The obscure popularity of Sangstercraft, K&C Thermoglass, Stratacraft, Panther, Kennedy, Mason, Munro, & Wilker
In my over forty years in the pleasure boat industry, there have been literally thousands of boat companies and brand names of boats in North America.
Some of these were and are strictly regional brands not known or recognized in the rest of the continent but many were national and even international brands known to most of us diehard boaters.
It is those well known and recognized brands that are no longer with us that I look forward to examining in this series.
These brand names may still be corporately held in reserve but are not known to currently be in production.
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As this series winds down, I want to pay tribute to some brands which many of us will remember, but of which very little or no information is available. I will deal with a few memorable Canadian-built brands first and follow up with some U.S. brands in the final parts of this series.
Cliff Sangster appears to have purchased the famous Chappell Brothers shipyard in 1946 in Vancouver, British Columbia to create a small pleasure craft servicing and storage centre. He then started building small fiberglass boats in the early 1950’s which he called Sangstercraft. It became a very well known west coast boat with distributorship and dealers in eastern Canada as well.
A 1959 brochure shows several models from a 10-foot cartopper, soft and hard-top mid-teens runabouts up to a 17-foot mini-express cabin cruiser.
In 1960, it was touting its 17 Georgian runabout with advanced features such as step-up and walk-thru windshield, fold-down sleeper seats, woodgrain vinyl decks, and an outboard motor concealing cover. Sangstercraft appears to have survived into the 1990’s.
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Peter Kaufmann, having emigrated at age 16 with his family to Canada from Germany, quickly found work at Sangstercraft in British Columbia and was apparently a foreman by age 19. In 1960, with his father Bruno and Andy Cruden as partners, created K & C Thermoglass in Richmond, British Columbia.
K & C apparently tried to replicate mass production assembly line techniques in boat building and produced thousands of boats from 12 to 26 feet over the years. It is perhaps best known on the west coast as having been commissioned to build what is said to be the world’s largest fiberglass bathtub which, at 24 feet, was used as the officials’ observation boat for the annual Nanaimo to Vancouver bathtub races across the often very rough Georgia Straits. K & C Thermoglass stopped production sometime in the mid-1990’s.
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Stratacraft Boats was another west coast builder as part of Cowichan Fiberglass created in 1979 by Eric Duncan in Duncan, British Columbia. It produced Jon boats, soft and hard top runabouts and small hardtop express cruisers. It apparently survived into the mid-1990’s.
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In Part 3 of this series, we discussed the boat brands once prominent from Canada’s second largest boating province, Quebec, and those brands no longer with us. Discussed in this Part 12 are some remaining brands once built in British Columbia that are no longer with us, and which have not sporadically appeared in other parts of this series. The following are some remaining brands from Canada’s largest boating province, Ontario, of brands no longer with us. We had earlier in this series dealt with the demise of the largest and best known Ontario brands Grew and Peterborough boats.
George Oliver was well known as a boat builder situated in New Lowell, Ontario in the 70's with his own brand of Oliver boats. He built mainly family runabouts and cuddy cabin boats. It appears that KMV, a Norwegian company bought Oliver boats in the late 1970’s and, while continuing to produce an Oliver line, introduced Canada and most of the United States to the patented Norwegian Dromedille hull design of its KMV boats. George Oliver stayed on with KMV.
While the Dromedille design featured a foam-filled double-hull design, while unsinkable and seaworthy, it was fairly tender and never really caught on. It ushered in some novel sailboat ideas to the powerboat market including gimbaled sinks and stoves. In 1988, it offered nine models from 16 to 20 feet of soft and hard top runabouts, centre consoles (of which some were side console designs), and cuddy cabins. The cockpits were very clean and uncluttered and very suited to fishing. Power included outboard, sterndrive, and SeaDrive. Production continued into the late 80's or early 90's.
