By: Richard Crowder
Celebrating Canada's Wooden Pleasure Boat Heritage- Part 8
My research has not determined his background or motivation, but whatever the reasons, Lloyd Shepherd along with his son Howard established Shepherd Boat Works in 1928 in St. Catharines, Ontario. Together they built strong, finely constructed, sturdy looking yet graceful mahogany runabouts with high freeboards, roomy interiors, and with a gentle hint of traditional tumblehome design toward the transom.
Because of their higher than normal freeboard and sturdy construction, they were better suited for bigger and rougher waters like the Great Lakes. Unlike most other Canadian wooden boat builders of the time, Shepherd very early on established a distributor in Buffalo, New York to handle the growing pleasure boat market in the United States.
For all of these reasons, Shepherd survived the Great Depression of the 1930's. In the mid-thirties, a British automotive engineer invented and adapted a V-drive for Malcolm Campbell’s famous 'Blue Bird' world speed record setting boat powered by a 2000 horsepower engine. Shepherd was one of the first to adapt this V-drive technology to pleasure boats.
Instead of a straight drive inboard engine mounted near the centre of the boat’s cockpit, the V-drive allowed the engine to be mounted immediately ahead of the boat’s transom. This opened up the interior of the boat for more seating and move around space, thus giving Shepherd a huge market advantage.
In 1939, as Shepherd boats grew in popularity, Lloyd and Howard moved their production facilities to Niagara-On-The-Lake, Ontario, a picturesque town on the shores of Lake Ontario near the entrance to the Welland Canal. Shepherd boats prospered.
As the war ended, more people with discretionary income were able to enter the pleasure boat market, not only as a day-use runabout boaters but also gradually to overnight excursions, and eventually to larger weekenders and cottage live-aboard substitutes. Shepherd grew with the market eventually and expanded its model lineup to eventually offer runabouts from sixteen feet right up to express cruisers and fifty-foot yachts.
In 1949, Shepherd delivered two 22-foot deluxe sedan runabouts, the Temagami and the Kenora to the Ontario Provincial Police for patrol boats. The Temagami has been restored and is on display at the OPP Museum at its headquarters in Orillia. A Shepherd display at the 1950 New York Boat Show brought international attention to the brand and resulted in a substantial increase in business through a rapidly-expanding dealer network throughout many US states.
Demand for ever-larger live-aboard cruisers spurred on by the success of US builders like Chris Craft, Trojan, Pacemaker, Owens brought even more business to Shepherd, and more attention became devoted to larger cruisers. Shepherd cruisers in the thirty to forty-foot range became exceptionally popular.
At the height of their popularity, in 1958, Lloyd and Howard sold out to a James Hahn of St. Catharines. Lloyd Shepherd retired and passed away in 1968, while Howard went on to work for C&C Yachts until he retired due to illness and passed away in 1978. Shepherd Boats continued to prosper.
In 1966 Shepherd Boats was sold again, this time to Trojan Yachts of Pennsylvania, part of the Los Angeles-based Whittaker Corporation. By this time, fibreglass was quickly replacing wood as the preferred material in pleasure boat construction. In the larger cruisers and yachts that Shepherd and Trojan were building, they first tried constructing the hull from fibreglass while utilizing wood for the decks, superstructure, and interiors. But eventually the market faded and the last Shepherd was shipped in 1978. The factory was closed and Trojan retreated back to the States.
The Bergersen Boat Company of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin was started in the 1990’s by Olivia and Lars Bergersen as a small restorer of antique and classic wooden boats. They worked on a number of Shepherds and fell in love with them because of their expert craftsmanship and solid construction. In just the past few years they have acquired the legal rights to the Shepherd name and today build mahogany replicas of the popular 22, 24, 27, and 30-foot models just like the originals.
And so the Shepherd name and legend lives on.
You can enjoy our full 'Before Fibreglass' series here:
For further information and pictures of original Shepherd boats, check out these websites: