It’s often said that there are occasions when you have to step back in order to move forward, although in this particular instance, they happen to one and the same.
For those of us who continue to lament about the lack of true craftsmanship in todays mass produced world, fortunately there is still one place to which we can turn our attention that didn’t get the memo.
And that place is the B. Giesler and Sons Boat Works, in Powassan, Ontario, Canada, where for over 90 years, three generations of the Giesler family have been building beautiful, hand crafted wooden boats.
Having had the pleasure of fishing from Giesler’s 18’ “Lake Nipissing” model on many occasions over the past 40 years, I can personally attest to the fact that these boats are solid, provide a soft, quiet ride, can handle big, rough water, and with a bit of tender loving care, will last a very, very long time.
I’ve always had an abiding curiosity about how these boats were actually made, and this past October, Eric Lund, owner/operator of Esnagami Wilderness Lodge, who uses nothing but Giesler boats at his lodge, was kind enough to make arrangements for me to visit the Boat Works.
Made primarily from western cedar, with a bit of pine and mahogany thrown in for good measure, boats and canoes are custom made to order, and to illustrate the attention to detail that goes into every one, they are fastened together using hundreds of 1” copper nails, each one painstakingly installed by hand the old fashion way – with a hammer.
Many of the craftsmen have been with B. Giesler and Sons for decades, and it was refreshing indeed to see people working with wood chisels, hand saws, even draw planes, and while there were power tools in evidence, they appeared to be something of an afterthought.
Although they’re have been some incremental changes in construction methods and materials over the years, I think it’s fair to say that they have been aimed at improving the overall quality of the product, while at the same time preserving the integrity of their time honoured boat building process.
When asked if he could identify the approximate year a boat was made just by looking at it, my host Gerry Giesler said that while he could probably pin point the decade with a reasonable degree of accuracy, he would have to check either the hand inscribed notation on the boat, or on later models, the information plate to be absolutely certain.
This may or may not have something to do with the fact that the original 1920’s template used to build their first model, is still in use to this day.
Back in the 1950’s only 2 models were available, but over the years they expanded their product line, and now build 20 different boats and canoes, including a number of specialty models, such as a massive 22’ freighter canoe, and a cruiser that will accommodate an inboard - outboard motor.
Most can be customized to suit your specific needs and preferences, such as adding extra depth, back rests, windshields, mechanical steering and running lights.
By now you must be wondering just how much all of this costs, and I’m willing to wager many of you are likely thinking that:
"There is no way I can afford a hand crafted wooden boat”
Well - think again.
Depending on the model, 2016 prices range from $3350 to $6750, with canoes starting at $2500. As mentioned, there are various custom “add on’s” and accessories available that will increase the overall price.
So there you have it, just over $3 grand, for a stunning, hand crafted wooden boat – and frankly, given the amount of time and effort that goes into producing one, I was somewhat shocked at how little they actually cost.
Now before rushing out to make your purchase, take note of the fact that unlike mass produced aluminum and fiberglass boats, which require very little in the way of ongoing maintenance, these do require a bit of work to keep them in top condition.
Depending on how often, and under what conditions your boat is used, it may be necessary to apply some varnish, paint and/or wood preservative each year, but it really doesn’t take all that much time.
That said, in the event you don’t want to do it yourself, or should your Giesler be in need of some repair/refurbishing, just take it to the Boat Works, and Gerry and his crew will look after everything.
In reflecting on my recent visit, the one thing I took away that will definitely stick with me, was the realization that perhaps, at least in some cases, the more things change - the more they should stay the same.
For more information on Giesler Boats, visit their website at: www.gieslerboats.ca, or better still, make arrangements to drop into the Boat Works, where you will have the opportunity to witness timeless design and craftsmanship first hand.
A few final thoughts…
Not only are these hand crafted boats unique in and of themselves; they are uniquely Canadian, utilizing Canadian materials, skill and labour.
The buying experience is also somewhat unique, in that you are not dealing through retail outlets or other “middle men,” but rather directly with the people who will actually build your boat, precisely to your specifications.
If you happen to be in the market for a new boat, before buying something “off the rack,” I would strongly encourage you to have a look at what the B. Giesler and Sons Boat Works have to offer.
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