Manitoba program uses blacksmithing to help veterans cope with mental health challenges

Cameron Bennett is a veteran and founder of Forging Ahead Inc,, a non-profit organization that helps veterans and first-responders through the art of blacksmithing. Marney Blunt / Global News

A Manitoba-based program is using the art of blacksmithing to help veterans and first responders overcome challenges with PTSD and mental health.

“It gets your problem-solving mind going, it’s just happiness. I’m even getting a smile on my face just thinking of getting in there and doing it,” Cameron Bennett, founder of Forging Ahead Inc. told Global News.

Bennett served in the Canadian Armed Forces for 20 years and came up with the idea for Forging Ahead Inc. after being medically released in 2018.

“I was pretty lost with what I was doing, was definitely in a struggle with PTSD and OSI (operational stress injury), but didn’t really acknowledge it yet,” he said.

Bennett said it was when he took a blacksmithing course in Ontario that he realized how healing it could be.

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“One of my instructors tapped me on the back to tell me it was lunch time and I realized I had been blacksmithing for four hours straight,” Bennett said. “I was just lost in the zone of pure calm and happiness.”

Bennett says that’s when he realized the art of blacksmithing could help others.

“(Blacksmithing gives) you the physical exertion without activating the fight or flight part of your mind, like most soldiers would (experience).”

Click to play video: 'Forging ahead: Why blacksmithing is heating up'
Forging ahead: Why blacksmithing is heating up

Bennett used his pensions from Veterans Affairs Canada to get the non-profit organization up and running.

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“It’s really satisfying, I get a really good sense of personal fulfillment out of it,” said Damien Delfino, a veteran who uses the program.

“I think it offers a lot of benefits – just the overall sense of accomplishment, producing something out of nothing or seemingly nothing.”

He says the social aspect of it is also therapeutic.

“When you’re in the military, you’re kind of used to working on projects with other people and talking to them, that’s how we do a lot of our socializing or venting,” he said. “Just talking, that’s something we don’t get to do without going deeper into therapy.”

Bennett’s next goal is to expand Forging Ahead Inc. into Canada’s first art therapy centre based on blacksmithing, woodworking and glassmaking.

“It gets your mind off stuff, and you get to have such a feeling of job accomplishment,” Bennett said.

“And in a lot of ways, it helps you feel like you’re not broken anymore.”


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