Back in April I spent a couple of days at the Great Lakes Boatbuilding School in Cedarville, Michigan. I was there working on an article for WoodenBoatwhich you can read the the July/August issue, #251. The resort community of Cedarville is located in the Les Cheneaux Islands area of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. A small village whose population burgeons during the summer months, it reminded me very much of the 1000 Islands’ Clayton, NY, where I lived while working at the Antique Boat Museum, and South Haven, Michigan, where my family summered when I was young. The area has a rich boating history, and the nearby village of Hessel is home to the annual Les Cheneaux Islands Antique Wooden Boat Show.

The school was founded in 2005 by a local group who were inspired by a visit to the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding in Washington State and wanted to offer a similar education opportunity to students in the midwest.


All students take a one-year program, and an optional second year teaches more advanced skills. The schools facilities are also used to teach a range of workshops for the general public during the summer months when classes are not in session.

There are always a variety of projects on the shop floor. From left to right: a Hacker runabout; a Paul Gartside catboat; a flat-iron skiff; a fibreglass inboard launch and a Phil Bolger fisherman’s launch.


The Bolger launch ready for planking.


Students build the cold-moulded hulls of the Hacker runabouts, which are then shipped to Runabout Restorations in Guntersville, AL to be outfitted.


Program Director Pat Mahon and second-year instructor Andy James currently teach 15-16 students but are looking to expand the program. Completed boats are sold (at very reasonable prices!) to help defray the costs of operating the program. It’s a good thing that I flew there and didn’t drive a vehicle with a trailer hitch, or I might have come home with the last thing I need, which is another boat. I was particularly struck by the Harry Bryan KATIE sloop that is currently for sale.

The Great Lakes Boatbuilding school is a wonderful place to visit, a worthwhile place to support and maybe something to consider for your first, or second, or third career.

After the battle of Waterloo, Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, said to Thomas Creevey “It was a near run thing. The nearest run thing you ever saw in your life.” On a much smaller scale, and in a more maritime way, that’s what happened at my house tonight.

You’ll recall that I bravely posted a couple of months ago that I was back in action with boats. Well I was, sort of, but then two writing projects for WoodenBoat came my way, about which more soon. The second of these is finished, so now I can turn to more pressing matters, and the above-mentioned “near-run thing.”

At lunchtime today, I went to my storage locker to retrieve the Ontario Canoe Company decked sailing canoe. Yes, I probably should have put a plank on top of the roof racks and under the keel, but I wasn’t going that far and I slowed down over the railroad tracks(!).

canoe on car adjusted

I had measured the window into my new basement shop several times, and I knew it was going to be close, but I hoped we would end up just on the good side of “close.”

In we go:

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I learned a couple of useful things today:

  1. Future projects should be LESS than 14′ long and LESS than 31″ wide!
  2. Make sure that the canoe doesn’t get any bigger during the restoration!

Time to start scraping green paint.

Hello, Dear Readers (at least the two or three that have stuck with me).

I’m ever-so-pleased to announce that the new workshop is finished, finally. You’ll recall that way back in April 2014 I showed you a photo of an unfinished basement and a plan for a new shop. After many twists and turns, and a few delays, and a lot of cutting and nailing and fitting and painting &c &c, the basement is almost finished and the shop, as of this afternoon, is finished! It’s a tight little space, and I think that the Ontario Canoe Company decked sailing canoe, at 14′ LOA, is the biggest thing that I’ll be able to fit in through the window and work on. No matter, I’ll just begin building smaller boats. Here’s the new space. The floor, laid over the original cement, is DriCore 2′ x 2′ T&G squares of oriented strand board with a plastic underlay. Walls are regular 2″ x 4″ studwall, with 1/4″ OSB over. The overall aesthetic is solid but not beautiful–“fisherman finish,” as Harold Payson called it:


