The Canada Sailing Boat, Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada


Saint John, New Brunswick

The story below was taken from the Times Globe, Thursday, June 11/98


Sailing Vessel Canada

The country's oldest registered sailing vessel needs a new hull and the Sailing Yacht Canada Restoration Project hope to find the perfect tree

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   A group of boat enthusiasts in Ontario is searching for the perfect tree to help rebuild the sailing yacht Canada which was built in Saint John 100 years ago..

   They're looking everywhere - including New Brunswick - to find a big old white oak tree to replace the rotting hull of the country's oldest registered sailing vessel.

   "It would close the circle," says Don Sangster, chairman of the Sailing Yacht Canada Restoration Project. "It makes sense to use' wood from (New Brunswick) since that's where the boat was first built;"

   The Canada, which was launched in Saint John 100 years ago this month, needs a new keelson - a massive beam that runs down the centre acting as the yacht's backbone. This attaches to an iron keel.

   The tree must match specific criteria: be a century-old white oak tree, be about 21 metres high, and be able to produce a single 16- metre piece or two 8-metre pieces free of knots or limbs. The trunk has to be thick enough to saw out the pieces without using the bark or heart of the tree.

   The January ice storm that hit Eastern Ontario left its own blessing to the Canada. A main branch on a locust tree belonging to one of the project's volunteers' crashed to the ground under an enormous weight of ice. There was enough wood in that one branch to reconstruct the stem of the yacht.

   The project will soon reach the point were they can't build any more, until the keelson is in place. Finding the ideal white oak tree in Eastern Ontario is difficult, especially in the wake of the ice storm. That's why they've put out an appeal for help.

   There have been some offers. Ottawa Citizen senior editor Dave Brown wrote about the Canada's oak tree search in his column in February. So far, 30 people in Ontario have responded to call pledging their oak trees. None has fit the bill yet.

   But the project's board of directors is also interested in an offer from the Canada's home town. Saint John physician Dr. Leonard Morgan has been searching for a suitable tree on his property on the Isle of Pines, but to no avail.

   "The tree they're looking for is bigger than any we've found," says Dr. Morgan.

   He says the elusive oak would have to be older than the Canada herself, but he'll keep on looking.

   "It will be a while yet," he says.

   The hull of the Canada appears every bit her age. Her century-old planking is rotting and the white and maroon paint is peeling and fading. This once sleek sailing yawl now rests in a boat yard near Kemptville, Ontario, 40 kilometres south of Ottawa, under a makeshift wooden and plastic shelter.

   Every Saturday, a legion of volunteer boat builders come to Canada House, as they call it, to lend a hand sawing, hammering, and sanding, putting the yacht back together piece by piece.

   When the project formed in 1995, optimistic members aimed to re-launch Canada in time for her centennial on July 27/98. But construction progress is slow and financial support has only trickled in. With some help from a professional fund raiser, the group has managed to raise about $70,000 - they'll need 10 times that to get the yacht back in the water. At this rate, they will be lucky to have it ready in time for the turn of the century.

   "What we really need is a sugar daddy," admits Mr. Sangster, who would dearly love to find someone or some organization willing to back the entire project. "Then, we hope they will inspire others to give."

   Mr. Sangster also hopes to make another New Brunswick connection - a joint venture between the Canada and the Royal Kennebecasis Yacht Club, which celebrates its centennial for receiving its Royal Charter this year.

   "We really could benefit from the exposure that would bring," says Mr. Sangster. He says he sent a letter to the club seeking their support over a year ago, but hasn't heard back from them yet.

   Meanwhile, without a major sponsor, the Canada project returns to a more targeted fund-raising strategy to keep themselves afloat. Revenues from yard sales and promotional merchandise are used to purchase building material, such as pine for planks or oak for the beams.

   "We go and raise $500 from a yard sale, then we go out and buy $500 worth of material," says Mr. Sangster.

   Small banners colour the inside of the Canada House displaying the corporate logos of sponsoring companies. The Canada received cash donations from the Toronto Dominion Bank and Royal Bank, and more practical items, such as hand tools on loan from Makita Power Tools. International Paints Limited offered the project enough paint to cover the entire yacht with some left over. They've even had someone donate a wooden boat, in exchange for a tax receipt. The project then raffled the boat off and collected the proceeds.Small banners colour the inside of the Canada House displaying the corporate logos of sponsoring companies. The Canada received cash donations from the Toronto Dominion Bank and Royal Bank, and more practical items, such as hand tools on loan from Makita Power Tools. International Paints Limited offered the project enough paint to cover the entire yacht with some left over. They've even had someone donate a wooden boat, in exchange for a tax receipt. The project then raffled the boat off and collected the proceeds.

   The Canada's cost estimate is broken down item by item to encourage a potential sponsor to help purchase a specific item. He hopes this will also attract them to buy a piece of history.

   "People want to feel like they've bought a part of the boat," says Mr. Sangster, a retired geologist from North Gower, Ont, He adds the project has applied for a research grant to help study more about the boat's history through the Royal Canadian Geographical Society.

