by David McDonald member of the Manotick chapter
For a number of years, I had been casually looking at ads for wooden boats. I worked in the forest industry, I live in a log house and I appreciate wood furniture. It only seemed natural that I have a wooden boat.
In the summer of 2017, I saw an ad for a Gren-ell runabout near Niagara Falls. I didn’t need another boat, but we were in Toronto visiting my son’s family so I convinced Joyce, it would be a nice drive to the Niagara region.
I grew up in Port Credit, Ontario across the street from my childhood friend Bruce Greenhill. His father Bill and uncle, Peter started building Gren-ell boats in the mid-fifties. I remember visiting their shop in Brampton with the smell of fresh cut mahogany and vanish. They were cabinetmakers by trade so their runabouts and small cabin cruisers were built like fine furniture. In the early sixties, I remember waterskiing on Lake Ontario behind a Gren-ell runabout, outings with both our families on cabin cruisers and even accompanying Bill and Bruce on customer deliveries up north to Georgian Bay and the Muskokas. Gren-ell was a small company in operation for only about ten years and went out of business as fiberglass boats came into vogue. For this reason, not many come up for sale. Their most popular model was the Golden Hawk.
Our drive towards Niagara Falls was on a long weekend so we left early expecting holiday traffic. It was less busy than anticipated, so we arrived over an hour early for our meeting with the owner. This is wine region, so rather than just sit in the car, we found a winery where Joyce had several glasses.
When I saw the boat, I thought it looked weathered but otherwise solid. I was interested and expected some resistance from Joyce but she basically said go for it. I quietly noted that next time I want to purchase something make sure that wine is available.
There are a lot of stories about getting the boat to our cottage 700 km away but it was a year later when the fun started. Powered by a 100 horsepower Evinrude, the boat flew but it was taking in water as fast as the bailer could remove it. My experience is with fibre glass boats but I heard that it can take some time for wooden boats to “swell”. That didn’t happen. I was going to do a partial restoration myself but this looked like a bigger job than I had planned.
Luckily, I found Siren Boatworks in Merrickville, Ontario. The owner Andrew Lee was a younger fellow who was eager to take on the job but the clincher was that he was trained as a cabinetmaker. This was fate. The boat is 18 feet long with a mahogany plywood sides, lapstrake bottom and mahogany planks for decking. As can been seen in the pictures, the work was extensive but the final product was probably an improvement on the original with Siren only content with perfection.
From the information I have from sales brochures (like the one above), I think this boat is a Riviera. I would like to talk to other Gren-ell owners that could confirm this or have more information about Gren-ell Wood Industries.