Tuesday, May 31, 2011
After completing the boatbuilding school in the States, my wife and I were looking for a place to moor our 1939 sloop Sea Witch as we returned to Canada. Brentwood Bay was the closest protected bay close to Victoria on the chart and looked like the obvious choice. At that time I would have never known that my connection to this place would go so deep.
Brentwood Bay must have once looked like a remote inlet, like those found north of Desolation Sound. 100 years ago only a handful of cottages with boat houses were lined along the eastern shore where the ferry dock is now. Getting to Brentwood would have been easier by boat than cart or car.
I have a friend who lives in the cottage that his father built. Jack is in his early nineties and I enjoy every story he tells me about this place. He remembers when young men were going to war; when a basking shark just wallowed up to the beach and when his neighbour went out for a short row and never returned.
In 1999 Jean Gaudin and I started Abernethy & Gaudin Boatbuilders Ltd. in a barn in North Saanich. 3 years later, Gilbert’s was offered to us. We became the third tenants of the waterfront boat shop located in the bay. This shop offered an ideal place for us to do the work we love, and in a location that is at times breathtaking. What we didn’t know at the time was that Gilbert’s boat shop was rich with history and well known to everyone but me. I had heard of the name but didn’t know much about the man or place. What we have found out over the years make us proud to continue the tradition.
Gilbert’s started out as Gilbert's Guide Boathouse in 1927. A sawmill was also built to process lumber for the construction of summer cabins. At that time the marina was built. One of the biggest draws, was the fish - not just fish, but 30lb salmon! Brentwood Bay boasted one of the best places to catch salmon in Canada. Over the years, Gilbert's saw their fair share of notable anglers, including 2 prime ministers Rt. Hon. John Diefenbaker and Rt. Hon. Lester B. Pearson, Oscar Peterson, Gordie Howe, and even a young Shirley Temple.
It was so reliable to land a good size salmon that there was a facility to can or freeze your salmon right there at the marina. Gilbert built guide boats for hire and business was thriving. The boat was a popular sight out on the calm water of the bay. My friend Jack told me that there would be a line up of people waiting to rent these little fish boats. I don’t think that there is anything like that today.
In 1938 the marina was struck by fire and in the reconstruction, a set of ways were built. Likely the same ones that we use today to haul classic boats up to 30 tons. I can only imagine that there was some old engine out of a model T Ford connected to a used logging winch to haul out the boats. Today the winch is still there and a 4 speed transmission transfers the power from a 10 hp 3 Phase electric motor. From the 50‘s to the 70‘s Gilbert's was also home to a commercial smokehouse, freezer plant, the launch ramp. The ramp was condemned and eventually fell apart. That is now the location of our woodworking shop.
Today we have built up the shop as a dedicated wooden boat repair facility. One of our first projects at the shop was to rebuild and upgrade the set of ways. The old set was very worn out by the time we took over. The ways would slip off the tracks often. If it was let down too fast without a boat on it, it would float right off the tracks. This was due to it’s solid wood construction. The new set of ways is built with steel H beam and we use mining cart wheels. The ways was upgraded to todays environmental standards. Gilbert is long gone but I’d like to think he would be proud that we’ve kept the shop up and continue to build and repair wooden boats.