails orders can be finished within a week. The shade sails shape look simple enough, but each one is designed specifically to fit a particular space and needs to be cut with precision in order to maintain the high standards of strength and safety that makes Shade Sails Canada so successful. The sails are often mistaken for a triangular shape, though they generally they are actually four-sided but attached in a hyperbolic shape, so that looking from most angles, they appear to be triangular. The four-sided sails actually cast a greater amount of shade which why they are preferred for shade sails.

The new Shade Sail installed at Kovach Park. Photo: contributed

The structures that hold the sails in place are also a very important part of the product. They have to be strong enough to withstand the large amount of tension that the wires holding the sails are under, as well as the force of wind and other elements that the shade sails may encounter throughout their lifetimes. The structures are generally sourced near where they will be installed and are installed by contractors or by Tens Arch employees. “Due to the strength needed, it is preferable for the shade sail structures to be incorporated into the design of new builds, especially for large buildings such as condos and high rises, otherwise it becomes difficult to fasten the structures with enough integrity to withstand the forces, and cross p-bracing has to be used” explained Graham Harper. Architects are beginning to understand this and plan for the need for shade and work with Tens Arch from the design phase onward.

Some of their products on display in this promotional shot. Photo: Contributed

After many years of production and seeing large volumes of waste from the odd-shaped off cuts of the sail material, Shade Sails Canada has been innovating new products to use the excess material. “The goal is to become zero-waste in the landfill,” said Harper. The new products include market and beach tote bags, children’s tote bags, planter bags, and other items, which can be used for personal and commercial applications. Because the products are made from the extremely durable, breathable, and washable material, they are considered a lifetime bag that is virtually indestructible. The new products have not been officially launched yet but will be sold under a new business division called Green Bag Company, which can be seen at www.greenbagcompany.ca.

Other exciting news for the Shade Sails Canada group is an upcoming appearance on Dragon’s Den. The date that the episode will be airing has just been released; you can tune in to watch the Shade Sail team pitch to the Dragons on Thursday, October 17 at 9 p.m. The outcome of the pitch is still secret until the show airs.