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Grate idea: Newfoundlander builds unexpected business with bristle-free BBQ scraper

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Jason Janes really loves to barbecue.

He can be found behind one of the three outside grills at his home in the Humber Valley on Newfoundland’s west coast a few times a week, and he keeps things sizzling all year long.

“I love things that are low and slow,” he said, describing his favourite dish — pulled pork with smoked macaroni and cheese.

Janes says grooves will naturally form over time to match people’s barbecue grates. (JuniperBBQScraper/Facebook)

So when Janes saw stories in the news about the dangers of wire bristles from barbecue brushes becoming embedded in people’s throats, he hit the hardware store.

Janes said he didn’t have much luck finding a safer alternative, and the cedar shakes he was using to scrape the grill in the meantime were wearing out too quickly. 

“I said, ‘Geez, this is a bit of a nuisance,’ so I called up my dad and said, ‘Do you have a piece of juniper?'”

Jason Janes started the scraper business in spring of 2017, and his wife Jackie and parents Lynn and Bern all help run it. (JuniperBBQScraper.com)

That’s when he hit upon what just might become a million-dollar idea.

Janes knew juniper is hard and durable and lasts a long time in the wood stove, so he carved a piece into a scraper.

He was so impressed with his invention he posted a picture on social media to see if anyone else would want one, and then went on vacation for a couple of weeks.

When he got back there were hundreds of replies.

The former tech entrepreneur now manufactures scrapers from his home garage, selling 5,000 in the first six months. 

Truly home grown 

The choice of tamarack, which is commonly referred to as juniper in Newfoundland and Labrador, is key.

“It’s just so beautiful. Every single piece is unique. It’s like a piece of art,” he said.

“And because it has a very high heat resistance it doesn’t burn as fast on the barbecue and will last longer than cedar … Also there’s no such thing as Newfoundland cedar — it doesn’t exist here. This is a local product. If it’s cedar it’s imported.”

Janes works in advance with the local harvesters who supply the pulp and paper mill in Corner Brook, and buys the juniper by the tractor trailer load. 

A small load of juniper fresh out of the kiln is destined to become scrapers. (JuniperBBQScrapers/Facebook)

Janes said any splinters from his scraper, unlike wire bristles or pieces of bamboo that get caught on the grill and stuck in the food, will simply burn up.

“If a splinter comes off this thing it just burns. It becomes smoke and flavour to the food.”

All in the family

The budding business — which started with the first prototype in May 2017 — is a family affair. 

Janes’s wife Jackie helps with shipping. His dad, Bern, pitches in on production when it’s busy, and his mother, Lynn, hand-cut and sewed the straps for the first 1,000 units from old thrift-store leather jackets.

“We’ve well outgrown that,” said Janes.

The scrapers are now available in 60 retail outlets throughout Newfoundland and Labrador, and a national distribution with a big chain is in the works.

Janes also sells from his website and has shipped scrapers across Canada and the U.S., as well as to the Caribbean and the U.K. 

“We can feel it. It’s here. I’ve been involved in a lot of startups over the years, and the ones that take off you can start to feel something when it’s about to happen. You can sense it,” he said.

Janes says he is still using the prototype scraper he carved in May 2017. (JuniperBBQScraper/Facebook)

“It was a hobby and now it’s starting to feel like a business. I feel that we’re right on the verge of that. That’s the part that I love.”

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Ottawa families give mixed reviews for online schooling

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So, how’s it going with online school? Families reached by CBC Ottawa seem to have mixed reviews. 

Masuma Khan is a mother of two. Her seven-year-old, Hana Wyndham in Grade 2, is attending French immersion virtual school. Masuma is grateful it’s an option, but can’t help notice a lot of down time.

“There’s a lot of, ‘are you on mute?’ In terms of the amount of learning that’s actually happening, it does seem to be not that high,” said Masuma.

Parents who kept their children at home this fall are in the minority, but they still form a significant chunk of families in Ottawa.

In the city’s largest school board, the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB), about 27 per cent of elementary students and 22 per cent of high school students chose online learning. The Ottawa Catholic School Board says roughly a quarter of its students are online.

For Masuma, the decision to keep her daughter home was complex: extended family members are immunocompromised and she worried the in-person learning environment would be unpleasant because of precautions. She also felt her daughter might benefit from being supported at home.

“She doesn’t necessarily enjoy school. I also found out during the pandemic that she was being bullied [last year],” said Masuma. “So I thought, why not try from home?”

To help her daughter socialize face-to-face with other kids, Masuma enrolled Hana in Baxter Forest School, an alternative education program where kids spend most of their time outside, one day a week. Hana also attends virtual Arabic classes two days a week after school. 

Masuma’s husband and Hana share the living room work space, and Masuma admits he does the lion’s share of helping their daughter stay on task. There is a possibility that he’ll be required to return to his office in the new year.

“When he goes back to work … it’s probably going to be a little bit more difficult.”

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No school closures after Christmas holiday break, says Ontario education minister

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Ontario elementary and secondary schools will not close for an extended winter break, says Education Minister Stephen Lecce.

Closures aren’t needed given Ontario’s “strong safety protocols, low levels of (COVID-19) transmission and safety within our schools,” Lecce announced Wednesday afternoon. He said he had consulted with Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams and the province’s public health measures advisory table.

That ended speculation about school buildings remaining closed in January for a period of time after the Christmas break.

Earlier in the week, Lecce told reporters the government was considering having students spend “some period out of class” in January, perhaps switching to online learning.

In a statement, Lecce said that even though rates of community transmission of COVID-19 are increasing, “schools have been remarkably successful at minimizing outbreaks to ensure that our kids stay safe and learning in their classrooms.”

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Windy start to the week in Ottawa

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OTTAWA — It’s a blustery Monday in the capital with wind gusts of up to 50 km/hour expected throughout the day.

Environment Canada is forecasting a high of 4 C with a 60 per cent chance of showers or flurries before the wind dies down later this evening.

There’s a chance of flurries on Tuesday as well with a high of -1 C. The overnight low will dip to an unseasonal -9 C.  

Wednesday’s high will be just -5 C with lots of sunshine.

Seasonal temperatures return for the rest of the week..

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