Yellowknife and the geodesic dome bike shop

©TIMB - Yellowknife geodesic dome bike shop

©TIMB – Yellowknife and the geodesic bike shop is central to a recycling ideology that drives the company.

“My neighbour went to jail and left a large pile of left over bicycles. Because he was not able to repair his own bike so he just kept getting more and more bike parts. So when he went to prison, there was a large pile of bicycle parts in his yard. And the new tenant took all the parts and put them on the street. They were going to go to another bike shp and I said, ‘He already has 500 bicycles. And if you take that wheel and put it there and those handlebars and out them here, there is a bicycle.  And out that there and there is a bicycle’. And we carved out half a dozen bicycles. And people said, ‘Oh, you fix bicycles do you? Here, I’ve got some. Oh, you want some donations?’.

At night, people were doing drive-by drop-offs, anonymously.  Before we knew it, the whole yard was filled with bicycles. Literally. And that was the first summer we really got going and then we came up with the idea of making a dome out of bicycle wheels. We did a prototype and it worked.” Read more about the creation of Yellowknife’s Old Town Bike Shop…

“I am a recycler. I am very frugal. I was recycling and lobbying the city of Yellowknife to start recycling and they told me Yellowknife was a linear town, a mining town. ‘We make it, we break it, we throw it away.’ And that is the way it works here. Besides, they said, ‘There is nothing you can do with broken glass’, as an example. And that was the starting point.

“And I noticed that, at city council meetings, they were all using styrofoam cups. At the end of the meeting, there would be six, seven, eight styrofoam cups in front of each person. So, for Christmas, I made all of them a glass made from a  bottle, to show them we could take something out of the waste stream and put it back into the economy and they could drink more water so their brains would work better.

“Then I wondered if this could be made into a viable, actual company, so in 1994 I started Old Town Glass Works, which is the front shop here. We have a work space here and a showcase up front. From 1994 to 2006, it was an entrepreneurial business. In 2006, I was a tired of all my employees telling me how to make it better and then pissing off and not being responsible at the end of the day. So I said ‘Fine, If you want to have some sort of opinion about things, I would like to found a workers cooperative and sell the company to the cooperative’. So that happened in 2006.

“Nothing changed except I had more help and people had more attachment instead of just working for the man and poking him in the eye. Now it was their company and they were learning about workers’ cooperatives.

“We got to the point we were barely surviving, and I came up with the idea of glass-making workshops. And that saved our bacon because people will pay more to make a glass for themselves than if we make it for them. Suddenly we were making profit and over the past two years we were crawling out of the dirt.

©TIMB - Geodesic dome in Yelowknife with discarded wheels as extra support against snow

©TIMB – The geodesic dome has over 800 wheels providing support against the snow loads.

“Then, last fall, because were getting such a profile, the city came down and said you need a structural permit for this and an expansion permit for that. Some $45,000 later, we had wheelchair ramps and smoke detectors and a new electrical system.

“We pulled through all that shit and finally we could see something beyond red ink. Over the past two years, the bike business has been building up to success.

“About four years ago, I had a neighbour who told the judge, no, he did not kick a security officer. No, he did not kick him in the crotch. No, he did not punch him in the face.  But he did admit to spitting on him. And the judge said, ‘Seven months in the can’. And he said ‘Great. I’ll bring my books’.”

He went to jail and left a large pile of left over bicycles. Because he was not able to repair his own bike so he just kept getting more and more bike parts. So when he went to prison, there was a large pile of bicycle parts in his yard.

And the new tenant took all the parts and put them on the street. They were going to go to another bike shp and I said, ‘He already has 500 bicycles. And if you take that wheel and put it there and those handlebars and out them here, there is a bicycle.  And out that there and there is a bicycle’. And we carved out half a dozen bicycles. And people said, ‘Oh, you fix bicycles do you? Here, I’ve got some. Oh, you want some donations?’.

At night, people were doing drive-by drop-offs, anonymously.  Before we knew it, the whole yard was filled with bicycles. Literally. And that was the first summer we really got going and then we came up with the idea of making a dome out of bicycle wheels and we did a prototype and it worked.  And it got into the newspaper. And when it was in the paper, someone else came to me and said “I know where there are these three 40 foot diameters geodesic domes”. I had been looking for those because I had lost track of them in 2003. I had bought them in 2000 for a festival and by 2003 they had disappeared.

There seemed to be the carcasses of 300 bikes in the front. There used to be vastly more. We needed 80 wheels for the dome. There was a bike shop across town that went out of business and we picked maybe 500 wheels from that pile. It was sad to see them go, but if we were not going to use them, where were they going to go?

This is out sixth year now. Three years ago we put up the dome and got a small government grant.

They were ready to go kits for three domes and the owner did not know what to do with them. We bought the three and put one up in the back yard here and it was a temporary structure and the inspector said I did not need a permit. It was a tent- and away I went.

In the Fall, they said I needed a permanent one and I could not get one of those. It was not certified for northern snow loads. And they are right. The tarp would sag under the weight. But I hummed and hawed and dragged my feet. The next summer they came down and said it had to go. So we got 800 bicycle wheels, sewed them all together like Lego and put it over the top. And they said it was really nice, but it is not going to carry  snow load.

And I asked they knew it could not carry a snow load? So they said I had to prove it can. As it turns out, my next door neighbour is an architect and his father is a structural engineer and he loves geodesic domes. And he was only too happy to come over and calculate the structural capacity of a dome made of bicycle wheels and then certify it for another $1,000. For only $5,000 I was able to get the legal documentation.

And the city went away.

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