© LaHave Islands Marine Museum Society Web design by Robert Ylkos
The museum is now closed for the season. We will reopen on June 1, 2019. See you then!
Open June 1 to September 1, from 10:00 to 5:00.
In a community where fishing was so important, so too was boat building. There were many people on the islands who built boats for others to take out fishing. The most common type of boat in the area was the Bush Island Boat but people also used Dories and other small fishing vessels for in-shore fishing.
Bush Island Boats are work boats developed by fishermen in the LaHave Islands area. The exact origin of Bush Island Boats is unsure. It is thought that the first double-ender was built in Shelburne for Charles Bell around 1910. It is possible that Bush Island boats could have been influenced by an Irish style of boat, like the ones being built in Collingwood, Ontario by an Irish immigrant, William Watts. The most popular boats built by Watts were double-ended fishing boats called skiffs, which resemble Bush Island double-enders. They ranged from 18 to 40 feet in length and were constructed from white cedar planking and steamed oak ribs. They had a removable iron centreboard and were fitted to be rowed with oars and were also equipped with 550 square feet of canvas sails. Just like Bush Island Boats in the early 1900s, engines were added to skiffs. This style of double-ended fishing boat was introduced to the East Coast by a man named Carmichael. He brought a Watts made skiff to Atlantic Canada where it influenced boat building in the area. This style of fishing boat may have been the inspiration for the construction of Bush Island Boats.
Bush Island Boats could have also originated as modifications where done to other types of fishing boats already in use in the area. Bush Island Boats are similar to Tancook whalers and pinks, which are both double-ended fishing boats. However, these two types of boats were mostly used offshore and were therefore not appropriate for lobstering and inshore fishing – two of the main functions of Bush Island Boats. For these purposes fishermen in the area used a type of boat called “flats.” This type of boat was not built after 1910. It was replaced by double-enders, which were more suited to the changing conditions of the inshore fishing industry.
A Bush Island boat filled with fish
at the Romkey Fish Plant.
Half-model of a Double ender Bush Island boat, built by Wilfred Rhodenizer on display in the Marine Museum
A Bush Island boat
Materials, Builders and Uses
Bush Island Boats were built from materials that could be found locally: pine planking, steamed hackmatack timbers, and hardwood keels of oak, maple or birch. One builder of these Bush Island Boats was Harris Bush. He began boat building when he was about 21 years old. He would fish during the summer and during the winter months he would be busy building boats. They were built completely by hand and it took him about 1 ½ months to complete one. Other Bush Island Boat builders were Guy Bush, Michael Bush, Basil Bush, Murdock Bush, Sylvanus Bush, Roy Risser, Earlen Risser, Colin Hirtle, Harold Wambolt, Wesley Wambolt, Clarence Wambolt, Jim Smith and Mark Wolfe.
Bush Island Boats were great sailing boats. They were fast and reliable. They were used in the inshore fishery for hauling lobster traps; hand lining for cod, halibut and haddock; setting gill nets; and dragging flounders for bait. They were also used for transportation by the people who lived on the water locked LaHave Islands, making them the equivalent of a pick up truck.
One type of Bush Island Boats was known as double-enders. Early versions of these inshore fishing boats were small (fifteen to eighteen feet), they were sloop-rigged, with a straight plank keel, and an iron centerboard. They had fish wells at each side of the centreboard trunk and were sailed with 50 square yards of tanned cotton sails. With the introduction of small inboard engines around 1905 the stern of the boat changed to accommodate the newly added engine and propeller torque. The keel became deeper and rock ballast replaced the rudder. This changed the look of the stern. With these changes the boats became larger, reaching as large as twenty-eight feet. The centerboard was no longer a feature of these boats, which created a larger work space for fishermen. Although engines became a common feature of Bush Island Boats, many retained their sailing rigs and most fishermen preferred to row or sail their boats even though they contained engines. Small sails provided an element of safety in case the engine failed. After a while as main sails wore out they did not get replaced. Eventually only the engine was used to power the boat and the driver or mizzen was kept to keep the boats head up wind.
Harris Bush (seated) with Ralph Tumblin (back left) and Harold Wambolt (back right). Both Harris and Harold used to build Bush Island boats.
