Small But Mighty – 2014 Trent Severn Spring Workshop (Part 2)

Canadian Angler

Established in 1892, the Canadian Canoe Company competed head-to-head with cross town rival, the Peterborough Canoe Company. Both firms built similar lines of Canoes, skiffs and runabouts, but it took a catalyst, the onset of the Great Depression, to bring the adversary’s into an alliance. Built in 1958 this well restored Canadian “Angler” model won a 1st Place Award for “Outstanding Canadian Built Boat” at the 2013 Clayton Antique and Classic Boat Show.

Today we join contributor Cobourg Kid for Part 2 of his great report from the 2014 Trent Severn Spring Workshop on the shores of Lake Scugog, in eastern Ontario. Cedar strip runabouts (effectionately known as “strippers”) are commonplace in this area, and if you have ever wondered how to properly inspect a used cedar strip boat, look no further than today’s story.

Also, if for some reason you missed Part 1 of the Trent Severn Spring Workshop report, you can find it by Clicking Here. – Texx

Small but Mighty – 2014 Trent Severn Spring Workshop (Part 2)
Story & Photos by Cobourg Kid

In the wake of a short-lived question period, we took a quick refreshment break then streamed outside into the welcome sunshine only to find a crowd already gathered around a rare 15 foot Rice Lake Boat Co. cedar strip runabout.

In the centre of the mob, is Ken Lavalette, obviously eager to start his seminar on the proper way to assess the condition of small ribbed water craft.


Ken Lavalette, owner of Woodwind Yachts of Nestleton Ontario, encircled by folks eager to learn what maladies lurk in the bilge of this vintage stripper.

With over thirty years of experience Ken and his skilled team of seven, have built and restored over 300 sail and powered watercraft of all sizes at a facility located in Nestleton, Ontario. Ken’s business is aptly named Woodwind Yachts.

From the accompanying photos you will notice our guide is a highly animated presenter and, not surprisingly, he quickly entranced the crowd as he demonstrated the many steps required to ascertain what an allegedly sound barn find cedar strip boat might actually cost to restore.

Ken began his presentation with this imaginary scenario. “You discover and follow up on an ad for a 15 foot cedar strip in the local paper.” The ad reads “Rice Lake Cedar Strip runabout, in good shape on trailer, ready to go in the water, just needs new varnish, motor not included $1000 takes her.”

You call and are told that the boat has been stored out of the weather and she only needs a varnish job and an outboard to get her back in the lake. So you make an appointment to check her out. But how do you assess the value of the boat when you get there?

Well according to Ken you need to do a little grunt work. Over the course of about 10 minutes we shadowed Ken as he guided us on a spirited inspection of this uncommon cedar strip. The following is my synopsis of Ken’s wit and wisdom on this topic.

Image-24-Ken 2
Hopefully prior to arriving, you did a little research to determine if the boat is rare or desirable, or perhaps found some photos to give you an idea what she looked like when she rolled out of the shop? Its information like this (or lack of it) that allows you to assess originality, determine a fair price and allow you to assess whether you want to invest in a restoration, if one is needed.

Image-25-RLBW (1)

Situated on the south shore of Rice Lake at Gore’s Landing Ontario the Rice lake Boat Company was founded in 1926 by experienced canoe builder Fred Pratt. Fred’s son Wally took the helm in 1936. A low volume producer of small water craft, including canoes, skiffs and cedar strip runabouts, the firm ultimately closed in 1972. – Photo courtesy of Oldwood Online.

Image-26-RLBW (2)

In an image pulled from an original Rice Lake Boat Co. catalog, a Sea Nymph model fly’s across the waterfront at Gores Landing Ontario sometime in the late 1940s. – Photo courtesy of Oldwood Online Photos.


Another catalog photo, provides a glimpse of the firm’s “Model 51”, a low slung 15 foot cedar strip fishing boat. This design was probably produced in the 1940s and 1950s – Photo courtesy of Oldwood Online Photos.


This shot of a Rice Lake Boat Co. Canoe was discovered in the same Catalog. The Gentleman seated in the stern is Wally Pratt. Wally assumed operation of the firm in 1936 upon the death of his father and continued to operate it until 1972 when he decided to retire.


