A quirky boutique nestled on Vancouver’s Granville Island is turning the heads of locals and tourists alike. Their unique handmade items – albeit practical, everyday items – are a bit time-shifted, throwing customers back to the days before mass-produced plastic cleaning tools and tales of witches flying in the night. .
We are talking about brooms, of course.
Mary Schweiger and her sister Sarah, owners of Granville Island Broom Co., use ancient tools and techniques to create what might be considered traditional-style brooms, with long wooden handles and thick, woven organic bristles together.
“It’s something I grew up with and learned from my parents,” Schweiger said.
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His parents learned to make brooms from a friend who learned the trade in a Shaker village. The Shakers, officially known as the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, are widely credited with inventing flat brooms made from sorghum.
Also known as broomcorn, sorghum is made up of the strong fibers of a broom’s bristles that sweep away dirt.
Schweiger then learned to make brooms simply by being in their parents’ shop on the east side of Kootenay Lake as children, eventually working there to pay for college.
The sisters opened their own shop over 12 years ago, where they sell different types of handmade brooms, including cobwebs, whips, mushroom brushes and wedding brooms.
History and folklore
Schweiger said brooms are a popular housewarming gift.
On the store’s website, they offer a specific trio for the housewarming party: bread, so that “the house may never know hunger”, salt “so that life always has taste” and a broom “to sweep away troubles”.
Brooms also feature in cultural traditions.
Sabina Magliocco, a professor of anthropology at the University of British Columbia, says brooms were used to symbolize marriage for enslaved African Americans, who were not allowed to marry.
“People have developed their own way of marking a ceremony, of marking the start of a new family by jumping over a broom,” she said.
“When you step over something, you cross a threshold.”
Historically, in West Africa, people would wave broomsticks over a new couple for good luck, Magliocco says.
In Wales, stepping or jumping over a broom, broom straws or even a broom plant marked a de facto marriage.
“Almost all cultures have some form of broom.”
Of course, we can’t talk about brooms without mentioning their connection to witches.
Magliocco says the first stories of witches flying on broomsticks date back to the 1400s.
“We’ve had mentions of witches before that, but not on broomsticks or broomsticks.”
Because everyone had a broom at home, it was something witches, who were mostly women, would have had.
“The broomstick, the broom is a ‘woman’s tool,'” she said.
“Because it is associated with the home, with women, with women’s work, it becomes something that is then associated with witches in the very misogynistic mythology of medieval witchcraft.”
She said today, among modern pagan witches, the broom is claimed as a magical tool to repudiate the memory of a time when any woman with a broom was suspected of witchcraft.