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About Billy Harris & Muskoka Candle Co. History

Bill Harris: From Hockey Sticks to Candlewicks
By: Paul White

Winter Sideroads 2008

Billy HarrisThe New York Islanders' Long Island Lightning Company and the Muskoka Candle Company have a connection.

Former NHL hockey star Bill Harris, who played on the formidable Long Island Lightning Company forward line is now lighting up the workshop of his Muskoka Candle Company.

While strolling through a craft mall in southern Ohio he made what would prove to be a very fortunate discovery, leading to quiet NHL retirement days, surrounded by scented hot wax in the village of Rosseau.

Many young Canadians dream of a hockey career in the National Hockey League, but only a few ever realize this ambition.

In 1972, Bill Harris, a junior hockey star with the Toronto Marlboros, was about to realize this Canadian dream.

He was at the top of the hockey world. Harris had enjoyed a successful career with his hometown junior hockey team and now the hockey world was unfolding as he had always dreamed.

The New York Islanders, a new team in the National Hockey League, made Bill their first-ever selection in the league's annual junior draft.

But the dream hockey life was only going to get better.

In 1972, the hockey world was about to undergo a change that would forever impact on the sport. For years, the Russian hockey team had dominated international hockey tournaments. These supposed "amateurs" had no equals in the world of international hockey.

But, in the autumn of 1972, the two hockey worlds were about to collide. The Canadians, representing the North American professional league (the NHL) were set to play an eight game series with the Russian "amateurs". To get ready for this hockey showdown, the Canadian team held a training camp.

This camp not only included the very best Canadian hockey stars, but also three of the finest graduating junior hockey players in the country were invited to scrimmage with Canada's best. Goalie Michel Larocque and defenseman John Van Boxmeer joined Bill Harris as members of Team Canada.

Although the three did not suit up for any games against the Russians, the experience had a profound influence on all of them.

In the fall of 1972, with the Team Canada experience behind him, Billy headed to Long Island to tryout for the expansion New York Islanders. He was an immediate hit with the NHL team's management.

When the season started Billy let his hockey skills announce his arrival to the NHL and the Islanders in particular. In the very first league game played by the franchise and Harris' first game as a professional, he scored the Islanders first ever NHL goal. This is a record that can never be erased.

For the next eight NHL seasons, Bill notched 20 goals each season and played on the Islanders number one line, with Brian Trottier and Clark Gillies.

All successful forward lines are usually given a moniker to recognize them as a great line and the troika of Trottier, Gillies and Harris was no exception. They became known as the Long Island Lightning Company.

But, just before the playoffs in the spring of 1980, Billy Harris' hockey life would experience a major change. On trade deadline day, he received a telephone call from Islander management. He and team mate Dave Lewis had been traded to the other side of the continent to the Los Angeles Kings for Butch Goring.

Harris continued to score goals, notching another 20 goal season with the Kings. But, in November 1981, he was again traded. This time he was going home. Not back to the Islanders, but to Toronto.

The morning of the trade with Toronto, many fans woke up to the news that Billy Harris was joining the Leafs. Many long time fans wondered if Billy Harris, a player with Toronto in the 1960s was making a comeback. Same name but a generation difference. But the confusion between the former Marlboro star and the Leaf from the 1960s did not end with similar first and last names. No both even shared the same middle name "Edward" and both had enjoyed stardom as juniors with the Marlboros.

Billy played for the Leafs until he was dealt back to the Kings in February 1984. A few months later at the end of the season Harris retired and went into various business ventures until one fateful day in southern Ohio.

In 2003 Bill was walking through a craft mall when he came upon a vendor selling soy-based candles. Intrigued by the product he bought some candles and took them to his home in Rosseau.

It was not long before he discovered the positive properties of these candles.

On a return visit to the vendor in Ohio, Bill proposed importing the candles to sell in Ontario. But, for one reason or another, the candle maker offered to show Harris how to make the candles himself.

This resulted in the former member of the Long Island Lightning Company starting the Muskoka Candle Company.

To start, Bill asked some friends who owned a gift shop to try and sell some candles for him. He was surprised and delighted when a few days later, they called and said that "they were almost sold out". At that point the entrepreneurial Harris knew that he was on to something.

Harris said that in the beginning, he used basic equipment to make the candles. "I started out using a 55 cup coffee percolator with a plumbing fixture attached" to make the candles.

When asked "What was so special about his candles?" Bill's eyes lit up just like they probably did when he scored a goal.

Harris said, "They are really environmentally friendly. Most candles are paraffin-based and they create a smoke that will leave black marks on your wall or ceiling. These are soy-based and don't leave the same marks."

"So if you have any breathing or respiratory issues, they (the candles) don't bother you."

And, he said, the candles "will burn down, leaving nothing, there is no waste."

The company has evolved to the point where they produce 45 different fragrances. The flavours run a wide range from "Campfire" to "Pink Sugar", "Muskoka Summer" and "Cranberry Vanilla".

What started as a part time venture has blossomed into a fulltime entrepreneurial adventure. Harris and his business partner Stephanie McPhee also customize specialty candle products that are personalized for businesses and even weddings. From the small production centre in Rosseau, Muskoka Candles ship candles all over Canada and to parts of the United States.

During his hockey career, Harris loved to light the goal light behind opposition nets when he scored. Now his customers love to light his candles.

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Muskoka Candle Co.
P.O. Box 233,
Rosseau, ON  P0C 1J0
Phone # 705-732-6390
Fax # 705-732-6300