Late Live-ish Report From The 2016 Toronto ACBS Spring Tour

7-1930s minett vetnor

A radical wooden hydroplane built in the 1930’s by Minett Shields – but designed by Ventnor, on display at Gary Clark’s boat shop in Gravenhurst, Ontario.

WE ALWAYS LOOK FORWARD TO THE ANNUAL TORONTO ACBS SPRING SHOP TOUR REPORT from contributors Chris & Julie Bullen. This gives us a glimpse into a number of top boat restoration shops in Muskoka region which is rich with rare wooden boats. Always an amazing tour, so let’s get started. (By the way, today you can click on the photos to enlarge them. – Texx

Story & Photos by Chris and Julie Bullen

With the mild winter hanging on, with snow and below normal temperatures this month, we are happy to be on the last day of it.

Today is the Toronto ACBS Spring Shop Tour, and for us classic boaters it brings hope for a boat ride just around the corner. The ice went out a week ago, unfortunately not before the Muskoka area lakes water level came up with ice still on the top. This blew in the wind and took out a bunch of boat houses at the ankles. A bad tripping penalty that took out a few walls just above the docks, leaving the boats inside to support the loads.

ohno 3

Photo courtesy of Facebook.


Vic carpenters big boat “ERA” is the one in the photo, it was just varnished. But thankfully she will survive with more varnish. (Photo courtesy Facebook)

The day started off with frost on the windshield at -3c (26.6 F.) as we left our home. An early start to the day as the 2016 ACBS Toronto Spring Tour travels to 12 different boat shops. This takes time just to do the driving between shops, but the meet and greet with your boating friends that have been hibernating all winter really is what slows down the travels.

Having the opportunity to visit with everyone is for me – the greatest benefit of the club. Wonderful folks with big smiles and a love for the open water.

As the sun came up we arrived in Gravenhurst (north of Toronto), the town that claims to be the gateway to Muskoka as it was the first stop for the trains arriving with the eager summer tourists.

Wooden boat restorer Mike Windsor’s shop is here just past the gates to the town. Mike had to move out of his shop for the winter as he had to clean up a rather large boat that did not fit in his shop next to his home. “Blythewood II” is a 1926 Ditchburn sedan that is 37-feet long and powered by a 185 hp 8 cylinder Packard engine.


All 37-feet of “Blythewood II” an amazing 1926 Ditchburn sedan.

2-blythewood engine vents

“Blythewood II” engine vents – some impressive hardware.

3-Packard from Blythewood

The impressive 185 HP Packard engine from “Blythewood II”.

4-detail from 1928 Minnet Sheilds Norwood III

The elegant details from a 1928 Minett Shields named “Norwood III” in Mike’s shop.

Next – We left Mike’s shop after a coffee and donut headed for Paul Brackley’s boat shop. Paul had 2 boats, one was a nice 1939 Chris-Craft 27-foot Custom Runabout, powered by a rare Chris-Craft A-120. According to Paul, this boat was originally purchased from the Worlds Fair and lived on Lake Tahoe.
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The 1939 Chris-Craft 27-foot runabout at Brackley Boats.

We left Paul’s after a cinnamon Danish and juice – and headed to Gary Clark’s boat shop, still in Gravenhurst on the north end. Gary always has a few big boats in his shop. Two Riva Aquarama’s with twin inboards, “BIV” one of our favorite gentleman race boats and a unique wooden hydroplane built in the 1930’s by Minett Shields – but designed by Ventnor.

8-custom motor for "BIV" the 1921 ditchburnin back ground

The custom modern V-8 power ready to go in the 1921 Ditchburn in the background.

9-looking through the nostril of an Aquarama

Looking through the nostril of a Riva Aquarama.

10-the other end of a 1965 aquarama

The other end of a 1965 Riva Aquarama at Gary Clark’s boat shop in Muskoka.

One more stop before Lunch. Sharon’s butter tarts. Yes she has been handing out these amazing treats for 30 years to the ACBS Toronto Spring Tour participants – they are now legendary. Oh and her husband restores boats. Tim Butson had a lovely boat from the Lake of Bays in his boat shop. “Heather Belle” is a 1902 Marine Engine & Machine Company Boat. (they needed Matt’s Marketing skills with that name!) “Heather Belle” was saved by Graham many years ago.

I remember her sitting on the beach just to the east of my dock growing up in Muskoka. She was repowered by Elco so she has a quiet running electric motor and she is currently in Tim’s shop for some bottom work. Rich, Jim and I are planning a pre-event for 2017, the week before our show on the Lake of Bays, so we will see “Heather Belle” back in the water by then.

