Minden couple making mineral puzzles
By Sue Tiffin
Published Aug. 9, 2018
Over the winter holidays at Michael Bainbridge and Brigitte Gall’s house in Minden, something magical was happening. Like in many other homes, friends and family were gathered and good times were being had. But at the Bainbridge-Gall house, a new idea was also being generated.
Gall had bought Bainbridge a 1,000-piece puzzle depicting Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night painting for Christmas. The box was opened when friends came to visit, and Gall said she and Bainbridge couldn’t help but notice that their guests were hovering over the puzzle, trying to make connections between pieces, unable to stop focusing on it, “like circling around Mecca.”
“For three days straight we had eight people circling around our kitchen island just totally enthralled by this puzzle,” said Bainbridge.
The immense interest in the puzzle helped Bainbridge and Gall with a question they had had about the collection of mineral photographs Bainbridge had amassed as a mineral photographer for a little more than a decade. As their friends circled, Bainbridge and Gall finally had an answer.
“We looked at each other and went ... ” said Gall.
“Lightbulb!” added Bainbridge.
“Ah, that’s what you do with these images!” said Gall.
Bainbridge had had a childhood passion for minerals, but became a cameraman and director of photography after school.
“Basically when we had kids, I decided I didn’t want to spend 18 hours on the film set anymore,” he said. “I decided to follow my passion with [minerals], instead.”
He has had a booth at the Bancroft Gemboree and has also worked as a mineral photographer or writer with the Canadian Museum of Nature, the Royal Ontario Museum, the Redpath Museum in Montreal, the Geological Survey of Canada, the University of Delaware and high-end collectors. Under Canadian copyright law, Bainbridge owns the images he has taken, and wanted to do something with them.
Quickly – just in the past few months – Bainbridge and Gall researched, learned and got organized under TheOccurrence, a business name Bainbridge has been keeping for just such an opportunity for years.
“An occurrence, the dictionary definition is a happening, an event,” he said. “On the one hand it has this sort of sense of excitement about it, for me. But from a geological standpoint it’s a concentrated mineral deposit, that’s called an occurrence. So it has that sort of two sides to it.”
Haliburton County Development Corporation was supportive of a test market launch, and with Jim Blake’s guidance, Bainbridge and Gall went to the Starter Company Plus grant program through the Kawartha Lakes Small Business Entrepreneurship Centre.
“It’s basically like entrepreneurship boot camp,” said Bainbridge. “It was fantastic. At the end of it, everybody who was accepted into the program has a fully-formed business plan. So that took us to a whole new level with the business.”
Matching funds from HCDC and a grant from the entrepreneurship centre helped the pair with product development, booth development and will assist with building an e-commerce website from which they can sell their products.
Together with friends, the pair were able to decide which images to use for puzzles and have six to choose from: 198-piece puzzles featuring ammonite and trilobite, a 504-piece proustite puzzle, a 1,000-piece rainbow pyrite puzzle and Minerals of Canada, which comes complete with what Bainbridge called a “chocolate box menu” explaining each mineral, and comes in both 198 pieces and 504 pieces.
“Some of the specimens are actually from around here, too,” said Gall. “It’s an opportunity to bring people into a world they wouldn’t otherwise see. Minerals and specimens you wouldn’t necessarily know about. So, there’s an educational piece, there’s an excitement piece, and then there’s just a nerd ... it’s just fun being a nerd.”
Bainbridge and Gall identify as nerds, as do many of their friends but Bainbridge said they weren’t necessarily avid puzzlers. Through their research they were finding puzzles were gaining in popularity.
“So puzzles and games is the fastest growing segment of the toy category for the last several years,” said Bainbridge. “Hardcover book sales or physical book sales are on the rise whereas the Kindles and the e-readers are declining because people are jonesing for the tactile experience now.”
Puzzles have appealed to Bainbridge and Gall for their content – the image on the pieces – and their research showed there wasn’t anybody really doing what they were planning to do.
