Muskoka Resurrects Its Racing Legacy

Powerboat racing has a long and rich history throughout the Muskoka Lakes region of Ontario, Canada dating back to the golden age of boating.

The Toronto Outboard Racing Club which was formed in 1952 is dedicated to the future growth and betterment of amateur Stock Outboard racing, as well as sportsmanship, fair competition, camaraderie among participants, family involvement, and encourages youth participation in this International Olympic Committee recognized sport.

Visiting one of their popular events today is like taking a step back in time, to appreciate not only the history of the sport, but also experience first hand just how cool this form of racing is today. And this popularity of the sport is growing.

Tim Horton's Restaurants - Toronto Racing Outboard Club event

Fellow Woody Boaters Harry Wilson (son of famous Miss Canada racers Harold & Lorna) and Jamie Smith (Executive Producer of Harold & Lorna the upcoming movie) were on hand last weekend at the Tim Hortons Muskoka Powerboat Races in Gull Lake / Gravenhurst, Ontario and sent us this great report. Also, after their report, they have provided us with an update on the Miss Canada IV hydroplane restoration project and soon to be released Harold & Lorna movie.

Muskoka Resurrects its Racing Legacy
by Harry Wilson

“Cooper Sets Record at Gravenhurst, Crown Jewel of Vacation Circuit” Jack “Pops” Cooper, veteran speedboat driver from Kansas City, guided his trim racing craft over the waters of Gull Lake at record-breaking speed here… on ‘the finest natural race course I’ve seen…’”

The 1947 headline story is indicative of Muskoka’s rich but nearly-forgotten powerboat heritage. In the post-war heyday of racing, international competitors flocked to this vacation destination, bringing their families along for a couple of weeks of rest, relaxation and keen competition in Picton, Tweed, Barrie…(Ontario) and of course, Gravenhurst. Muskoka had certainly earned its reputation.

In the 1920s, Commodore Harry B Greening stunned the racing world with his Muskoka-built Rainbow series of inboard powerboats. After winning the Lipton Cup in the USA and advancing hydroplane and surface-breaking propeller design, he established the world’s 24 hr distance record on Lake Muskoka. When he retired from racing, he became mentor to the Wilsons and their series of Miss Canadas raceboats.

From 1932 to 1950, Harold and Lorna Wilson were headline news, focusing even more of the world’s attention on Greavette, Ditchburn, Minett-Shields and other wooden boat builders. George Crouch, John L Hacker and Douglas van Patten designed scores “gentleman racers” for Muskoka customers.

When the Wilsons retired from racing, the mantle fell to Col. Gordon and Jim Thompson, whose Miss Supertest unlimited-class hydroplanes driven variously by Jim, Art Asbury, Bill Braden and Bob Hayward, inspired a new generation of racing enthusiasts. Future world champions Norm Woods, Mark Rotharmel and a host of other young men – and women – clambered aboard race boats of every size and description, and for decades Muskoka remained a mecca for powerboat racing.

Jim Thompson, Harry Greening, Bill Braden, Gar Wood in 1957

But one by one venues like Bala, Huntsville and Port Carling dropped away, and when the last Can-Am race on Gull Lake packed up and left in the mid 1990s, it seemed the book had closed on Muskoka.

Wooden boaters and racers are a hearty bunch with long memories, however. The Antique & Classic Boat Society (Toronto Chapter) started celebrating the stunning wooden launches, dippies and vintage race boats remaining on the lakes, attracting thousands to its annual Gravenhurst Classic Boat show. Last year, the Canadian Boating Federation and Gravenhurst Tim Hortons’ Restaurants brought a new generation of outboard racers to town for the first time in two decades.

Getting Ready to Race, Gull Lake 2012

This year, in what is surely a harbinger of great things, the two forces came together: young men and women working with a generation of predecessors both on shore and, yes, out on the water, are proof that racing is on the mend in Muskoka.

Although insurance restrictions prevented vintage inboards like the Lauterbach Special and Miss Canadiana from strutting their stuff on the course this year, their “little brothers”, the 1950s outboard hydroplane feature race, opened the doors for their participation in 2013.