Even though the original Rice Lake Boat Company was wound down in 1972, its original lakeside “factory” and boiler shop (and porta-potty), now used for other things, remains surprisingly intact. This photo was captured by Oldwood Online Photos in 2003.

For more information on Rice Lake Boat Company, Peterborough Canoe Company, Canadian Canoe Company, Lakefield Boats and other now vanished mid-Ontario small boat builders be sure to check out Oldwood Online Photos web site.

According to Ken once you arrive, introduce yourself, inquire about the history of the boat, then ask for permission to do some non-destructive examination. If the owner is OK with that – climb on in and pull out the floorboards. How do you do that? (Did you bring any tools?). Unscrew the floor clips that hold down the grating and don’t lose those screws!


Ken impersonates the (fictitious) owner’s assertion that the ol’ gal is in good shape, needs nothing but a coat of varnish, but go ahead and examiner her if you want!

Once you get the floorboards out, examine each of the sections for condition. Is there any apparent rot, broken or missing strips? Now get down on your knees in the bilge and inspect the ribs. The bilge of a cedar strip boat commonly harbours debris and other problems so you might have to brush out some crud to see things clearly. Did you bring a stiff brush?

Start at the stern and use your fingernails to determine if each rib is sound or rotten, also check for cracks and splits. What’s the count? It’s relatively affordable to fix a few bad ribs because the old inner keel can usually stay in while the bad ribs are extracted with handmade picks and gouges. Once done new ribs are bent in.


A photo from another boat shows rotten and damaged ribs being excised.

On the other hand, if you discover rot or cracks in say 42 ribs of a 50 rib boat you are looking at removal of the inner keel. It takes about 2.5 hours of shop time per rib to bend in new ribs and then there is reassembly of the keel member once complete. Not an inexpensive proposition. The alternative? Leaving damaged ribs in the boat structurally weakens it and definitely promotes leaking. In other words, if you ignore the ribs you may find yourself swimming rather than boating.


This photo demonstrates how Ken’s crew bends new ribs into a skiff – Photo courtesy Global TV.

Having inspected the bilge we move on to the transom. Is there any apparent rot? If there is and it’s localized, it can be repaired fairly easily, however, if the edges where the transom meets the planking are rotten, the entire transom will need to be removed and replaced – once again not a simple job. Now let’s move up the boat, what shape are the seats and decks in, are they weathered and split? If so they may be beyond refinishing.


Examination of the seats and decks begins.

Let’s look at the outer stem, is it cracked? (common on strippers). If it is, it’s a relatively easy fix, unless there’s rot in the outer stem, in which case it will likely have also affected the inner stem. If that is confirmed, complete disassembly of the bow will be required involving quite a few more shop hours to make it right.

Moving on to the planks. Are there any splits, rot or gouges or wonky repairs that need to be remedied? To do this right, we need to climb under and inspect the bottom. Once again make a record of what you find.

Next it’s time to assess the mechanicals. Since there is no engine in this case, we only need to determine if the steering mechanism is operable. But what about the electrical system, is it intact and fused – and how about the fittings, windshield and trim, are they original, complete and serviceable? Finally what condition is the trailer in? Is it anywhere near roadworthy?

According to Ken, once you have gone through this exercise you should have a pretty good idea of the total number of shop hours that you might have to put into this ol’ Rice Lake Runabout. In this case, if you engaged a professional restorer to put it right you would probably be looking at spending upwards of $10,000 to $12,000 dollars plus the cost of an outboard.

However, as Ken points out that might not be a bad bargain considering that the finished product would be aesthetically beautiful, stable and easily trailered and with proper storage and regular maintenance, one could expect it to live another 25 to 40 years without any major repairs… an expectation that owners of many similar sized fiberglass boats are unlikely to achieve.


Some of you southerners are probably pondering whether anyone actually uses cedar strip runabouts anymore. The good news is that they do. In Northern Ontario the sight of a passing cedar strip is mainstream. This example was spotted last summer on the Upper French River in Ontario. More than a dozen well-maintained versions, some of them new, were scattered all around the marina shown in the background.

