By: Richard Crowder
Celebrating Canada's Wooden Pleasure Boat Heritage- Part 7
In the first six parts of this series, we have explored some well known and some perhaps lesser recognized brands of wooden boats that comprise but a small part of Canada’s renowned heritage of wooden pleasure boat builders. None of these brands previously discussed are available new on the market today. In this part seven of the series, we look at a brand that is still available to purchase new from the factory; built in the same town by the descendants of the same family.
Almost one hundred years ago in 1921, Barney Giesler founded B. Giesler & Sons Boat Builders in Powassan, Ontario, a small town situated on Highway 11 just south of North Bay and a stone’s throw as they say from Lake Nipissing.
Barney was a blacksmith whose business was slowing down due to the growing popularity of the automobile. With more time on his hands, and being an ardent fisherman, he found himself spending more time enjoying the abundant resources of spectacular fishing on Lake Nipissing.
But Lake Nippising can at times turn nasty very quickly. After one such scary experience, Barney was determined to build a boat to better handle the potentially rough conditions of the lake. He did just that, and the day he launched it at a nearby resort on the lake a tourist saw it, and while admiring its workmanship and quality, bought it on the spot.
Barney immediately built another, and it was sold before it was even finished. Now confident he had something going for himself, he formally established his boat building enterprise. His business grew by word of mouth mainly servicing the needs of the multitude of lodges, resorts, and cottagers on Lake Nipissing and the nearby French River system.
Being located on the main street of Powassan (which at that time was Highway 11 that carried all the way to Manitoba), everyone driving north or south had to pass by his shop. This traffic flow became particularly busy following the birth of the Dionne Quintuplets in 1934 in a small town outside of Callander, Ontario which is just a few kilometres north of Powassan. B. Giesler & Sons Boat Builders began to flourish.
The first boat Barney built became the 16-foot Powassan model soon followed by the 18-foot Nipissing model, both mostly still unchanged and both still utilizing some portions of the original molds used to form them decades ago. Today, the Nipissing remains the company’s most popular model.
Model selection grew as demands grew, and today B. Giesler & Sons Ltd., as the company is now known, offers twenty models of canoes, tenders, rowboats, cartoppers, and runabouts up to 18-feet. Giesler boats are capable of handling a 90-horsepower outboard, but are mostly equipped with much less. Giesler also offers freighter canoes up to twenty-two feet. The primary market for these is on Canada's massive northern basin, Hudson Bay.
Barney’s four sons gradually became more involved in running the family business and today, Barney’s son Gerry has taken over ownership while Barney’s two grandsons are also involved. All of Giesler’s boats are still built from western cedar planks, mahogany transoms, red oak ribbing, and copper nails, just as they were when production peaked in the 1950’s at around 600 boats per year.
Three coats, and no more, of spar varnish is applied inside and out and unless the boat is to be kept in the water all summer, Giesler recommends clear epoxy resin and fibreglass coating of the hull bottom with or without bottom painting. Now the company builds around fifty new boats each year, primarily in the summer months, while restoration and refurbishing keep them busy in the winter.
Since the 1980’s, the Giesler family has also owned and operated Giesler Marine which is a full-service marine and powersports dealership located next the boat building facility and very visible from the Highway 11 bypass at the interchange leading into Powassan.
You can read our full 'Before Fibreglass' series below:
You can learn more about Giesler Boats in the links below: