#SPOTLIGHT: ROWAN and wildwood's MYSTIC MAMA
"A woman came in here the other day and was like, 'You know, this is kind of a witch's lair...', and I was like, 'Yes! Perfect!", said Dominique Del Col, owner of Rowan Homespun and Wildwood.
For those of you who've never made it out to the far East end of Toronto, Del Col's bright and beautiful store is nestled along the shore of Toronto's Beaches neighbourhood. Rowan houses witch's tools, crystals, vintage boheme decor, and of course, Wildwood - Del Col's 100 per cent organic and locally sourced skin care and mystic remedy line.
The shop owner sits across from me in the workshop space at the back of Rowan, the late summer sunlight gleaming off the pale blue walls framing Del Col's silhouette angelically. Maybe it's her aura or her energy that brings tears to my eyes when we begin the interview. Or maybe it's the way she describes the strong connection she felt to the earth as a little girl, gathering small objects like flower petals and oddly shaped twigs to use in spells she'd cast later that brought back memories of my sisters and I sitting on cool boulders in the forest as little girls, making potions and planting small gardens at our cottage together.
Either way, I've never felt the type of connection with an interviewee that I felt with Del Col before.
All photos by Anastasia Barbuzzi
Growing up in the "bible belt" of the Don Mills Valley in Niagara, Ont., Del Col had very "off-beat" parents. When her father retired from his career as a Toronto Argonaut, her parents moved to the country side, transitioning from city slickers to country converts. Her family had Mennonite neighbours that provided them with fresh eggs and produce. They made living off the land their lifestyle.
As a child, Del Col would head out into the fields with her Grandmother, who practiced Wicca, to collect flowers and herbs that they would grind down inside tall mason jars with brown sugar and bury them in the ground for six months to make cough syrup with.
Before Del Col came into the world, her mother would assist her grandmother in operating a secret underground yoga class out of her basement in the 1960's. Just when every woman's husband in the neighbourhood thought they were at a luncheon and their children were off to be babysat, they were actually learning transcendental meditation together.
At the age of seven, Del Col started writing her own spell books in her tree fort, adding steps like, “add a pinch of spider’s dust and 3 dollops of toad’s ear”. She'd placed sprigs of lavender under her pillow thinking that they'd give her good luck and would gather little bundles of yarn because it felt like she needed to. And every celestial shift she'd sit at her homemade altar, light a candle and then go outside to thank the moon and speak to it.
"Every one of my friends was Christian, and it’s not like I grew up with girls who’d seen The Craft or Practical Magic and though it was cool. No one thought it was appropriate and it was taboo to even “play” magic as a little girl," said Del Col.
Around the ninth grade, Del Col heard a couple of young girls outside talking about witches and became curious. That day, she headed to the library and found a book entitled, "Witchcraft 101".
"I remember reading it and and thinking this is what I've been doing my whole life and this is actually a thing," Del Col said. "I’d never even watched a witch movie, but I just felt a very strong connection with the earth and a very strong connection with the air, that felt like magic to me."
At 20-years-old, Del Col moved into the city by herself and self-studied mystic medicine and herb craft. On the weekend she'd make herb potions, salves and dog cookies to sell at markets with the ingredients she harvested from her parents farm.
It wasn't long until her regular customers were hooked on her products, and that's when the idea of opening a shop came into mind. As a long-time west-ender, Del Col planned on opening in a space somewhere on Queen St. West. However, she ended up striking real estate gold in the Beaches.
"I remember when my real estate agent sent me this listing. It used to be an authorized Mac store and it just didn't feel right. And then we showed up and it was crisp and freezing cold outside and there was the most incredible stream of light sunshine beating through the windows and I just looked at Scott and I said, 'this place is it'".
Scott, Del Col's newlywed husband, helped her with most of the renovations. They turned the original repair space into Rowan's workshop.
"I don’t remember or know why, but it just felt right. And because it was just bathing in sunlight, I knew that every morning was going to be a new opportunity and I knew it would just cleanse itself, every single day. I knew I wanted to bring crystals in the shop, and that they’d be cleansed every day," said Del Col.
