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PHOTOS: Delivering handmade happiness; meet the Kamloops toymaker

Terry Shupe in the "Shupe Shop"
October 12, 2014 - 2:38 PM

KAMLOOPS – To a child a toy means one thing: Fun. It's rare for anyone to consider where a toy came from or how it was made. But when the toy is stamped with the words "handcrafted by Terry Shupe" you might wonder who Terry Shupe is or what the toy means to him. 

For children around the world, Terry's known as the kind man who gave them a toy – sometimes their first and only.

In Kamloops he's known by many people in several different capacities. Those who frequent the courthouse know and respect Terry as the now-retired Kamloops Provincial Court judge. The Rocky Mountain Rangers salute him as their Honourary Colonel. His wife, Lanni, admires him as the man she fell in love with over 41 years ago. He's a father and a grandfather.

Terry's made a lot of toys, hundreds. He doesn't add up the time spent working on them, or how many he's made.

"Then it would start becoming a job," he says.

Etched from his original designs, Terry cuts pieces of wood, sands, assembles, varnishes and creates an assortment of toys — everything from waddling ducks, to doll cradles, tankers and trucks — in the “Shupe Shop” adjacent to his rural Kamloops home.

Shupe lifts up a painted yellow, wooden school bus filled with smiley-faced students.

“Which one do you think forgot his homework?” he asks with a sinister smile. He points to the sad face in the back of the bus.

The basement is filled with an inventory of several hundred toys. Soon, Terry’s creations will be shipped off to a variety of places while some will stay in Kamloops for Christmas.

Woodworking was a hobby Terry learned from watching his father, a carpenter by trade. But it wasn't until Terry became a parent when he decided to try his hand at building something himself. His first project was a car-shaped bed for his son.

“It could have fit four kids.... It was massive,” Lanni says with a laugh. “He had one hell of a time getting it upstairs.”

The first international group of children to receive a toy from Terry were in Tangalle, Sri Lanka. After hearing about the tsunami's wreckage in the country, he signed on with the Kamloops group Developing World Connections and travelled to South Asia with toys in tow.

Since his first trip in 2004 Terry has returned seven times. He’s seen it all: Survivors, houses swept away, boats stranded on land in the middle of nowhere and a blanket of white flags.

“The white flag denotes a family death,” Shupe says. “It never leaves you.”

He became a well-known visitor during his trips. Beyond his contagious charisma and positivity, many remembered Terry for the joy and gifts he brought. Upon his return to the village where he built houses, Terry was often the first to receive a greeting — mostly from an excited group of children.

To thank Terry for his toys, children would give him whatever they could within their means. One child gave him a root painted to look like a snake. Another sang him a song.

“I didn’t understand a single word of it. It didn’t matter,” Terry says.

Two Sri Lankan men who organized the housing project gifted him a plaque thanking him for his contribution to the happiness of the children in their village.

“Of all the awards I’ve received that’s the one that matters to me more than any of the others,” he says.

As for why Terry kept going back, his wife Lanni’s theory is simple: “It’s tiny little relationship moments, I think, that sustain him,” she says. “I just have the greatest amount of respect for his ability and his tenacity.”

Lanni remained patient during Terry's repeat humanitarian mission. She varnished toys and helped package them while she managed the family at home. Terry's habit of taking off to pursue a calling was nothing new. Before Sri Lanka, he travelled to a war-torn Bosnia to help re-establish the rule of law. In Bosnia’s Brcko district, near the Croatian border, Terry trained several judges. 

“As opposed to condescending theory, I would just roll up my sleeves and go to work with them,” he says.

His work in Brcko garnered some attention from the Canadian Armed Forces. When Terry attended a regimental dinner, he was informed he would be nominated to become an honourary lieutenant-colonel for the Rocky Mountain Rangers — the only infantry reserve unit in the province's interior.

“I was in awe,” he says.

Terry, now an honourary colonel, founded relationships with many of the men and women with the unit and continues to foster them when he routinely joins the group on exercise.

Not only does Terry remember a short biography on each person he meets, he knows about their families, their civilian occupations, their passions. More tiny relationship moments that keep him going despite few hours of sleep on a training weekend.

The stamp "handcrafted by Terry Shupe" means something different to all those who have known Terry or just met him. But Terry's motivation to build the toy on which its stamped is best explained by his wife Lanni.

"He loves people. He wants to help."

 To contact a reporter for this story, email Glynn Brothen at or call 250-319-7494. To contact an editor, email or call 250-718-2724.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2014
InfoTel News Ltd

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