THUNDER BAY -- Bethany and Mitchell Argue aren’t your typical couple. While many waited out the first pandemic lockdown feeling helpless, the two conceived a business idea and prepared to open when the first lockdown ended.
Avid outdoor people and photographers, the couple got the idea for their puzzle-making business when they wanted to turn one of their photos into a jigsaw puzzle. After a little research, they thought they could do it themselves. During the lockdown, they ordered a printer and a puzzle press and opened for business in July.
North Shore Puzzles is the only jigsaw puzzle maker in town. They sell puzzles with iconic local landmarks such as the Sea Lion at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, Kakabeka Falls and the Terry Fox Memorial. They also have collaborations with Metis artist Guy Gagne and Canadian artist Karon Argue, with more artists expected to be added to the lineup this year.
A big part of their business is the custom puzzles, using photos submitted by the customer. Ranging from $10 for a small nine-piece puzzle to $50 for a 500-piece puzzle (20 by 16 inches), they are competitively priced and come with the added satisfaction of knowing that they are made from start to finish in Thunder Bay.
Bethany, who now works full-time at the business, first prints the photo, glues it on to the chipboard backing and lets it dry for a day. The puzzle then goes through a roller press that pushes blades into the chipboard to cut it.
What makes a good image for a puzzle? Lots of colour and lots of details, Mitchell says. “It looks good and it’s more fun to put together when you can identify little pieces of the image,” he explains. Snowy landscapes don’t work as well as colourful autumn colours.
“A man-made structure is always an interesting element,” Bethany adds. “We have puzzles of the Nipigon bridge, the Terry Fox monument and the lighthouse.”
Business has been good enough that the Argues were able to move the machinery out of their home and into a space at 1526 Victoria Avenue East. There is no storefront, but customers can pick up their orders there. The Christmas season was so busy that there was a waiting list, and the couple hired some helpers. Mitchell says they probably made about 600 puzzles in a month.
A puzzle of the Sleeping Giant should be coming out this year, Mitchell says. “The hard thing about it is that it’s so far away from land that when you take a picture, there’s just a lot of water in front of it. Maybe [we’ll] get on a boat that takes us closer, to get some more detail in the foreground.”