Special to the Westerly
Boat building here on the coast goes back many centuries.
The Nuu-chah-nulth people have traditionally crafted dugout canoes to travel up and down the coast, and far offshore when fishing, sealing and whaling.
Their fine craftsmanship carries on today. The seaworthiness of these canoes persists as evidenced by the annual paddle—most recently in July 2018—from Hesquiat down the West Coast, handling heavy seas and dangerous crossings like the Nitinat bar. This year, the paddlers met in Puyallup Washington to celebrate their successful journeys and proud traditions.
Many settlers who came to the West Coast travelled in, and fished from, dugout canoes. Others built their own boats or hired local builders to craft their vessels. Some boat builders were self-taught. Some learned through apprenticeship.
Ucluelet was the home of the Shimizu Brothers Boat Works. Kyuroku Shimizu came to B.C. from Japan. By 1922 he had built a home and a boat-building business at Port Albion, at a spot soon known as Shimizu Bay. He and his brother built wooden fishboats, including the Groom 1, Groom II, and the T.S. In 1930 they built the Miss Ucluelet for Kyuroku’s own use. In 1932 they built the 37-foot Thoroughbuilt for Walter and George Saggers. George fished out of Ucluelet with her until selling her in 1973. As of 2018 the Thoroughbuilt is still afloat.
The members of the Shimuzu family, along with many of our west coast citizens, were forced from their homes and interned during the Second World War. The government confiscated most of their belongings, including their boats and wood working tools. This mistreatment of the Japanese Canadian citizens remains a blot on this country’s history.
Up in Tofino the Wingen family owned the Tofino Boat Yard. They built their first boat, suitably named the Tofino, in 1918 for the Stone family. They expanded the business in 1929, renaming it Wingen Shipyard. Over the years it was run by Tom Wingen, his son Hilmar, and grandson Bob. The Wingens were known as innovative perfectionists. They built fish boats, launches and tugs. A few of their many Tofino boats were the Stone brothers’ Anglo Canadian, Joe MacLeod’s troller the Loch Monar, and a Catholic Mission boat called the Ava Maria II. Their Ucluelet boats included Alan Baird’s troller the Hi-Yu, Bud Thompson’s Sharlene, and George Hillier’s seiner the Manhattan II. George was a loyal Wingen customer; they also built his 48-foot seiner the Hillier Queen.
My dad built his first troller in the 1920s. In 1945 he chose Wingens to build him a 46-foot troller, the Casey B—named for my parents’ initials, KCB.Dad sold her when he returned to logging; a new owner renamed her the Seabeam. Some say changing a boat’s name brings bad luck. The Seabeam collided with a Russian freighter in 1971 out on the Big Bank. She underwent repairs and as of 2018 is still afloat. Like the Shimizu family, the Wingen family built boats to last. At the bottom of Fraser Lane, Jack Thompson efficiently repaired boat engines in his small machine shop. The business changed hands numerous times; Pete Hillier ran it for years. There were add-ons to Jack’s original building. It now houses a whale-watching business.
Adjacent to the site is Ucluelet’s present day boat builder, Pioneer Boatworks. Proprietors Eric Caswell and Bonnie Gurney have been in the business for thirty years, offering services they jokingly refer to as a “shave and a haircut”. But Pioneer Boatworks goes way beyond that. They don’t just scrape barnacles from hulls, paint with copper, and install sacrificial anodes. They cover the gamut, from maintenance to major boat repairs, to complete rebuilds on a bare hull. And the cozy store provides a gathering place to sit and chew the fat about all things nautical. The west coast tradition of a love for boats continues.