Written by Christina McCory (2002)
Information complied from:
Watts, Simon. “An Evolution from Sail to Power.” Wooden Boat. May/June 1982, No. 46 (p.42-46)
Watts, P & Marsh, T. W. Watts & Sons Boat Builders: Canadian Designs for Work and Pleasure 1842-1946. Quebec: Metrolitho Inc., 1997.
MacKean, Ray & Percival, Robert. The Little Boats: The Inshore Fishing Craft of Atlantic Canada. Fredericton: Brunswick Press, 1979. (p.99)
“Talking With Roy Bush, Nova Scotia, September, 1997.” Interview by Simon Watts
“Harris Bush.” Interview by Ralph Getson & Ruby Chicoine.
Two brothers, Lee and Percy Hirtle checking their nets in their Double Ender Bush Island boats. The boat on the right now forms the logo for the LaHave Islands Marine Museum.
Transom sterns, another type of Bush Island Boat, developed a little later than double-enders. There were few differences between double-enders and transom sterns. Double-enders were considered the more seaworthy of the two. However, transom sterns were roomier than double-enders. They had more room aft for traps and gear. Hiram Tumblin’s Bush Island Boat “Sadie” was a 26 foot transom stern built by Earlen and Roy Risser.
A replica of “Sadie” was built in a Shelburne Shipyard by Simon Watts and Roland DesChamps who used traditional techniques to construct the boat. They took their measurements from a half-model of “Sadie” built by David Stevens, which was one-sixteenth of the full size boat. They layed out the curved stem with flexible wooden batten and held it in place with iron “dogs.” The batten was bent to conform to the cross-section of the boat. The batten was then traced onto mould stock to form the shape of the mould, which would give the builders the complete shape of the boat. Once all the moulds were cut out, they were put in place along the stem which had now been connected to the keel. Then temporary strips of wood known as ribbands were nailed to the moulds. Hackmatack timbers bent with steam were used to plank up the boat. A few finishing touches were added and then the replica of the “Sadie” was complete and an accurate example of what a Bush Island transom stern looks like.
The replica of “Sadie”
“Sadie” a Transom stern Bush Island boat. Hariam Tumblin, his wife Sadie (the person the boat was named after) and his brother Wallace are on board.
Originally built in 1946, by local boat builders Harris Bush, Max Bush and Guy Bush, next door to the current Marine Museum, for Peter and Aubrey Bush.
After Peter’s death, Aubrey sold the boat, whose name was unknown at this point, to Ernest Baker who named it after his wife, Vera Mae Baker. The Baker’s ran the Post Office on Bell’s Island at the time.
The boat was passed on to their son Theodore who eventually sold it to William Maher, a summer resident on Bush Island. It was later sold to John Fowler who donated it to the Avon River Historical Society in Avondale, Nova Scotia.
The Vera Mae
The “Vera Mae” is a “double ender” style Bush Island Boat. This means both her bow and stern are curved. She would have been a highly maneuverable boat, able to reverse her engine and go in both directions due to the dual curved ends. She is 27.5 feet long and 7.3 feet wide. The engine is an Acadia gas 5 horsepower “make or break” engine circa 1940 with engine ram of 108 tons.
The “Vera Mae” was a major part of life on the LaHave Islands. While, like many Bush Island Boats, she was used as a fishing boat, she also had another important role. Since her owners, the Baker’s, ran the Bell’s Island post office “Vera Mae” was the boat used to bring the mail to the Islands.
The LaHave Islands Marine Museum Society (LIMMS) acquired the “Vera Mae” in 2006. Late in 2005 the LIMMS learned about the existence of a Bush Island Boat at the Avon River Historical Society’s museum and were contacted to see if they were interested in acquiring the boat. They were and in April of the following year the boat, which they learned was the “Vera Mae” was transported from Avondale to the LaHave Islands. A site outside of the museum was cleared and funding was obtained to build a shelter or “retirement home” for the 60 year old boat and also to restore the boat. Today the “retirement home” is complete and restorations on the boat are also complete.
The “Vera Mae” coming up to a Bell’s Island church.
The “Vera Mae’s” Acadia Gas 5 hp engine on display in the boat.
The “Vera Mae” on her trip to the Museum
During the construction of the boat shed: notice the evergreen tree on top, which is a German building tradition when roof trusses are in place.
The Vera Mae during reconstruction. Her keel has been replaced and she was repainted soon after.