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55 Yard Line

Mark Pearce has made the unusual transition from CFL player to blacksmith

Andrew Bucholtz
55 Yard Line

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Former CFL player Mark Pearce works his coke forge in 2011.

The relatively-low salaries in the CFL mean that many players have to contemplate a second job even during their careers, but plenty of players have gone on to do very well in the business world after hanging up their cleats. From restaurateurs like Noah Cantor and Jon Hameister-Ries to real estate men like Paul McCallum and Jason Clermont to sports gear barons and eventual team owners like John and Tom Forzani (uncle and father respectively to current Stampeders' receiver Johnny Forzani), plenty of CFL alumni have forged solid business careers after playing their last game. None may have done so quite as literally as former Stampeder Mark Pearce, though; Pearce is now a successful blacksmith, running Mystic Forge Ironworks out in Cochrane, Alberta. Here's a video interview he did about his new profession with Rural Roots Canada:

It's notable that Pearce's speciality is quite different from what many people envision when they think of a blacksmith. He calls himself an artsmith and focuses on artistically forging metal for everything from gates to staircases to furniture. Much of his process is traditional, but he also utilizes modern technology, including a coke forge that can reach 2,700 degrees Celsius and pneumatic power hammers. Here's what's written about his work on his site:

Mark's medium is not often completely understood by the public. It is different entirely from cast iron, in which molten metal is poured into moulds, and from modern fabrication, in which standard sections of steel are cut, possibly bent, and welded or bolted together. Simply put, the iron is heated in a furnace or forge and hammered into shape. Operations such as elongating, spreading, tapering, bending, punching, thickening, splitting and welding are all carried out on red-hot metal in a highly skilled, carefully timed and often very forceful fashion. In fact, the most indispensable tool to the smith besides the traditional forge, hammer, anvil and tongs is the power hammer, which enables Mark to form very large sections of metal quickly and accurately

Pearce's story is a remarkable one, and as much as it shows yet another post-career opportunity for CFL players, it also reveals more of how this league draws players from all over the world and how many of them decide to stay in Canada afterwards. Pearce began his blacksmithing career in England in 1983 and did a lot of restoration blacksmithing, working on church gates, cathedral railings and even the gates of one of the royal family's estates. He spent quite a while working there, but eventually came to Canada and apparently played in the college ranks with Cape Breton as a defensive lineman before being selected sixth overall by Calgary in the 1993 CFL draft. (Although he was born in England, he didn't train in the U.S., so he would have counted as a non-import.) That led to a solid multi-year career, but as he said in the video, it was clear what he was going to do once he hung up his cleats.

"I've always had a passion for blacksmithing," he said. "When I retired from football, I got back on the anvil and made a business."

The specific circumstances of Pearce's story are somewhat unusual, but the larger theme's not. This league pulls in players from all over and provides them with a great exposure to Canada; it's also clear that plenty of them are thinking about their long-term career plans even while they're still playing. Thanks to the CFL, Alberta appears to have landed a pretty good blacksmith.

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