Ken Gibson shares this photo of the launching of the Casey B from the Wingen Shipyard in Tofino in 1945. The photo is part of the Wingen Family collection. (Photo courtesy of Ken Gibson)

Ken Gibson shares this photo of the launching of the Casey B from the Wingen Shipyard in Tofino in 1945. The photo is part of the Wingen Family collection. (Photo courtesy of Ken Gibson)

SHORELINE COLUMN: Boat building on the West Coast

SHIRLEY MARTIN

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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Tofino will elect a new mayor and two new councillors on March. 6. (Westerly file photo)
Tofino councillor candidates identify differences

Tofino will elect a new mayor and two new municipal councillors on March 6.

Island Health chief medical officer Dr. Richard Stanwick receives a first dose of Pfizer vaccine, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
COVID-19: B.C. seniors aged 90+ can start to sign up for vaccination on March 8

Long-term care residents protected by shots already given

Tofino Resort and Marina has temporarily shut down after several staff members tested positive for COVID-19. (Nora O’Malley photo)
COVID-19 confirmed at Tofino Resort and Marina

Resort apologizes to Hesquiaht First Nation for Valentine’s Day boating incident.

An investigation is underway after a man was shot and killed by Tofino RCMP in Opitsaht. (Black Press Media file photo)
Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation man shot and killed by Tofino RCMP

Investigation underway by Independent Investigations Office of British Columbia.

Visitors relax at the natural hot springs located within Maquinna Marine Provincial Park. (tofinohiking.com photo)
Maquinna Marine Provincial Park boardwalk project on track

“The walk down the two-kilometre boardwalk to the springs itself is by far one of the most incredible experiences.”

Langley resident Carrie MacKay shared a video showing how stairs are a challenge after spending weeks in hospital battling COVID-19 (Special to Langley Advance Times)
VIDEO: Stairs a challenge for B.C. woman who chronicled COVID-19 battle

‘I can now walk for six (to) 10 minutes a day’

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s coronavirus situation, May 8, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C.’s weekend COVID-19 cases: 532 Saturday, 508 Sunday, 438 Monday

Fraser Health still has most, eight more coronavirus deaths

B.C. Attorney General David Eby speaks in the legislature, Dec. 7, 2020. Eby was given responsibility for housing after the October 2020 provincial election. (Hansard TV)
B.C. extends COVID-19 rent freeze again, to the end of 2021

‘Renoviction’ rules tightened, rent capped to inflation in 2022

Face mask hangs from a rear-view mirror. (Black Press image)
B.C. CDC unveils guide on how to carpool during the pandemic

Wearing masks, keeping windows open key to slowing the spread of COVID-19

Churches, including Langley’s Riverside Calvary Church, are challenging the regulations barring them from holding in-person worship services during COVID-19. (Langley Advance Times file)
Det. Sgt. Jim Callender. (Hamilton Police Service screenshot)
B.C. man dead, woman seriously injured after shooting in Hamilton, Ont.

The man was in the process of moving to the greater Toronto area, police say

Wildlife advocate Gary Schroyen captured this picture of a one-year-old cougar in the Sooke Hills using a homemade trip camera. Vancouver Island is home to approximately 800 cougars, which makes up about a quarter of the total population in B.C. (Gary Schroyen photo)
Wildlife advocate Gary Schroyen captured this picture of a one-year-old cougar in the Sooke Hill using a homemade trip camera. Schroyen presents Animal Signs: The Essence of Animal Communication on Nov. 30. (Gary Schroyen photo)
Declining Vancouver Island cougar populations linked to wolves

Large carnivore specialist says human development still plays biggest role on cougar numbers

Police have identified the vehicle involved in the Feb. 14 hit-and-run in Chemainus and are continuing to investigate. (Black Press Media files)
Police seize and identify suspect vehicle in hit-and-run

Investigation into death expected to be lengthy and involved

Most Read