Posted on November 23 2016
Left, the Peterborough farmhouse; right, our new home in Westport
Over the course of our 40+ years working together, Ted and I have relocated our home and workshop several times as interests and needs changed. We lived in Bancroft in the eighties, a simple, peaceful place to raise our daughters and to focus on some serious boat restoration work. By the nineties, the girls needed a different education than what was being offered locally, and we were looking for a change.
Coincidentally, In 1995 Kirk Wipper transferred his collection of 600+ canoes and artifacts to a group in Peterborough who were willing to take on the task of establishing a museum. Jack Matthews and Don Curtis, both founding members of the newly formed board of directors, persuaded us to come and help.
While keeping the business of Bear Mountain healthy, we helped move the collection from barns and empty buildings to what would become the Canadian Canoe Museum. The site was the former Outboard Marine facility, and needed serious restoration before it could accommodate visitors. Money being scarce, Ted set up the woodworking shop and trained volunteers to build storage racks for the canoes and created an exhibit about the Peterborough canoe companies. Meanwhile, I designed some budget-friendly products, opened the gift shop, and took on the task of finding and maintaining a group of volunteers. The museum opened its doors in 1996 thanks to the help and generosity of countless people.
The years in Peterborough have been productive and intense. First we operated Bear Mountain out of a rented workshop first on Braidwood Avenue, before moving to Perry Street where we built sprint racing canoes and taught classes. In between Ted wrote Kayakcraft and produced his chapter in The Canoe, documenting the history and evolution of the manufactured canoe. We also created our mail order business, designing and selling the Bear Mountain products and plans which allow us to help people all over the world make their own watercraft.
In 2000 we purchased our current property, a 135-year-old brick farmhouse on Matchett Line overlooking the Otonabee River, part of the Trent Severn Canal system. The property had a large unfinished drive shed and several barns which made it ideal for us. Canoe building and teaching continued while we set up our workshop and gradually renovated the 4000 sq ft drive shed, wiring, insulating, installing windows, and adding a second floor. Ted has built over 3 dozen sprint canoes in the shop to date. He wrote and produced Kayaks You Can Build as well as restored numerous canoes and small boats and larger runabouts. In 2009 he fulfilled a dream by building Sparks, our 30-foot electric fantail launch.
Making a living creating products and experiences which allow people to make things and enrich the quality of their lives is satisfying and important to us. While we don’t plan to stop this process, we do need to scale down a bit. We want a little more time to cruise on board Sparks, paddle kayaks, and make things with our grandkids.
We have found the ideal location for all those things. Our new home and workshop will be in the small eastern Ontario village of Westport. Situated on Big Rideau Lake, part of the historic Rideau canal system, we will be able to cruise south to Kingston and the Thousand Islands or north to Ottawa through scenic countryside, where the locks are opened using hand cranks and the two-hundred-year-old lock houses are built from local limestone.
Our home will be in a restored factory built in 1907, right on the water's edge where steam boats used to call in. At various times in its life, the building produced one-piece harness buckles, operated as a saw mill, and housed a furniture manufacturing company. The mill pond flows right by our windows, and by coincidence the factory was built using the same poured concrete method used in the construction of the Peterborough Liftlock. There are two massive pillars running through our kitchen! Best of all there is a dock on the property, where we can keep Sparks and still have plenty of room for kayaks.
The new workshop will be located two miles north of Westport on Foley Mountain, in a modern building with enough room for Ted to continue to build his racing canoes for sprint clubs across Canada. Since he is the only builder of these boats there is a need for him to carry on the tradition and to practice the craft which he loves. He reminds me of Walter Walker, who kept building into his late nineties. The doors and ceilings are high enough to allow Sparks to live inside during the winter months. There is room for the mail order business although it will not be as spacious as in my current office — I know it will be a good exercise in parting with things I really don’t need. Students attending classes in Ted’s new workshop will enjoy the same organized, well-equipped and creative feeling all his workshops have had over the years.
We are excited to move to this small, friendly community and hope people will continue to drop by to show us photos of the boats they have built and to share their building stories. Westport is a bit further east of Toronto than Peterborough but has easy access to the Ottawa airport and to the US via the International Bridge which crosses the St. Lawrence River near Clayton NY. There is lots to see and do in the area, which offers high-quality restaurants, a variety of B and Bs, delightful historic lodges, an excellent bakery and many shops featuring local handmade products.
Over this winter Ted plans to complete four C15 30-foot racing canoes which are on order for spring delivery. At the same time he is thinking of how to give away enough stuff to downsize from 4000+ sq ft to 2000 sq ft. Our big move is planned for April and May 2017.
There is a bittersweet feeling to leaving this home and workshop on Matchett Line. We have been honoured to have hosted many visitors who took the time to drop by to share their boat building stories with us and to take classes in the workshop. Our daughter Daisy married her husband Adam under the massive ancient maple in the front yard. We hosted several small craft builders events. Nick Offerman and his dad slept in a tent in the yard. We became grandparents to four amazing kids. Sparks was created and launched.
While we will miss Peterborough and Otonabee Township and our many friends herewe are delighted to be passing on the property to a fine young family, Andrew and Ange Hepburn and their daughter Isla. In an interesting twist, Andrew’s grandfather and great grandfather worked for the Peterborough Canoe Company. We have a photo taken in 1948 showing both gentlemen and the other builders who built a canoe as a wedding gift for Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip. We know the Hepburns will continue to restore and care for the property as we have.
We hope you will come to Westport for a cruise on Sparks and a look at our new workshop.
Westport from above
The Rideau King tied up beside our building, circa 1920