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Ted Quinn of Quinn’s Marine on Lake Simcoe in Pefferlaw, Ontario, an ex-boat racer and one of the very first Mercury outboard dealers in eastern Canada, had the opportunity to purchase some old Checkmate molds and with those, created Panther boats. His being one of the largest marine sales outlets in Ontario and being so close to Toronto’s huge boating market, his Panther family performance and ski boats found a ready market. Panther boats were a going concern from the late 1970’s until the early 90's.
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Kennedy was one of the first and one of the largest of the early Ontario fiberglass boat builders, so named because of its location on Kennedy Road in Scarborough, an eastern Toronto suburb at the time. As with many of the early builders, Kennedy “copied” many of its designs from other builders’ successful models.
Kennedy was formed in the early 1970’s and built small family runabouts and low-slung performance-type ski boats as was the style at the time. The company was purchased in 1977 and after suffering through the worst financial crisis of the early 1980’s, seemed to carry on production until into the mid-80’s.
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Mason boats come from a long line of wooden boat builders in the Mahone Bay area of Nova Scotia just north of Lunenburg. One of the Mason families moved to Ontario and settled on Big Rideau Lake, built a marina and started building wooden lapstrake boats at first and then fiberglass boats. Mason boats were very popular in the 1970’s and ‘80’s in eastern Ontario and along the St. Lawrence River.
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A brochure of Munro Boats & Motors of Springbank Drive in London, Ontario claims the company to have been Master wooden boat builders since 1937. In the late 1940’s after WWII and after Carl Kiekhaefer satisfied much of the early post-war demand for engines, Munro Boats and Motors became the first Canadian distributor for Mercury outboards.
In 1950, Munro claimed to be the first in Canada to build fiberglass boats. A 1952 brochure claimed, “…a startling new development in boat construction. Boats made of fiberglass…Yes, that exciting discovery of science ‘Spun Glass’ has revolutionized boat building. New Munro boats are scuff proof, leakproof, seamless and in fact practically indestructible, yet lighter, faster and more durable than wood.” It further goes on, “Remember! When you buy a Munro Fiberglass outboard, your expenses and your investment does not depreciate and re-sale value is high. The remarkable permanent qualities of Fiberglass make your first cost your last.”
That same year, Munro offered 13 models from 12 to 17 feet retailing from roughly $200 to $500. In addition to boats, Munro offered a good sized backyard in-ground fiberglass swimming pool and an above ground fiberglass children’s wading pool. By 1957, a 17-foot cruiser was added to the lineup and US buyers were welcomed by extending Canadian pricing to cross-border customers. A new “Tredronic” hull design was added in the early 1960’s. It appears that Munro boats were last made in the 1970’s.
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Wilker was a very well known and respected name particularly on the big waters of the Great Lakes. Wilker boats were originally built in wood in London, Ontario by Floyd Wilker in the heart of Ontario’s Great Lakes region. When they switched to fiberglass sometime in the early 1970’s, they retained their best features of high freeboard, relatively steep and deep forefoot, and considerable bow flare. Thus, they were known to be relatively “dry” when the going got rough on the big waters.
Because of this earned rough-water reputation along with Wilker’s dedication to hand layup and hand-building, their utilization of quality materials and fittings as well as reasonable pricing, Wilker boats, from their 20-foot cuddy along with their 22, 25, and 28-footers became hands-down favourites of the big water personalized charter fishing business. Wilker boats were common sights on the big waters of Lakes Huron, St. Clair, Erie, Ontario and even the 1000 Islands of the St Lawrence River and the Thirty Thousand Islands of Georgian Bay.
Tom Crawford took over at some point in the 1970’s when Floyd Wilker retired and reduced the model lineup to a more manageable size where the 20-foot cuddy was the biggest model. Wilker also tried to cater to family recreational boaters with 15, 17, and 19-footers, some even with more modern and sleeker lines to give them more universal appeal.
At some point, possibly in the late 1990’s, Wilker moved its production to Clinton, Ontario where Tom’s son Jeff apparently took over. There is no readily available indication of Wilker boats being produced after the early 2000’s.
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Stay tuned to BoatBlurb.com as next week will be the final part of this fascinating series as we wrap up some of the lesser known and perhaps more regionalized boat brands in the United States that are no longer with us.
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