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Island Blue sold to pair of Greater Victoria companies

Monk Office has acquired Island Blue Art and Framing stores in Victoria and Sidney, and the company’s flagship building at 905 Fort St., while Rolex Plastics and Printing has agreed to purchase the printing side of Island Blue.
Caitlin McKenzie, CEO of Monk Office, and Mike Shemilt of Island Blue on Tuesday. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

Island Blue, a print shop, art supplies and framing business that dates to 1912 and remains one of the region’s most enduring ­businesses, has been sold to a pair of local companies.

Monk Office president and chief executive Caitlin McKenzie said the Victoria-based office supplies chain has acquired Island Blue Art and Framing stores in Victoria and Sidney, and the company’s flagship building at 905 Fort St.

Rolex Plastics and Printing, which makes everything from election signs and menu covers to vinyl wallets and marketing materials, has agreed to purchase the printing side of Island Blue.

“It’s mixed emotions right now … we knew this day would come,” said Rob Shemilt, who, with brothers Mike and Craig, and mother Pam have operated Island Blue for decades.

“We’re pretty happy we could sell to other local companies.”

Island Blue Print was launched by drafts­man Joseph Davenport and land surveyor Bate­man Hutchinson, making maps on linen. They were hired to re­place the original map of Greater Victoria that was destroyed in a fire at T.N. ­Hibbens Co. Book­sellers and Stationers.

The original sales agreement shows that the partners paid $1,000 in two instalments for a blue printing ma­chine, one lamp, a washing tank, a potash tank and one drying rack. For the next 40 years, Is­land Blue Print and Map Co. focused on maps, drafting sup­plies and blue­prints.

After Davenport died in 1954, employee Vic Shemilt be­came company manager and bought the business in 1969, creating the Davenport Road Maps division.

Vic Shemilt died in 2003, and his wife and sons continued to build and diversify the company into the digital age, adding art supplies and classes, digital printing and book production over the years.

McKenzie said the deal for Island Blue was more than a year in the making for Monk Office, which has a 70-year ­history in Victoria and eight locations on the Island.

“We honour this purchase as an exciting new chapter for Monk Office, keeping the longstanding and respected ­Shemilt family legacy alive,” said McKenzie. “All of us at Monk Office offer a sincere thank-you to the Shemilt family for entrusting us with the next chapter of Island Blue Art and Framing stores.”

Rob Shemilt confirmed Monk is retaining all 13 staff on the art side of the business and Rolex Printing is keeping the 23 on the printing side.

McKenzie said Island Blue will continue operating. She said Monk will move into the Island Blue location on Fort Street, likely in late 2023, as its ­downtown Victoria location at Fort and Blanshard will soon be part of a major hotel and office project by Merchant House Capital.

Monk will keep the Island Blue brand and branch into the art supplies business, with “curated spaces” for artists and their needs in all of its stores, said McKenzie.

The store in Sidney will remain open, depending on lease agreements, she said.

“Island Blue will be a store within the stores. We want to support that relationship, merge the two businesses in a marriage,” said McKenzie. “The businesses compliment each other quite nicely, and we think will bring new groups of customers for both businesses.”

A purchase price for Island Blue was not disclosed.

McKenzie said after two years of the pandemic, the deal will “breathe new life” into the businesses.

She said the combining of Monk and Island Blue will allow the office market of chairs and desks, paper and writing tools to blend comfortably into the fine art business of paints, brushes paper and easels.

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