"40 Years of Boat-Building" Interview by Andrew Szeto
By Ted Moores, Master Builder
My partner Joan Barrett and I have over 40 years’ experience building wooden boats that combine classic lines with the most advanced marine technologies. Our workshop produces C4 and C15 sprint racing canoes, prototypes for production designs, elegant one-off custom boats, as well as repairs and restorations of historically significant craft.
Much of what we do involves support to casual builders of canoes and kayaks. The lessons we learn in the workshop are passed on to first time builders in the form of how-to books, classes, hard-to-find building materials, and kits. We measure our success in the thousands of Bear Mountain canoes and kayaks that emerge from home workshops around the world each year.
Bear Mountain boats began in Powassan, Ontario in 1974. In the early 1970s, I was a freelance graphic artist getting tired of the big city and ready for a change. Returning from the cottage one weekend, a crude cedar canoe in front of a shop in Trout Creek, Ontario grabbed my interest. The canoe was for rent so I took it back to the studio. After looking at it for a week, I figured out how it was built and convinced myself that I could do better. In retrospect this was naïve, as I knew nothing about canoes, boatbuilding methods, tools or materials. There was a very steep learning curve; the building method was still at the early experimental stage so developing it was a matter of endless trial and error. The big problem was the resin available at the time was not compatible with wood. Despite challenges like these I started Sundance Canoes Gravenhurst, Ontario in 1972, and sold the company two years later to Greavette Boats, builders of mahogany runabouts.
In the early 1970s many young people were looking for a reality check by moving back to the land, and this made sense to us. We bought an old farm on a high hill at the northwestern edge of Algonquin Park. Joan worked for the Provincial Government and I took a job at a North Bay television station. Our life changed when our first daughter Daisy was born, and again when a friend asked us to build him a canoe. After building a log and stone workshop and buying some tools, we were back in the boat business. By this time, we had learned about epoxy resin and the Gougeon Brothers were formulating it to be compatible with wood.
One of our first products was a canoe kit but we soon realized that there was more interest in just our building instructions. Working with our friend and neighbor Merilyn Simonds, we wrote CANOECRAFT, a guide to fine wood-strip canoe construction. First released in 1983, CANOECRAFT has sold more than 300,000 copies, been translated into German, and was revised and expanded in 2001. Most people agree that CANOECRAFT is one of the most comprehensive books available on the subject. The 2015 edition includes an additional 32 color pages with photos and stories written by amateur canoe builders from all over the world.
KAYAKCRAFT (published by WoodenBoat Books) was written after we re-located to Peterborough, Ontario in 1995. This was a family project; our daughter Jennifer was the photographer. In 2004 I teamed up with Greg Rossel to write KAYAKS YOU CAN BUILD (Firefly Books). KYCB combines the methods used by plywood kayak builders with basic boatbuilding controls and methods to make the results predictable. It does for plywood kayak building what CANOECRAFT does for wood-strip/epoxy canoe construction - it sets a high standard of excellence while making the process builder-friendly. In 2010 we launched Sparks, our 30’ hybrid electric fantail launch. She was a three-year science project that combined all the tricks we had learned working on other people’s boats. We have cruised the Trent Canal, the Thousand Islands and the Rideau Canal along with kids, dogs and friends. Sparks makes a statement, too: you can have a high quality boating experience without consuming large quantities of fuel.
Our DVD, Fine Wood-Strip Canoe Building was completed in 2010 as a companion to CANOECRAFT. Joan worked with actor, Nick Offerman (better known as Ron Swanson on the TV series, Parks and Recreation) and videographer, Jimmy diResta. Nick has done much to bring canoe building out of the backyard, and talks publicly about the pride and satisfaction that comes with making things by hand.
2013 was a year of celebration; it meant 40 years in the boat business and a significant birthday for me. Joan organized a large weekend party for builders, suppliers, old friends and family. As a fundraiser for the Canadian Canoe Museum we had a day of small craft “show and tell” in the parking lot and dinner in the evening. Nick Offerman was the featured speaker at the dinner. The birthday party was a cruise up and down the historic Lift Lock. Both decks of the cruise boat were full of friends and the birthday cake. While the lock was ascending, Joan passed birthday cake down to the folks in the many small boats in the flotilla as well as to my crew on Sparks.
This celebration was a time of reflection on what we have done for boatbuilding and what boatbuilding has done for us. Working with casual builders has been most satisfying yet humbling. We often hear how building a canoe has become a pivotal point in the builder’s life; it is an honor and a privilege to be part of the drama of another’s future.
In spring of 2017, we made another big change and moved our home and workshop to Westport, Ontario. This small, friendly community has allowed us to be closer to family as well as on the water continuing what we love to do. The boat business has been good to us, if you don’t put accumulating wealth into the equation. We have been blessed with healthy, happy children and grandchildren, good friends and a pleasant place to do meaningful work. Life continues to be full of exciting possibilities and enriching friendships.