“Anything earth sciences is dinosaurs, but for the most part, puzzles are sailboats and kittens and balls of yarn,” said Bainbridge. “We figured there was a space for somebody to do something different, a little bit more edgy-looking, slightly educational but not in a hit you over the head way. There is sort of another category of earth sciences puzzles which are more curriculum-based, educational, whereas this is just a lot more informal and fun.”
With the tagline, “Puzzle responsibly,” TheOccurrence promotes the puzzles for special events held at home, and Bainbridge and Gall plan to pair each puzzle with a wine, craft beer, or juice.
“I recommend grape, apple or mango juice for the trilobite,” joked Gall.
The 198-piece puzzle is deemed perfect for The Dinner Party, while the 504-piece puzzle is ideal for The Weekender. The 1,000-piece puzzle, which can take significantly more time to put together, is subtitled with Don’t Forget to Pay the Hydro.
“Then we started thinking about it more, and as sort of a guiding principle, like as our actual mission statement, that encapsulates our philosophy, too, which is question things, be inquisitive, and do so in a responsible way, like your interaction with the planet and each other should be inquisitive and mindful. That’s what’s behind puzzle responsibly.”
After the test market run at the Bancroft Gemboree booth last weekend, the set-up of the e-commerce site to sell the puzzles, and a show in Ottawa , Bainbridge and Gall hope the next step will be looking into the viability of small manufacturing, so the puzzles can be made in Minden.
“It turns out there’s only two other places in Canada that will take images and print puzzles, and they’re not even printed necessarily in Canada, they’re printed off-shore,” said Gall. “So, we were saying, ideally because of where we are, because we’re Haliburton Highlands and we’re so proud of the stuff we’re bringing out, we would like it to be done in Canada.”
With a facility here, Gall said other artists, lake associations, businesses, or organizations that want to do a small run of puzzles would be able to do so.
The pair credit their family – who give each other impromptu hugs, finish each others’ sentences and stay close as Bainbridge and Gall chat – with helping to make the project happen so quickly in time for the launch of the puzzle business at the Gemboree.
“It’s really been all of us,” said Gall. “Judy [Michael’s mom] helped build this booth, she sewed this, the girls have been working, they’ve been stamping, they’ve been helping, they’re going to help at the booth. It’s all of us. OK everybody, guess what, we make puzzles now!”
“It’s been overwhelming but less so because of all of the help, from friends too,” said Bainbridge. Friends Jenn Wanless-Craig and Terry Craig have acted as mentors to the pair, and Chris Hanson and Hendrika Sonnenberg rescued the puzzle shipments when they arrived early and were about to be rained on, when the Bainbridge-Gall family was out of town.
“I think it’s a great business and I think if it will get to be better than Cobble Hill puzzles then I will be so happy, because Cobble Hill is one of the most popular brands,” said Naiomi, Bainbridge and Gall’s daughter. Turning to Bainbridge, she said: “And I’m really hoping for your business to extend past Cobble Hill.”
Despite the stress of making it all work so quickly and the nerves behind trying something new, the family continues to laugh while gathered around the set-up Gemboree booth in their garage.
“I’m really pleased that they’re doing this because they both have such strong aesthetic sense, and it’s a way for them to use their artistic sensibility, as well as their business sense which they also have a lot of, and the interest in rocks,” said Judy.
“Minerals,” shouts Gall happily, in correction. “Oh, I’ve trained her well, I like that,” laughs Bainbridge.
“To use all their talents together in one place,” continued Judy. “Michael’s always liked rocks since he was really little. I used to have rocks all over the house, and then one day I decided they could be kept outside because they’re rocks after all, but I was told very quickly that, no they can’t, because they weather.”
“I’m glad he has a healthy outlet for his rock-mania,” she laughed.
“I will tell you, I’ve paid the bills with rocks in one way, shape or form for over a decade now,” said Bainbridge. “Well, not with rocks per se, but with my love of rocks.”
Visit www.theoccurrence.ca, follow TheOccurrence on Facebook or contact Bainbridge and Gall at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.