That’s the window, which should allow the OCC canoe in with about 1/2″ to spare all ’round. In fitting my tools and projects into such a tight space, I’ve had to re-think how I do things. In order to free up floor space for the boat, I’ve gotten rid of all of the stands and mobile bases and resigned myself to pulling out and putting away tools as I use them. The workbench top is mounted on lumber racks strapped to the wall studs with lag screws. I even shortened my sawhorses to a canoe-appropriate width of 30″ to save space:

looking toward workbench

All of the tools, materials and supplies are concentrated in the dogleg part of the shop so that the main space is clear:

drill press and wall shelves

There’s even, thanks Harry Potter, a “cupboard under the stairs” for deep storage, paint and the like, the entrance to which can just be seen in the back of this photo.

drill press and metal shelves

The bigger part of the “L” is where the boat goes, and I’ve deliberately kept it clear. In case your wondering, there’s about 1″ of clearance between the shelf brackets and the top of my head(!):

looking toward boat area

Since I prefer to work with long skinny boats, I think there will be just enough room to walk up and down either side. That’s the Radix centreboard on the end wall for inspiration. I’ve also got room to hang up the patterns for past projects, including the Fiddlehead double-paddle canoe:

patterns on wall

Next step is to bring the OCC canoe down from the storage unit and empirically verify that it will indeed fit through the window. More soon, glad to be back.

From time to time you hear stories about couples who, try as they might, just don’t share the same interests (cut to night club stand-up comedian: “My wife and I go out twice a week and we have a great time. She goes out on Tuesdays and I go out on Thursdays.” Rimshot. Applause) Interests like, for instance going out in boats. “Wife says sell” reads the plaintive classified ad in the boating magazine. But what if you found someone who liked boating. What if you found someone who not only liked boating, but liked it as much or more than you did? And what if you liked to not just go boating but to go boating really, really fast? If all of those things were true, then you would be Harold and Lorna Wilson, Canada’s powerboat racing couple.

HAW LMR LMC IV closeup winners

Beginning with summers in Muskoka as a young man, Harold discovered fast boats and wanted to go faster. Over a racing career that spanned nearly three decades, he worked his way up from outboards to unlimited hydroplanes. Along the way, he met Lorna Reid and she joined him in the cockpit. As a husband and wife racing team, they were unique. He drove and she served as riding mechanic on the water and mechanic on shore. Their first big victories as a team came in the 225 cubic inch hydroplane class, where they were world champions in 1933 and 1934.

LMC IV official photo 1935

Later on, they graduated to the big leagues and drove unlimited hydroplanes, competing in the Gold Cup, Harmsworth Trophy and President’s Cup races. All of their many raceboats boats were named Little Miss Canada and then Miss Canada. Here is Miss Canada III in 1939, the year she won the President’s Cup.

MC III Bridge shot Detroit hi angle

You can read the remarkable story of their racing careers in the article “Going Steady, Going Fast: The Powerboat Racing Team of Harold and Lorna Wilson,” which has just been published in the June issue of WoodenBoat magazine. You can learn more about the restoration of Miss Canada IV on the website of their son, Harry Wilson. You may see (but you’ll likely hear her long before you see her) Miss Canada IV herself out on the water in Muskoka this summer. You can see some stunning photos of Miss Canada IV after her re-launching in the summer of 2013 on the website of photographer Tim DuVernet. Finally, you can see Miss Canada III in the exhibit “Quest for Speed: The Story of Powerboat Racing” at the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton, NY.

You know how when you buy a particular marque or model of car you start to see them everywhere? A few years ago, wandering through ebay while avoiding a more important task, I came across some images of canoeing on romantic themes. I can’t recall now which one I saw first, but here’s a representative example.

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How charming, I thought. They’re courting in a canoe. I bought the first one I saw, and then I bought a few more, and soon the search expanded to sheet music and souvenirs too. Last year, while I was still working at the Canadian Canoe Museum in Peterborough, Ontario, I proposed the idea of an exhibit about canoes and romance. Because I left the museum for another job at the end of the year, I didn’t end up curating that show, though I did do a design concept for it.  I did agree to write the Gallery Guide for the exhibit, however.