The shop is mainly a store front for Del Col's skincare and mystic remedy brand, Wildwood. What started as Sweet & Primrose Botanicals at the farmer’s markets has become a range of 30 serums, handcrafted hydra sols, scrubs, ritual potions, and more. Everything is made with the purest, organic cold-pressed oils secured within the province. Wildwood is now carried in 40 different stores as far as Portland, Oregon. Though the brand has been approached by some big stores, Del Col plans to stay at grass roots level for now.
"The big thing for me is that we’ll always be small batch, always be craft. The only thing is that we’ll sell out of a product and we won’t be able to make it again until next season," Del Col said.
Inspired by what Del Col describes as untamed, mysterious woods where the fairies run wild, all of her products are modeled after ancient apothecary recipes that are focused on herb craft and aim to soothe ailments of the body and spirit.
"You’d go to an apothecary in the 1800’s and they’d make you a mustard poultice with ground egg powder and a little bit of beetle dung. We’ve modernized remedies with ancient influence. We turn old recipes into something that holds great power and mystery but is actually functional and yields great results," said Del Col.
One of her favourite products in the lineup right now is the new Nectaris mask that's made up of burdock root, buckwheat and wildflower honeys, blue tansy, and wild lavender.
Despite the fact that Del Col's vision for her company seems so clear now, she admits that the shop underwent a bit of an identity crisis when she first opened the doors.
"We were like, 'OK, we have 7 jars of ointment on the shelf… what else do we do with this space?'”, Del Col said.
However, after a few months of being open to the public and noting her successes, Del Col realized that what she truly wanted was for intuitive female witches and artisans to be under one roof. She works closely with local and out of province craft makers to hand curate the items that end up Rowan's shelves.
Del Col also talks about the challenge of being labeled with today's fashion and lifestyle trends that seem to have people gravitating towards mysticism.
"We’re not in the business of falling into the witch trend," Del Col said. "All of a sudden it’s become very trendy be "witchy" – to have super sharp nails and wear dark lipstick. And we’re so delighted to see people embracing something dark and mysterious, but for as long as I can remember I’ve considered myself a witch, so it comes from a very honest place."
What Del Col hopes is that people learn to explore earth based faith with the intention of becoming a steward for the earth; being thoughtful about consumption and learning to harvest sustainably for Mother Nature.
Ultimately, Rowan is what Del Col considers a safe place for everybody. Female clientele pour in the door to pick up a Wildwood face mask, crystals and jewellery. Her male clientele loves the handmade soaps and beard oil from the line, and to my surprise, Del Col's most frequent visitors for skin care products are men.
"It’s so nice to see that men are realizing how beautiful their faces are and that they deserve the same care as women do. The word or the phrase "self-care" has almost been given exclusively to women, but men deserve that same proprietary love for their body," said Del Col.
I can just picture the amount of tailor made night potions and body salves that are piled on top of her husband's bedside table, who Del Col refers to as "the smoothest man in town".
Del Col met her husband Scott at a bar on Downtown Toronto's Ossington strip called Baby Huey's, a name that's been engraved on the inside of his wedding band. The smile on her face grows extra wide when she describes him as a "factoid firefighter", the male archetype of strength who accepts the fact that she's the "magical unicorn" in the house.
"I’m more like, 'let’s get naked and dance under the moon dear', and he’d rather not," Del Col said. "His answer to that is always, "honey, you go and dance naked under the moon and I'll support you and I’ll be here waiting for you with a blanket inside when you’re cold."
The inside of Del Col's left forearm reveals an intricate tattoo of witches herbs like wild rose and hawthorne, lemon balm, mug wort and Scott’s constellation. She got it touched up a few days ago, and the fresh black ink makes the tiny sparkles that represent her partner stand out more than usual.
"That’s one of the things I think is so beautiful about mysticism and magic becoming more trendy. Spouses of the people that embrace it are seeing that it’s OK to be a bit of a freak and to be a bit more magical," Del Col said. "Five years later and he still doesn’t mind having a mystic mama as a wife."