She was going to be burned. Lying on a heap of scrap piled during an end-of-season cleanup, she was one of several handy little “jolly boats”, as the navy called them, used on the waterfronts of Sea Cadet camps across Canada. This one was at Lake of Two Mountains, west of Montreal, where the commanding officer, Kenneth With, was closing things up with head caretaker Percy Reid.
Though very ruggedly built, these jolly boats were used hard, and by the early 1950s their age was beginning to show. This one had been condemned as being no longer fit for use at the camp.
The two men had both worked at Princess Alice camp on Georgian Bay, where Percy’s Newfoundland boatbuilding skills had been well used to keep the fleet of wooden boats in shape. They must have discussed how one of the jolly boats would make an ideal tender for the Commander’s small cruiser, the Blackduck, on Georgian Bay. Soon the derelict was hauled off the burn pile and into Percy’s shop. An agreement was made that he would rebuild her, then ship her by train to Georgian Bay.
The following summer the Commander learned the boat had been delivered to Honey Harbour and we went to pick her up. And wasn’t she a neat a neat little tender! Ten feet long by about three wide. Black hull to match the Blackduck. Navy gray interior. One-inch hemp rope bumper over varnished oak gunwales. Heavy duty oarlocks and a pair of varnished spruce oars with black tips.
Her first trip on the Bay, however, was less than perfect. Lap-strake planked wooden boats don’t soak up like smooth carvel hulls, and this one hadn’t got wet in well over a year. Her leaks almost spurted straight up on the tow to the island, and numerous pauses for bailing were required. Also, the curved shape of her bottom made the little boat stand on her stern with her bow high in the air when towed at any speed.
But once moored at Wahnuhke she settled into her second life like a duck to water. So, as a useful helpmate to the Blackduck, she was christened the Egg.
Over the next three decades my sisters and I and our various offspring enjoyed the little rowboat in many various ways. We adults would often go for a leisurely row, perhaps with a fishing line over her stern. But she really worked best as a children’s boat. While she was a heavy little thing to row, they loved to explore nearby channels and shorelines, and probably in those years some imaginary pirates used her to go to their secret hideouts.
“Jaunty” is a word that aptly describes the Egg. She sat in the water just as she belonged there. Despite her dislike of being towed at planing speed, she still went on cruises up the shore and proved herself a useful tender to the Blackduck.
On one such trip Kenneth With had gone by himself to sketch and photograph different and more distant territory for his watercolour subjects. His objective was the Minks, a group of islands offshore from north of Parry Island. He found a sheltered anchorage there, then set out in the Egg to explore those then-remote and still undeveloped islands. (Not any longer. A recent online real estate ad showed some of the Mink islands connected by causeways linking ultra modern high-end cottages.)
One morning he awoke to his anchorage enveloped in thick fog. With camera and sketch pad, he rowed the Egg around the shoreline for some distance, poking into coves and between reefs until he came to a small bay where another cruiser unexpectedly loomed through the mist. Back in the Fifties not many pleasurecraft ventured this far offshore overnight. Imagine his surprise when he recognized the boat as the Clara May with his cottage neighbours to the south, Nelles and Peg Starr aboard.
That trip produced several watercolours, including a scene of one of the last commercial fishing stations on the Minks. In it are a man and woman mending their nets in front of a weathered old net shed. This work is now privately owned. Another attempts to show the morning mist rising, and it can be seen on our Gallery page, although some of the atmosphere is lost in our reproduction.
As the years passed the youngsters of the family gradually outgrew the little rowboat and she lay unused at her dock for weeks at a time. However, children from a neighbouring island fell in love wiith her so she was offered to them on long-term loan. They repaid the gesture by keeping the Egg in tip-top shape and even put her name on the transom.
After 30 years Kenneth With was no longer able to keep up the maintenance on wooden boats, and Percy Reid’s rebuild of the 1950s needed doing again. So she was given to grandson Gregory and moved to our garage in southwestern Ontario for rebuild number two.
We stripped most of her paint and probed her planking for weak spots. Though banged, abraded and split with over 40 years of use, the wood was sound as ever. It was western red cedar, perhaps the most rot-resistant species in North America. Under layers of old paint on her transom we found stamped into the wood the builder’s name: “A.Linton and Co., Vancouver”. She was built in the heart of western cedar country.
In the late 1980s when the Egg emerged into her third life, the With island had been sold out of the family. So she would make her new home farther north at Manitou, where some of the offspring have settled, including her new skipper.
One summer evening in the mid-1990s this grandson set out in the Egg to a spot where the Commander would “make his entrance” upon arrival at his Manitou destination from Wahnuhke. An anchor was cast over the side and the jolly boat rode over the chop from a moderate northwest breeze. As the sun set in a palette of oranges and yellows, the last of Kenneth With’s ashes were scattered, forever endearing him to the land and waters he loved.