Set in the heart of Kensington Market, (not that one – this one is in Toronto, Canada), Pearl Harbor Gift Shop is a hidden gem with four talented tattoo artists. The shop was named after a reference to the Hawaiian Island Harbor that was famously attacked by the Japanese Empire in 1941, which is also just about the time when Japanese tattooing first influenced America and the rest of the world. The shop contains a large array of collectables, vintage signs and photos to unite the theme.
Bill Baker and Daniel Innes opened the studio in May 2010, shortly after, Glennie Well was added to the line up to complete “the original crew.” The shop has built a family within the artists and a close community within the market, with the newest artist, India Amara adding to the team.
After looking for space in Toronto for the new studio, Baker and Innes agreed to open the new shop in downtown Toronto’s Kensington Market. Imagine Camden Market in London, UK, but more laid back, and full of, let’s just say, a more interesting variety of people.
All the artists speak fondly of all the help they received from their friends in the Market to open the business, the neighbourhood was the main reason for the store location. The shop shows how much time and effort that was put into building it, and any area for improvement is tackled head on.
All the signs outside the shop were hand made by Bill who has proved to be a bit of a handyman - “Bill can build or fix anything but likes to involve everyone in the activity!”
The shop also contains old fixtures that they managed to obtain from the oldest building in the Market neighbourhood, which keeps a sense of the community. This is a shop that’s all about family.
Bill was on the first crest of, how he explains; the “rebirth of tattooing” in the late 70’s, early 80’s which came a little later to Canada from America.
He was always interested in tattooing and started properly in 1981, his style mostly Japanese - from that era, it was hard to make a living and tattoo artists couldn’t afford to specialise in a certain subject, so they would adapt their learning to all styles to simply afford to live. Bill explained that “You tattooed everyone and did everything.” He adopted this, to the client’s choice. Bill tattooed a lot of other tattooists in the past, but not so much now.
Toronto has been home to Bill since the mid 80’s and if it wasn’t for Kensington Market, he might have left the city by now.
Previous years were more difficult for the tattoo industry, Bill describes, as they were up against a lot more mechanical problems with the machines.
After owning his previous shop in the 90’s, he sold it to fund a research company on the mechanics of tattooing which proved to have a lot of complications. The company was started to purely research needles in the skin and the mechanics of tattoo machines. Bill was sadly forced out of said company and ended up in a two year legal battle with colleagues. During that time, he focussed mainly on the research and tattooed less.
Bill and Daniel had been friends for a long time, and had a lot in common so opening a shop together seemed like a good idea. Both artists had separate private studios during that process. They decided to open Pearl Harbor where Bill had his private studio upstairs, in the Market.
They pushed to claim the whole building and when they had successfully gained that, work started on the shop in January and was successfully opened in May of 2010.
Bill keeps himself to himself and is admired by his fellow artists. “He’s a dream boss.”
Daniel has been tattooing for 11 years, he started young, being inspired by heavily tattooed friends and enthused by music and going to shows. His style is a simple Japanese, older style.
He started tattooing just north of the city in Newmarket at Stinger Tattoo. There he had a very brief introduction to tattooing but unfortunately they had no real time to apprentice him and so in search of an apprenticeship he moved to Toronto six months later to work at Sals Tattoo and Barber shop.
Bill Baker helped Daniel with the technical side of tattooing and in that time Daniel acquired the majority of a Japanese style bodysuit by Bill from the ages of 17 to 20 years old.
Daniel had no formal apprenticeship, but he had continuous help from Bill with the technical side to tattooing as he started out, and later with his drawings.
He explains “it’s easier to be a mediocre tattoo artist now because of the internet which makes other artist’s work - who are not so talented - look acceptable. It also makes it harder for clients to seek skilled tattooists. But having said this, the exposure on tattooing, on for example TV shows, is proving beneficial towards clientele, to have so much information about tattooing, it’s easier for both parties, but good work always shows if you work hard at what you do” - and it’s clear that Daniel has done exactly that.
Glennie grew up in Vancouver and had her first tattoo when she was only 15. She was into the punk rock culture and tattoos were the essential accessory. She confesses she was intimidated by going into tattoo shops but knew that she had to behave like a customer and enjoy the art she was purchasing.
“It made weird sense to me, everyone has their place” and clearly, Glennie’s was to tattoo. She spent most of her time as a teenager in tattoo shops and learned more about the rules, structure and shop environment.
She was 25 when first started tattooing, but didn’t think she would learn how to tattoo. She started off working the counter for 5 years as she did not have the courage to ask to become an apprentice.
Glennie describes her style as simple but fancy. She specialises in flowers, animals, and inanimate objects.
A lot has been said about the saturation of tattooing, in many people’s opinion there are too many tattooists, which might very well be true, and Glennie acknowledges that she is one of them.
Bill Baker once told Glennie, “Tattooing can do everything for you, it can give you somewhere to be every day, it can pay your rent, buy you clothes, it gives you a reason to communicate with people outside the normal realm, but, what can YOU do for tattooing?”
That’s a motto that Glennie has been following ever since, seeing as there are so many people adding to it and taking from it. It is a part of her job to make sure she evens that direction in a good way.
Visually she is influenced by sign art, fabric, handmade objects and craftwork. Something a human has laboured over, regardless of the result and working at Pearl Harbor, she feels “really lucky - these guys are the best, this shop is so much fun.”
India Amara is the newest member to the Harbor family, starting in October 2010. She previously worked in New Tribe with Glennie, and through her met Bill and Daniel, which proved an easy transition to Pearl Harbor.
Tattooing for 5 years, India started in Vancouver at Sacred Heart studio, spent 3 years as an apprentice with Chad Woodley and spent a lot of her time travelling. India feels that her contribution to the shop is a good balance, for her style is more illustrative and so, fills in the gap of the combined artistic abilities within the shop.
She specialises in birds, flowers and nature but enjoys doing a lot of darker pieces, she likes to be challenged. She gushes that her client base are loyal and have always followed her from previous studios.
India studied Sculpture and Instillation at OCAD (Ontario College of Art and Design) for a short time and feels that modern art is more accessible now and for everyone, there’s a shift coming and art will become pure performal.
India has not had a TV since she was 15 so feels a little disconnected from the pop culture – instead, she is inspired by nature and art books and other tattoo artists work.
India feels that working in Kensington Market is like living on a little island, like not living in Toronto. “The days are longer and happier, everyone’s happier and calmer.”
Operation Z was the name given to the attack on Pearl Harbor (Hawaii) by the Japanese Imperial General Headquarters. It will live on in history as one of the most underhanded attacks in any wartime history as the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked the naval base of Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7th, 1941.
The attack was the sole reason for the US entering directly into World War 2 and we all know what happened then...
Despite numerous historical precedents for unannounced military action, the lack of any warning at all by Japan (whilst negotiations where still ongoing) led President Franklin D. Roosevelt to proclaim December 7th 1941 as “a date which will live in infamy.”
It’s still a great name for a tattoo shop though...
Pearl Harbor Gift Shop24 Kensington Ave.
Tel: (416) 595-7184