So it was with Ken’s final comments, the 2014 Trent Severn Antique & Classic Boat Association Spring Workshop wrapped-up. Overall a fantastic event, spent with great people, gaining new skills, insights, and information, all on a warm sunny day. One could not ask for more… Cheers to all the volunteers and presenters that made the 2014 event happen, and let’s not forget to offer a special thank you to the winter of 2014 for finally taking a vacation.

Cobourg Kid

Thanks again to Cobourg Kid for sharing another informative report from Ontario, Canada – an area known for it’s rich boating history and knowledgeable classic boating enthusiasts. Stay tuned, as we are working with CK on more great stories about boats and the people that use and maintain them.

For more information about the Trent Severn Antique & Classic Boat Association, visit their website here.


12 replies
  1. Alex
    Alex says:

    CK, that was well worth reading, as is everything you write. And Ken’s approach to assessing a boat is excellent.

    Of course, for some, common sense has nothing to do with it. Take me for instance. I go look at a boat, fall in love with it at first sight, and marry it without even meeting the in-laws first.

    The great poet, Meatloaf, captured what this feels like poignantly…

    There was no:

    “Let me sleep on it
    Baby, baby let me sleep on it
    Let me sleep on it
    And I’ll give you an answer in the morning.”

    Instead, it was:

    “I couldn’t take it any longer
    Lord I was crazed
    And when the feeling came upon me
    Like a tidal wave
    I started swearing to my god
    And on my mother’s grave
    That I would love [it] to the end of time
    I swore I would love [it] to the end of time.”

  2. Phillip Jones
    Phillip Jones says:

    I can’t wait for Troys brain vision on the common name of these neat boats. We are having a workshop this Sat. Wonder if George’s reporting will be up to these standards. 🙂 just kidding George you do a great job.

  3. Sean
    Sean says:

    The “after party” i.e. crawling around in the storage unit, was just as good as the days presentations!

    BTW; Ken warned about falling in love with a boat… and encouraged all to use their head when making a deal. Even though you “know” your not leaving without owning it.

    He also emphasized spending some time on the choice of a boat, ensuring that it suits the buyers needs.

  4. Cobourg Kid
    Cobourg Kid says:

    Thanks for mentioning those important points Sean Ken’s seasoned advice in that regard should indeed be heeded . BTW I too enjoyed our after party tour of the “boat cave”. It kind of had the feel of an Indiana Jones adventure , except there were no movie stars, ninjas , or booby traps, although I did get stuck under crawling under a skiff a couple of times!

    • Alex
      Alex says:

      Woah! What’s going on here? “Booby trap,” and no instant photo-comment from Troy?

      The softest of soft balls falls to the dirt, un-hit.

  5. Cliff
    Cliff says:

    Um Alex, you ok buddy? It’s been a long winter for me too. I like the think that the Cobourg Kid leaves the dock and shouts “Hi -Ho Maple leaf! Away!” I mean yesterday it was the Cobourg Kid rides again so…..I’m gonna sniff some varnish now and figure how much mahogany lumber I need to get for the sea skiff.

  6. don
    don says:

    I have always enjoyed the work of the Giesler Family in Powassan Ontario who have been building cedar strip boats for 4 or 5 generations. They will sell you a boat with our varnish, and in all sorts of combinations. They are probably the best price new wood boat you can find, a 15 ft French River Model which is in the picture comes in around $7,000 with windscreen but no motor. They will even deliver with a 100 miles. And they are characters as the grand father still drops in on occasion to work.

    • Cobourg Kid
      Cobourg Kid says:

      Don I am in full agreement. B.Giesler and Sons Ltd Boat Company of Powassan, Ontario turns out some very cool and very durable boats . This 22 foot square stern freighter canoe, equipped with a center helm and a 30 HP 4 stroke appeared at the Canadian Canoe Museum’s first annual Small Craft Rendezvous in 2013.

      Geisler is probably the last company in North America that’s still building cedar strip boats in a production line environment .

      On the other hand, there is also some cachet to having a well restored antique cedar strip in your possession, particularly if it has a shiny restored antique two stroke on its transom. As there were lots of builders of these boats and lots of models its still relatively easy to find one that fits your personal needs.

Comments are closed.