Wood & Glory: Muskoka's Classic Launches

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9781550462609: Wood & Glory: Muskoka's Classic Launches
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A pictorial tribute to hand-built recreational boats.

Not so very long ago, the best pleasure boats were built, not manufactured. They were hand-built to order, of the finest materials: oak, cedar and elm from the Boreal Forest; fir from the Pacific Coast; mahogany from the Honduras; the Philippines and the east coast of Africa. Many of these one-of-a-kind boats were built in the Muskoka Lakes district.

Wood and Glory takes readers back to that special era of boating that flowered before World War II. These classic center-drive displacement launches (many still in use today) constitute a distinguished part of the boating legacy on North American waters. Vintage-boat owners and boat-show enthusiasts will love the fine craftsmanship in this wonderful collection of photographs and classic boat history.

The book features text and photos on:

  • Classic boats by renowned builders Ditchburn, Duke, Greavette and Minett-Shields
  • The best hand-built boats from the turn of the century until World War II
  • Unique cruisers, runabouts, streamliners, V-bottoms, hard-chines and more.

Wood and Glory is an excursion to a time of mechanical innovation and design elegance.

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About the Author:

William Gray's family has been summering and boating on Muskoka's Lake Joseph for over a century. Gray has written on several diverse subjects but has always had a particular interest in the history of Muskoka and especially that of its wooden launches. His previous books include Lake Joseph 1860-1910, The Boatbuilders of Muskoka (with A.H. Duke), and Soldiers of the King: The Upper Canadian Militia 1812-1815.

Timothy Du Vernet is a well-known freelance photographer on the Muskoka Lakes and is the photographic editor of Classic Boat magazine. He has a long association with the Antique and Classic Boat Society.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:


Once upon a time, not so very long ago, the better sort of pleasure boat was built, not manufactured. They were built to order, by hand, of the finest materials -- oak, cedar and elm from Ontario; fir from British Columbia; mahogany from the Honduras, the Philippines and the east coast of Africa. Some of the best were built in Ontario, many of them in Muskoka.

This book is about some of those launches, as the old centre-drive displacement boats were known in Muskoka, boats that represent a special era of boating, an era that flowered before the Second World War.

Muskoka boasted a unique concentration of these fine craft for a few reasons. In the late 1800s the region became a major tourist destination for both Canadians and Americans. Gradually, as summer followed summer, many of these tourists decided to purchase land and build cottages on the innumerable islands and points that break the rocky and heavily wooded shoreline of lakes Muskoka, Rosseau and Joseph. Road access to much of the mainland shoreline was quite limited until well after the Second World War, thus large boats were a simple necessity.

Because Muskoka was an international resort area, it was the summer home of a disproportionately high number of people with large disposable incomes. In other words, the many wealthy families who summered here year after year could afford to foster and support a local custom-boat building industry. One only has to look to three or four families on Lake of Bays, and a couple of dozen on the Muskoka Lakes, to find the people who, through their regular patronage, kept many craftsmen in business.

Between the wars, the local market was protected by a weak Canadian dollar and a healthy import tariff; Muskoka was also sufficiently distant from the major American factories then mass-producing stock runabouts. In the late 1920s Chris-Craft built in a day as many boats of one design as Ditchburn did of their best-selling model in a year -- and Ditchburn was then the largest motorboat builder in Canada.

Most launches on these waters were built by local craftsmen for a local market. Many are "one off" boats reflecting the particular desires of the buyer and the peculiar, uniquely identifiable craftsmanship of the builder.

Classic is one of those rubbery adjectives that means different things to different people. I consider many of the motorboats built between the wars, and some of the custom work done after the Second World War, to be classic, and anything built before the First World War to be antique. Then again, all those Dukes, the Disappearing Propeller Boats (Dispros or Dippies), and the Port Carling Boat Work's SeaBirDs are in a quite different, but still very important sense, also classic Muskoka boats. They constitute a special part of the boating legacy of these waters and, in a broader sense, of our national heritage.

The term is also applied to some marques, the work of certain builders or shops, and many would argue that anything that floated and came from Ditchburn's or Minett's shops is a classic. The "streamliners," or cigar boats as they were popularly called, and the other custom work that came out of Greavette's, as well as the odd surviving launch built by Earl Barnes or Clive Brown, would also fall within that category. In this book I will deal with the issue largely by avoiding any tight definitions. I believe that many very able builders were fostered by the peculiar situation on these lakes.

The waters of the three largest interconnected Muskoka lakes -- Muskoka, Rosseau and Joseph -- are still home to a large number of classic custom-built wooden launches. A few date back to the early years of this century, some are more contemporary, built as recently as the 1970s, but the great majority exemplify a special era of boating that lasted from 1914 to 1940.

Muskoka is kind to wooden boats. More to the point, the ice in the Muskoka Lakes is kinder to boathouses than is the ice in Georgian Bay, the Kawartha Lakes, or in many of the other resort areas. The traditional boathouse, built over stone-filled wooden crib docks and slips, provides the ideal environment for a wooden boat. The cribs break up the waves and protect the launch from undue motion, and the shelter of the boathouse naturally protects the finish from the sun's rays.

Many of the vintage launches that one finds plying Muskoka waters have seen continuous use since they were first built. They have been a special part of the Muskoka scene for decades. They embody both a unique personality and a living history, and in many cases they are old friends to both the families who own them and to their neighbours on these lakes.

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Other Popular Editions of the Same Title

9781550461770: Wood and Glory: Muskoka's Classic Launches

Featured Edition

ISBN 10:  155046177X ISBN 13:  9781550461770
Publisher: Boston Mills Press, 2004

9781550464191: Wood and Glory: Muskoka's Classic Launches

Boston..., 2004