11-Heather Belle and Julie who loves this one.

In Tim Butson’s boat shop “Heather Belle” and my wife Julie who loves this old wooden boat.

12-new planks for Heathe Belle

A few new planks for “Heather Belle”.

Now we are off to nearby Port Carling for Lunch. We gathered at the Community Centre for more meet and greet with fellow woody boaters, as well as a nice catered lunch. Sean was there with a newly design shirt celebrating our Toronto ACBS boat show theme for 2016, “Greavette 85 Years – Heading Home to Gravenhurst.”

13-new Ts

Back on the road again, we went to Dukes and saw many boats in the old boat shop. That building has been here since the 1930’s. It’s a legendry spot for us and has had new life and some needed support beams put in place by Jamie Fowler who took over the business a few years back.

14-Many boats in Dukes

Dukes is packed to the rafters (and new beams) with antique & classic wooden boats.

15-good patina on this rudder

Some boats at Dukes had some great patina on their rudders too. (caution, this photo could be disturbing for some folks to see)

As the day was slipping past us so fast, we only had time for one more stop. The newest and youngest wooden boat restorer in the area named James Osler. This is his second year in his newly constructed work shop. He had three boats that he was currently working on, so a healthy load of work to keep him going.

16-james own Achieva II 1953 Delcraft

James own, very cool 1953 Delcraft “Achieva II”.

17-new bottom

A new bottom in progress at James Osler’s boat shop.

As the days turn to evening, we look forward to even sunnier days and hitting the water for some much needed time in our classic boats as the season is almost here in Southern Ontario (thank goodness for that!).

Chris Bullen

18-I need to get a boat in the water.

I need to get a classic boat back in the water asap…)

Special thanks to Chris & Julie Bullen for sharing their story with us today. Also to the Toronto ACBS Chapter for organizing these popular annual events.


10 replies
  1. Greg Lewandowski
    Greg Lewandowski says:

    Great story with those fantastic Canadian boats that live in the wonderful world of Muskoka. Thanks Chris and Texx for a great start to a Saturday morning!

  2. Dan T
    Dan T says:

    The narrow beam cruisers like Blythwood and Heather Belle are just so pleasing to the eye. It’s interesting the way hull design changed and widened out so much with the advent of bigger power and more horsepower. Now the trend in design has done a 360 back to longer sleeker more fuel efficient hulls. They had it right back in the 20’s.

  3. ian
    ian says:

    A great story by Chris but he did not get down to Rockwood Ontario which is 60 km down the road from Toronto to the shop of Peter Breen Boats; the 3 time winner of the best boat at Keels and Wheels show in Texas who had 5 Gentleman’s racers in his shop including as well a 1917 Gilbert Launch ready for rebuilt Sterling Motor installation. The Apprenticeship raceboat was built by Jeff in his spare time over the past 4 years, as well as a 1890 Dan Kidney launch with her original hull rebuilt interior rebuilt and ready for decks with a new Peter Breen 32′ Limousine Displacement Launch ready for lake testing. A proud moment for Dad and son

  4. Troy in ANE
    Troy in ANE says:

    What a GREAT event! I swear I can smell the varnish. (oh wait, maybe that is because I was varnishing this morning in the Boat Barn before I read this story)

    It was one of these tours that produced one of my favorite WB Headers of all time.

  5. N E Trueworthy
    N E Trueworthy says:

    Great article of substance, congrats to Chis and Julie from a fellow Muskokan.!!!

  6. Sean
    Sean says:

    Chris, thanks for the plug! The ACBS Ships Stores are going through a makeover / update to better serve the members and this Limited Edition T-shirt was just the start. It’s the perfect attire for the Gravenhurst boat show (featuring Greavette) on July 9th and there are just a few left with some sizes disappearing! So come early and we’ll see you, Heading Home to Gravenhurst,

  7. Kentucky Wonder
    Kentucky Wonder says:

    Sean….Please save two of the gray T-shirts for Anne and I. Size L, or XL if the larges are gone. Email me … leaz3553(at)bell

    We will be there in Gravenhurst this summer. Cannot wait to bring Eau! Canada home to meet her sisters!

  8. K.Brennan
    K.Brennan says:

    Looks like a great time! thanks for sharing your experience. Anyone here form Mi going to Algonac in June or traverse city in august for boats on the boardwalk?

  9. Norm Kitching
    Norm Kitching says:

    Chris & Julie do a great job of getting the boating juices flowing . Hope to all of you at Lake Tahoe for the ACBS International in September.

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