These Gallery Guides are a project that I started at the Museum three years ago. The original idea was to publish some of the material that inevitably doesn’t make it into the finished exhibit and provide visitors with some more information that they can take home. The first Gallery Guide was about the Museum’s “It Wasn’t All Work” gallery and explored the topic of canoeing for pleasure. The next Guide in the series was published in 2013 and recounted the story of the Museum’s founding and its origin in the private canoe collection of Kirk Wipper. The third Gallery Guide, I’m proud to say, is my own. It was released when the exhibit it accompanies was opened on Wednesday, April 23rd.

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The collecting of the images and souvenirs was great fun (and continues to this day), and the writing was a lot of hard work, but it’s a great exhibit and I encourage you to drop in if you’re travelling through southern Ontario. It’s open now and will be up until next March. You can purchase a a copy from the Canadian Canoe Museum Store. The first (It Wasn’t All Work: Canoeing for Pleasure) and second (Becoming Kirk Wipper: The Story of the Museum’s Founder) Gallery Guides are also available from the store online.

Well, the sub-floor for the workshop is gradually going down. You hear a lot about people “starting from square one.” If you ever wondered what square one actually looks like, here it is:



As of the end of last week, we were making steady progress, and were well past square one:



Thanks to looking for things to do while avoiding preparing our income taxes, I’ve finally gotten around to something I’ve been meaning to do for long time: add image galleries to the blog. You’ll find the first one in the right-hand sidebar. As you might expect, I started with sailing canoes. Not completely happy with the formatting, and I will add captions, but I thought I would put it out there as a teaser while I work out the details. Stay tuned for more.

If you’ve been following this blog for a bit, you’ll probably have seen photos of the shop I built in the basement of our house in Peterborough, Ontario. It’s been a great place to work, with just enough space for the kind of small boats I like to build and restore.

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On their way in or out, the boats leave through the window (though I did once bring a 17′ canoe down in the front door, through the living room and down the stairs just to prove that it could be done). Here’s the planked-up Fiddlehead on her way out to be finished at the Canadian Canoe Museum.

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fiddlehead 101

If you’ve noticed that the blog has gone kind of quiet lately it’s because of some major life changes that have taken place over the last few months. I had just gotten the Ontario Canoe Company decked sailing canoe set up in the shop and was starting to think about restoration when a new writing project came my way in the form of a commission from WoodenBoat, who wanted a feature article on Harold and Lorna Wilson and their Miss Canada racing powerboats for early in the new year. I was already working on the research for a new exhibit for the Canadian Canoe Museum on the subject of canoes and romance, about which I had been collecting ephemera for some time, and I was also going to write a museum Gallery Guide to accompany it. With those projects in hand, and the restoration pending, I was feeling comfortably well-supplied with things to do.

Then, I decided it was time to take a big step. After more than five years as the General Manager of the Canadian Canoe Museum, I was thinking that it was time to get back to the kind of work that got me into the museum business (research, writing, designing and building exhibits, working with artifacts) instead of the kind of work that General Managers do (board meetings, budgets, marketing, staffing and volunteers). When an opportunity presented itself at a museum just west of Toronto, I seized it, and in January of 2014 I started a new job as the Curator of the Halton Region Museum.

So far, so good, and everybody is happy now, except that we’re into the “M” word: “MOVING.” I’ve always believed that “good move” is an oxymoron most of the time, but that hasn’t stopped us from making a few of them. As we looked at new houses, I was hoping to finding something like our place in Peterborough, with an unfinished basement and a decent-sized window. Late in December, we closed on a beautiful new townhouse with just that. So, here’s a pre-project photo of the space where the new shop will go.


Most of what I’ve done since New Year’s is just think about this, as opposed to cutting lumber, since the article and the gallery guide took precedence. However, the article’s now done, the gallery guide is at the printer’s, the exhibit opens at the end of April and it’s time to think about the new shop. Here’s the plan so far. Please forgive the rather ugly canoe shape–it’s not pretty, but at least it’s the right length and width. As you can see, I’m aiming for tight but functional, since the basement also has to accommodate my office and a laundry room/storage area.

townhouse basement plan

First step is to get the sub-floor down, and I’m just about to start that. The Ontario Canoe Company canoe is still first in line for restoration, but there’s a workshop to build first!