Local apparel company creates Winnipeg-inspired threads (2023)

It’s a tough job, but somebody (burp) has to do it.

Sid and Heather Barkman are the married couple behind Maroons Road Apparel, a Winnipeg-centric clothing line that turns out tops and tuques adorned with images instantly recognizable to anyone who knows their way around Confusion Corner.

One of their designs features a likeness of a fatboy hamburger, a set of circumstances that caused them to head to St. Boniface’s venerable Dairi-Wip Drive-in last summer. You know, in the name of research.

“I’m sure the other customers were wondering what we were up to, because we spent about 15 minutes at the picnic table they have there, taking pictures of our food from every possible angle,” Sid says, seated next to Heather in the dining room of their Earl Grey-neighbourhood home, which they share with their two young children, Arthur and Penny.

“It was rather involved. I mean, how do you properly show that there’s chili on it?” chuckles Heather, who is sporting a Maroons Road Apparel hoodie bearing a reproduction of the grandstand at Canad Inns Stadium, the former home of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. (Uh, is that the east side or west side? “It’s whichever side you want it to be, we’re not exclusionary,” she says with a wink.)

Anyway, they must have done something right, as their ketchup-red, fatboy T-shirt has proven to be one of their top sellers, Sid says, adding he actually gave that some thought, when told they should have silk-screened a mustard stain on the front as well, to make it truly authentic.

Sid and Heather grew up in Steinbach and Stonewall respectively. They met in 2004 at the University of Manitoba, when they were enrolled in the same Introduction to Western Civilization class.

They tied the knot in 2010, and moved to Ottawa a year later, where Heather, presently an adjunct professor at the U of M, attained a PhD in Religious Studies. They’re both huge baseball fans — one of the items on their bucket list is to hit all 30 major league ball parks — and it was during a trip to Pittsburgh eight years ago, while they were still living in Ottawa, when the seed for Maroons Road Apparel was planted.

“It’s not like we knew the first thing about making T-shirts, but one day we kind of looked at each other and said, we’re stuck at home… why don’t we do it ourselves?”–Heather Barkman

“I’ve always liked T-shirts, and one of the things I try to do when we go somewhere new is get a sports-related shirt from that city,” says Sid, a senior benefits analyst for a major agricultural firm.

During their stay in Pittsburgh, where they took in a Pirates game at PNC Park, they popped by a T-shirt shop called Steel City. A number of shirts there paid homage to the Pennsylvania city’s bygone sports venues, which caused Sid to comment how great it would be to own something similar, in regard to Winnipeg.

“I was 13 when the Jets left (in 1996) but I definitely remember going to games at the old arena with my dad,” he says. “More than that, the first thing I did after getting my driver’s licence at the age of 16 was buy Bombers season tickets, along with two of my buddies.

“When I think about (Canad Inns Stadium), I think about the feeling of independence I had, the first time I drove to a game from Steinbach: negotiating my way through traffic, finding a place to park … I was still in Grade 10 or whatever, but it made me feel like an adult.”

In the spring of 2020, four years after they had returned to Winnipeg, Sid and Heather found themselves with extra time on their hands, owing to pandemic-related lockdowns. Since moving back, they had searched for arena- or stadium-related shirts matching what Sid considered previously, but always came up empty.

“It’s not like we knew the first thing about making T-shirts, but one day we kind of looked at each other and said, we’re stuck at home, we can Google… why don’t we do it ourselves?” says Heather, who has fond memories of seeing the Barenaked Ladies perform at the Winnipeg Arena, her first concert, and of umpteen trips to “the city” with her parents to watch the Goldeyes, back when the northwest corner of Canad Inns Stadium served as the club’s home diamond.

First, they needed a name. They agreed it shouldn’t be something generic like “Winnipeg T-shirt Company,” Sid says, and one afternoon, while they were out for a walk with their then two-year-old son, it struck them: how about Maroons Road Apparel, for the stretch of pavement that used to separate the arena from the stadium?

Satisfied with their choice, they began searching for online images of the since-demolished arena and stadium, as their plan, T-shirt-wise, was to start with those, and judge the response. After choosing a local silk-screening company to work with, they placed an initial order for 50 shirts: 25 depicting the Winnipeg Arena, and 25 showing off Canad Inns Stadium.

“My Toronto friends have no idea what the T-shirt designs are, but they know if it’s on my T-shirt, it’s very important to me.”–Anna Cwikla, Winnipegger living in Toronto

Friends and family eagerly placed orders the moment their stock arrived in May 2021, Heather says, but when a “complete stranger” reached out a few days later, expressing interest, they sensed they might be onto something.

“It was a bit of a fluke, but our launch couldn’t have come at a better time,” Heather notes. “Father’s Day was right around the corner, and people searching for unique gifts for dad started finding us. Within a month, we’d placed a second order (for shirts), and it’s gone on from there.”

Last year, they bolstered their output by adding T-shirts bearing likenesses of the Queen Elizabeth II portrait that used to hang in the old barn, the bronze Timothy Eaton statue that sat in the downtown Eaton’s store for decades, and now resides on Canada Life Centre’s second-floor concourse, and the witch’s hut in Kildonan Park.

“We also offer the winter river (skating) trail — that was one of our first hoodies — and if you can’t decide between the arena and the stadium, we have what we call our double-header, which has both on the front,” Heather says, mentioning while they don’t presently have a children’s line, they know who their models will be, if and when they do, nodding at a photo of their kids.

Anna Cwikla grew up in the Maples. She has been living in Toronto since 2012, and isn’t shy to wear one of three Maroons Road Apparel T-shirts she owns, around the Big Smoke.

“My Toronto friends have no idea what the T-shirt designs are, but they know if it’s on my T-shirt, it’s very important to me,” Cwikla says, when reached in Toronto.

“I’ve explained, ‘This is where the Blue Bombers used to play,’ or ‘This is where I saw my first NHL game,’ and then they understand the significance.” (She laughs, saying perhaps because she also wears a lot of band shirts, on one occasion a person mistook the word “Maroons” for pop-rock band Maroon 5. “Err, nope,” she told them.)

“A fellow Winnipeg ex-pat, whom I met at a curling club here in Toronto — because where else would you find Winnipeggers in Toronto? — is a longtime Bombers season-ticket holder,” she continues. “She immediately recognized the stadium, and ended up buying a bunch of shirts for her family back in Winnipeg, so I guess all there is to say about their shirts is, ‘If you know, you know.’”

Despite their initial successes, the Barkmans intend to take things slowly for the foreseeable future, to focus on the needs of their kids, ages four and 18 months.

That said, they are constantly thinking of what next to slap on a shirt. For instance, Sid is currently toying with the notion of one with a bullseye on the upper sleeve, specifically aimed at the wedding-social, meat-shoulder crowd. Other possibilities include an aerial view of the Winnipeg Floodway and a ring of garlic sausage. (Make it Tenderloin Meats, and you can mark us down for a size large.)

“This isn’t something we would have ever envisioned ourselves doing 10 years ago, but we’re certainly glad we took the risk and gave it a go,” Heather concludes. “Every so often we get tagged in a photo of somebody wearing one of our shirts or hoodies to a Jets or Bomber game, and we can’t tell you how wonderful that feels.”

For more information, go to maroonsroadapparel.com


David Sanderson

Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.

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