Dave Richardson’s New Ride On Display at Gravenhurst, Ontario

The running of vintage outboard hydroplanes provided an interesting take on the weekend’s races: classic Mercury and Champion Hot Rod engines were once again out on the water on original BeZoat , Webster, Smith and Riveau hulls. Can PR Johnson rigs be far behind? One look at the faces of the “young pups” driving them confirms the event will return and – with any luck – the inboard owners that watched and applauded from shore this year will make a little thunder of their own next time around.

1956 Mercury 20H Engines Thrill Current and Veteran Drivers Alike

Eye Candy: C Stock Mercury 30H Engine and Boat

Riveau / Mercury Original from New York

In a tip of the hat to yesteryear, the Toronto Outboard Racing Club (TORC) recognized John Webster, 2011 inductee into the Canadian Motor Sports Hall of Fame, for his contribution to racing over seven decades. A multi-multi National and North American champion in A, B, and D stock hydroplanes as well as boat builder and CBF officer, last year “Webbie” was still doctoring engines between heats on the beach. This year he turned his attention to re-igniting the love of racing in the Woodstock/London corridor in southwestern Ontario – an area which just happens to be the winter stomping grounds of the Miss Supertest and Miss Canada teams. With any luck, what happened in Muskoka this year will spread south in 2013.

John Webster Sporting a TORC 60 Year Service Medal

Miss Canada IV Update

Word from Tom Adams’s shop is that the bottom of the “Miss Canada IV” – 1949 Harmsworth Trophy challenger and record holder is nearly finished. The hull will be rolled over this week, allowing the restoration team three weeks to refinish the original decks… just enough time to ready her for her Rolls Royce Griffon. Her Flight Engineering-prepared engine is en route from England to Canada.

Rolls Royce Griffon Complete With Manifolds Ready For Shipment to Canada

Engine builder Peter Grieve from Flight Engineering in England commented – “At 2750 the engine produces 2000hp in low speed blower, and 2490 hp in high, with water / methanol. We have had an exchange of e-mails since the meeting when we agreed that we would try and keep the engine within its 2750 rpm operating limit if it was possible. If you don’t think that is enough power, then it can be run up to 3000, and would produce an estimated 2720 hp at +25lb boast, and 3000hp with increased boost, which is perfectly achievable if required.”

If you have a few minutes, here’s an interesting video of the big Rolls Royce Griffon being test-run before it was shipped to Canada recently. She’s literally a fire-breathing monster as you will see…

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Harold and Lorna – Movie Update

The last “shoot” for the feature length docudrama on the racing Wilsons and their “Miss Canada” hydroplanes is set for the 2nd week of July. Originally planned for summer 2012, the shoot had to be rescheduled for one year later when the object of the shoot, Bobby Genovese’s Miss Canada III, decided to throw a couple of connecting rods through the crankcase just prior to the 2011 shoot. (Sound familiar?)

Miss Canada III (rep) ready for her 2011 camera shoot

When that shot is complete, Muskoka Film Works will return to the editing suite, insert the new footage into the movie, and get ready for the world premiere of the film in – where else?- Gravenhurst, Ontario the “Crown Jewel” of the Vacation Circuit!

Harry Wilson – Miss Canada IV Team

For more information about the Harold & Lorna movie and the amazing Miss Canada IV restoration project you can click here.


4 replies
  1. Greg Lewandowski
    Greg Lewandowski says:

    Great story and that video of the Rolls Royce Griffon literally gave me the chills! If all goes well, the plan for next year is to make the Muskoka show and soak up some of that great Canadian boating and racing history.

  2. J.D.Smith
    J.D.Smith says:

    The Griffon left Flight Engineering on Wednesday and is now on its way to Tom Adams shop in Port Carling; expected date of arrival is around the 20th of July. We’ll let you know when it arrives.

  3. Matt B
    Matt B says:

    That Engine is HUUUUUUUUUUUGE but so cool. Maybe I could squeeze one the my 19′ Runabout :~)

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