Toronto FireworksRecently we celebrated our country’s 150th anniversary, and in true form thousands of Canadians took to the water for the long weekend. Whether fishing, looking for a little speed, a leisure sail or just watching one of the hundreds of fireworks displays visible from your watercraft we took full advantage of the pleasures of boating. If the substantial rise in boat traffic in front of my home on Georgian Bay may be used as a source it appears there were as many people on the water as there were off it.

But let us step back for a moment. We left off last time at the end of the Second World War. Thousands of Canadians were returning home, and there was a general relief from anxiety among the population.  And what do people do when anxiety and fear have been removed? Well, they begin to enjoy themselves more, and for many Canadians that meant relaxing in a way that those of us reading this still do today, by spending our time, or as much of it as possible, on the water.

Boat building across the country continued to expand and to branch out in new and uncharted directions and there was a sharp rise in the various marine recreational activities that were available to Canadians.Boating Kelowna

We mentioned previously that water skiing was first developed by Ralph Samuelson in 1922 and made its way to Canada in the 1930’s, but it didn’t truly take hold until a few years after the war. The sport truly took off after the Cypress Garden Skiers appeared at the Canadian National Exhibition waterfront shows in 1948. In 1949 Water Ski Canada (formerly the Canadian Water Ski Association) was founded and hosted the first national championship that same year. Since then Canadians have not looked back but have hosted numerous competitions and world championships and have produced world champions, title holders and Olympian water skiers.

Early TubingFor those of us, like myself, that do not have the skill or balance to pull of water skiing there is another option, ‘water’ tubing. The use of an inner tube as a flotation device is nothing new. Time magazine reports that ‘tubing’ was first invented by Princess Chumbhot of Nagar Svarga (Thailand) in roughly the middle of the 20th century. And ads in the US began showing the use of inner tubes as flotation devices as early as 1916.

It was the rise of the automobile that really allowed people to take advantage of tubing, as used inner tubes from tires were in abundance. This early use of the tube did not involve being Modern Tubingtowed but was more of a flotation device or used ‘lazy river’ style, as many of us still do today. But like most things someone will always take it a step further. It is not known when the first tube was towed for fun, but one need only apply a little imagination to guess how the first towed tubers invented the loved activity. Today one is hardly able to go boating or sit at the waters edge without seeing watercraft of all sorts pulling a tube filled with laughing children or trying to find the biggest wave possible to launch your friends and family into the water!

Hourston GlascraftWe mentioned that boat building continued to expand, particularly as technology advanced and new materials began to be utilized. Thus far boat hulls had been made from primarily wood, and of course metal, but the 1950’s brought about a new method for building hulls, fibreglass. In fact, Canada’s oldest fibreglass boat builder, Hourston Glascraft located in Vancouver, BC is still in business today. Fibreglass, although not as light or strong as aluminum, provided other advantages. Fibreglass is molded without the use of seams or rivets, but for those who have ever hit something you know that fibreglass has little give and prefers to crack. That said it can be much easier to fix as new fibreglass can be applied to damaged areas.

Fibreglass quickly took off as one of the most sought-after hull materials, and being mouldable allowed for fast production of a wide range of styles. Fibreglass was so sought after that companies like Croce and Lofthouse Sailcraft (today called C&L Boatworks in Nova Scotia) that had originally been an importer of wooden sailboats from the UK turned to building fiberglass boats after their UK supplier ran into trouble. They built their first fibreglass boat in 1968 and are still producing them today.

C&L Innovative technology also brought significant advances in the way we powered our boats. Four stroke motors had been around since the 1920’s but didn’t commercially take off until 1962Homelite 4-stroke when Homelite produced a four stroke 55-hp motor that was picked up by Fischer-Pierce, the makers of Boston Whaler. Other companies followed suit with Honda leading the way with their first four stroke outboard in 1980. Four strokes became much more common throughout the 1990’s as exhaust emission regulations were put in place. Modern technology meant four stroke motors emitted less pollution, were quieter, had increased fuel economy, advanced low-end torque and a general smooth operation.

This period also saw the development and rapid adoption of jet powered watercraft. Initially invented by Sir William Hamilton for use in shallow waters in New Zealand the new system offered significant advantage for maneuvering through dangerous waters, and had a much lower impact on marine life. Today we most commonly see jet powered systems used for personal watercraft (PWC’s) or small boats like Sea Doo’s speed boats. Although most commercially available jet systems are small they have been used for larger vessels. The US has a jet driven littoral combat vessel that is 417 feet long.

PWCHaving mentioned PWC’s above we should give them a little attention of their own as they have become wildly popular among Canadians. Although PWC’s were initially developed in the 1950’s they didn’t hit the market until the 1960’s. They were not well received and were largely abandoned. In 1973 Kawasaki tried again to find a market for PWC’s, introducing the first stand-up PWC. The stand-ups are still in production today but have been overshadowed by the more popular and easy to ride, sit-down PWC’s which made a come back after Kawasaki’s initial success. The most popular models today are made by Bombardier and Yamaha. By 1995 more than 50,000 PWC’s had been sold in Canada, roughly 25% of annual boat sales!

PWC’s however are far more dangerous to operate than standard watercraft and very quickly became one of the leading causes of water-related injury and fatality, thus the reason there are strict age regulations and equipment required to ride a PWC. Although still dangerous injuries and fatalities have drastically dropped as regulations have been adopted by boaters and on water enforcement has risen.

In the last edition, we briefly discussed racing, both under sail and power. This period saw both sports rise in popularity, with generations of families engaging in the popular sports.Racing

For sailors, there are seemingly endless types of races to partake in, whether based on boat class, singles or team, fleet, inshore, offshore and oceanic among other options. There are local clubs in almost every town and city that resides near water and can be done as recreational sport or more taken more seriously for World and Olympic competition.

Powerboat RacingPowerboat racing is much the same, with a wide variety of styles and classes of racing available. And just like sailing powerboat racing has developed an entire culture surrounding it. Entire families have gotten involved and groomed new generations of racers that are taking speed to new levels. Take for example Tammy Wolf, a formula 2 racer and first Canadian to ever compete at the world-famous 24 Heures De Rouen powerboat races in France. Tammy grew up around powerboat racing and by 18 was fully immersed in the sport and spending all her free time training in Ontario. Tammy is highly recognizable by her number 88 pink Mercury-Canada sponsored formula 2 speed boat.

Although we can’t all join the ranks of racers, as Canadians we have been privileged to have access to water and a constantly growing boating culture that shows no sign of slowing. In 1994 in Ontario alone 41.3% of households owned a pleasure craft, totalling 719,710 boats. In 1999 there were roughly 250 boat builders across Canada employing 6,000 individuals and Canadians owned 2 million recreational boats (637,350 canoes, 148,500 sailboats, 349,650 rowboats, 823,200 outboards and 120,000 other varieties).

Also promising to note is that even with an increased number of boats on the water the number of annual boating related fatalities has dropped. A fact that can be attributed to better boating awareness, regulations, and advancements in the technology we carry with us on the water.

Part 4 of the history of Canadian boating will look at recent advances in the way we boat and perhaps take a little peek into what the future of boating in Canada may look like.

About the author: Owen Hurst

Owen Hurst

Not only is Owen an avid boater but he is also an enthusiastic historian with a Master’s degree in Classical Studies. He takes pleasure in research and applying his love of history with his passion for boating.

There is little he enjoys more than an early morning coffee and book on the deck of his home on the shore of Georgian Bay.

 

Literary sources:

Images sources in order of appearance:

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