   In the days before the Bluenose, the Canada was the best racing boat on the East Coast. Built by William Heans for his son, Fred, the Canada sailed from the Royal Kennebecasis Yacht club in Saint John for the better part of 70 years. Photos from the turn of the century show the Canada's enormous sails - 1,753 square feet of sail area. In a light wind, the yacht's sleek hull easily heeled over and quickly gather way. She was built for speed, and proved it by winning numerous racing trophies and honours on the Bay of Fundy, including the Pugsley Cup.

   After falling into disrepair, the Canada was sold to Maj. Gamblin and moved to Carleton Place, Ont., in 1965. The boat sat exposed to the elements for nearly 20 years and passed through the hands of several owners before she was purchased by Phillip Ludlow. He moved it to his boat yard at Beckett's Landing on the shore of the Rideau River where the project works today.

   Now, every Saturday through all seasons, the Canada's small band of amateur boat builders work away. Many of these volunteers consider their "hard" labour here, a form of therapy.

   "I spend my weeks writing legislation to regulate nuclear materials," says Eugene Seguin, a nuclear regulator with the Atomic Energy Board in Ottawa. "So, when I come out here, 'they tell me to 'Carry that beam.' Perfect!'

   Dressed in a set of orange overalls, Jean Lemieux, the project's volunteer co-ordinator, agrees working on the Canada makes for a great hobby.

   "I find the history of this boat to be addictive," says Mr. Lemieux, a geophysicist with Natural Resources Canada. "I've always been attracted to restoring wooden boats."

   These enthusiasts believe the only way to restore the Canada to her original configuration is to employ the same Victorian boat building techniques used a century ago.

    "We could just as easily build a replica out there," says Mr. Lemieux, pointing outside to the boat yard. "But we want to make this as authentic as possible."

   Building a wooden boat takes a lot of skill and patience. But rebuilding a boat in the same way it was built in the 19th Century takes a great deal of research and dedication. In Phillip Ludlow's study, only a few books line the wall that aren't about sailing or boat repair. 'He makes a living out of building and restoring old-style wooden boats. But, he says the Canada offers its own lesson.

   "It's amazing how many secrets there are in the Canada," says Mr. Ludlow, who sold the yacht to the Sailing Yacht Canada Restoration Project for one dollar in 1995. "You tend to think that all of the advanced technique came in this century and the Canada certainly points out that they were no slouches in the 1890s. They really knew what they were doing even back then."

   The cedar steam box is just one of these antiquated techniques. Water hoses combined with heat coils act together like a saw to soften the oak, so it may be curved into shape to construct the frame of the yacht. After steaming for about two hours, the ribs have to be bent then passed by a human chain up to the spot on the yacht where it is to be installed - all within three minutes before the wood hardens again.

   "It's a painstaking process," confesses Mr. Lemieux, who says each one costs over $50. "We've lost more than one rib this way because they can split easily."

   And he adds, as willing as these volunteers may be wooden boat building is not a common practice.

   "We're not into building old-style wooden sailboats anymore because the materials aren't readily available. So, it's been a challenge.

   "But, in many cases, she'll be a better boat than she was when she was first launched."

   Mr. Sangster estimates the Canada's 150 volunteers have invested 1,800 person hours into the project. And that's not just the construction. work.

   That number includes the hours project members spend attending management meetings, going to boat shows and giving historical talks. But, the long hours have taken their toll, especially on the handful of active members.

   "We're like any other volunteer organization," he says.

   "Ten percent seem to do most of the work. We have a small corps of regulars who show up for everything. But, some of our members have suffered burnout from all the activities we expect them to do. They don't up and quit, but they tend not to come back to help."

   What the Canada project needs is not more hands to work on the boat, but for the overall restoration project. They're looking for more members to go out and raise awareness about the project, by setting up a booth at a boat show or doing a historical talk. Mr. Sangster says the project needs two computers to produce their regular newsletter and to track their membership.

   They especially hope that many of their new members and sponsors come from New Brunswick - the Canada's native province.

   But, right now, Mr. Sangster says nothing would make him happier than finding that old oak tree.

   "I see them cutting that tree down, floating it over from an island, loading it on a train or truck," he says gleefully.

   "We'll have one great party if we see a transport truck coming down the road carrying that tree."

   E Daniel T. Hurley is a free-lance writer and broadcaster based in Kemptville, Ont.

How to help the Canada

   The Sailing Yacht Canada Restoration Project needs a solid white oak tree to replace the boat's keelson.

   Here's what they're looking for: One solid white oak tree, about 100 years old, 21 metres high, straight, and free of branches or knots in the lower half.

   It should be one metre in diameter at the base, and wide enough to saw out one or two blocks of wood without using the bark or heart of the tree.

   White oak is best identified by its leaves with rounded tips. Red oak leaves, on the other hand, have pointed tips.

   Anyone with a white oak tree matching this description and is willing to donate it to the cause are asked to contact Don Sangster at (613) 489-2191, Alex Bolechows at (613) 2584)226, or the project's number (613) 2584270. Of course, they'd also be happy with a cash or other donation in return for a tax receipt.

The projects e-mail address is

To become a member, the cost is $10 per year. Please write:
Joan Ludlow
Membership secretary
Sailing Yacht Canada Restoration Project
2954 Donnelly Drive RR#4
Kemptville, Ont.
K0G 1J0