Mattawa sign maker leaves mark on community

Mattawa, you may not know Makenna Laughlin yet, but odds are you’ve seen her work around town. The new sign outside of the museum? That’s a Laughlin original. What about the tall sign announcing you’ve arrived at Annie’s Park on Main Street? You called it, another work by Laughlin. She’s certainly leaving an impressive mark on the community.

And she’s just getting settled in.

She moved to Mattawa just over two years ago, when her spouse was offered a job in the area. Before this, the two lived in a little town outside of Peterborough called Cavan. Back home she worked as an esthetician, but once settled in Mattawa, she had some time to fill. Plus, the couple didn’t have any friends or family in the area, which created even more time to fill.

“I needed something to keep myself busy and creative,” she said, especially over that first winter. “I needed a creative outlet, just to do something that was more than doing nothing,” she said with a laugh.

Laughlin definitely has a positive, upbeat personality, and is not one to shy away from challenges. To occupy her time, she turned to something she had not given much thought to before – woodworking.

“I started using power tools and wood, and I had never tried that before.” With the help of some “hand me down tools” from her in-laws, the couple built a shop and since then, she’s never looked back.

“Now I’m here making signs as casual as it can be on the side, but it’s turning into a business. It’s something that I created as creative outlet for myself.”

Indeed, after finding she was a scroll saw savant and her designs started coming to life through the wood, she established Northern Golden Designs. She still has her day job downtown, but the orders keep coming in for her woodworking, and she spends a lot of time in her shop.

Which is where she likes to be.

In the early days, she was making items for her own home, decorations, things like that. Her friends and family saw her works and “my gosh, can you make this for me?” was a common reaction. “I said I could try,” Laughlin humbly recalled, and then she’d hit the shop and create another great piece.

“Now I have the whole town of Mattawa that is wanting all different kinds of signs,” she said. “Definitely not what I was planning originally, but now that’s what I’m doing. It’s amazing how things can happen like that, right?”

Now, Laughlin has been upgrading her tools, and investing back into the shop now that some income is coming in. But you can still find that scroll saw within, the saw her in-laws bought her for a Christmas gift, the saw that started it all.

She finds great satisfaction creating her works, but her skills have also had another benefit, helping her to meet more people within the community. She’s proud to have been asked to build the museum and Annie’s Park sign and she still feels happy when she sees them.

“I purposely go the long way so I can drive by that,” she said, “because it makes you feel good. It makes you feel like you’re finally part of the town.” Fitting in can be difficult, she acknowledged, “so you kind of have to find your way first, and it feels like I finally feel like I’m part of Mattawa.”

Building community bonds is close to Laughlin’s heart, and she’ll continue to do so, one sign at a time.

David Briggs is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of BayToday, a publication of Village Media. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

David Briggs, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,