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HARNESSING THE SKILLS OF THE PAST

About once a month, a private jet comes to Toronto to pick up David Freedman. “Our clients have an incredible sense of urgency,” says Freedman, 36, who runs Freedman Harness — one of the world’s most renowned harness-making companies. “I’ve had clients call and say, ‘We’d like you to measure our horses; we’ll have a plane waiting in the morning.’ ”

The 206-year-old family business, which specializes in handmade leather harnesses for horses and antique carriages has been based in Toronto since 1910. Freedman’s grandfather Isaac nearly abandoned the trade after the Second World War with the rise of the automobile. But Freedman’s father, Sam, “knew all the antique carriages would have to re-emerge at some point,” Freedman says. Today, the Rockefellers and du Ponts are among deep-pocketed clients. Freedman, who learned to hand-stitch when he was 10, left school at 18 to work. He and 13 other harness makers work at the Toronto production shop. Finding craftsmen to fill orders — now on a one-year backlog — isn’t easy. But last year, a provincial government grant gave Freedman new hope. “We got approved along with a high-tech digital-printing firm and a couple other hot trades,” he says with a laugh. In a world of new technology, there’s still room for old skills.


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