From early boyhood, I can remember being told the story of the family boat. She was built for a Midland doctor who died tragically before the boat was finished.
Dr. W.S. McClinton had served overseas in World War 1 and had then taken over his father’s medical practice in Midland. In mid-autumn, Oct. 31, 1930, he and two friends were returning in a launch from trolling for lake trout in the open waters between the Giant’s Tomb and Watcher Islands. There was a heavy sea running but they experienced no trouble with their boat. The doctor is said to have left his companions in the cabin and gone to the stern of the boat, possibly to answer a call of nature. He was never seen again. An intensive search followed, with no success.
Felix Dupuis of Midland was building the doctor’s new boat. The white cedar for her planking came from a selected stand of the trees near Port Severn. Originally, she had a long bow deck with a Continental Star engine beneath and a small enclosed cabin aft as was the tradition in many power boats of that era.
Her 24-foot hull was an unusual though graceful cross between the slim lines of her type and the huskier beams of small boats to come. The stem was vertical and her hull was bulky around the midship section, tapering to an almost dainty stern that rode in lady-like fashion just inches out of the water when she was at rest. It was rather like a duck trying to keep her tail feathers dry, which was appropriate.
After completion the boat was owned by the postmaster of Penetanguishene, one J. McIntaggart. He is believed to have changed the superstructure, extending the cabin forward and providing inside accommodation for himself and his wife as they cruised among the islands.
The cabin was completely enclosed, with a lockable door and benches down both sides with filler planks to make a single double berth. All the windows were removable and in the cabin beside the engine box was a marine toilet, or head, a real luxury in a boat that size. Steering and controls were outside in the cockpit and the skipper looked over the top of the cabin to run her – a forerunner of today’s flying bridge. There was an ice-box under the stern seat.
The cockpit could also be enclosed with a navy top, common on boats of that era before modern “convertibles”. There were three steel hoops and the canvas slid on these by means of stretcher poles up and over the cockpit. Two tiny windows in the canvas let the helmsman see forward over the cabin roof.
The McIntaggarts had named the boat Winnifred M. When our family bought her in 1936 for the princely sum of $595, they gave her a completely new look – black hull, green decks, white waterline and red bottom — and a new name:. Blackduck.
She soon became a familiar sight along the Bay’s east shore. Over many summers she carried families on countless picnics, camping, exploring and fishing expeditions. For the With family especially, that boat was a big factor in cultivating our love of Georgian Bay.
The Blackduck received loving attention from her skipper and his gradually growing-up crew. For me, part of that was learning how to handle her. Little by little, Dad built my confidence by letting me take the wheel. “Want to take her, Dick?” Nothing pleased me more.
One day when I was 13 my parents were going back to the city with the two youngest, leaving June and myself in the care of Granny Ritchie. That meant me bringing the Blackduck back from Honey Harbour alone. I had to stand on several boat cushions to see over the cabin top while easing her carefully back into her boathouse, with June standing by to fend off.
After more than 20 years of hard use in spring, summer and fall (snow had to be shovelled out of her cockpit more than once), she began to show her age. Dry rot became a frequent problem. Her old planking and fastenings suffered in rough water and caulking would work out of her seams as her hull twisted in the waves. Her mahogany cabin woodwork had become warped over the years and leaked around the windows with every rain.
Still, the loving care continued. She received a more powerful engine and gained a new pep that belied her age. The varnished work was scraped down to bare wood at least twice, canvas decking was replaced, cockpit flooring, seats and engine box were rebuilt.
And one summer when she had never looked better the Blackduck hit the high spot of her nearly 30 years: she joined countless other boats out past the Giant’s Tomb Island one sparkling July day in 1959 to escort the Royal Yacht Britannia into Penetanguishene harbour. Her ex-navy skipper was very proud.
Over the next couple of years the Blackduck left the family. She ran as a water taxi and workboat out of Honey Harbour for a season or two, then was hauled up in a grove of trees for a few more years, her engine gone, a mere shell. One day she disappeared, sold to a man who said he wanted to restore her.
We never saw her again, but I still remember her fondly. As a product of local skills and materials — even her last two Buchanan engines were built nearby in Orillia — the Blackduck was a huge reason I love Georgian Bay and its boats..