In 1939, a fisherman by the name of Joe Hand, also considered a meticulous builder, selected a white oak tree he found along the Niagara Escarpment, and had it milled in Grimsby.
From there the oak went to the Morris Boat Works in Hamilton, to become the ribs and transom on a frame of cedar and pine for a boat custom-made for Hand. The pine was for the stringers, the pieces of wood that run the length of the boat to give it strength.
This boat, which is considered by experts one of the best of its era, was to help earn a living for his family. It was christened the Teenie H, after his daughter.
Eighty years later, after changing ownership a few times, as well as locations, the boat is ready to move to another new home Monday, in the municipal yard behind the arena, where it is to be protected and safely stored until its next, hopefully permanent, home is found.
Those vested in its preservation as a legacy representing the commercial fishing history of Niagara-on-the-Lake are hoping its final resting place will be one of distinction, on the waterfront, on display in a setting befitting a boat of its significance.
Local residents Terry Boulton and Chris Allen have been advocating for a plan to preserve and display the boat since 2006, and in the intervening years, have received support from politicians, and champions of local history, including the town’s heritage committee, the Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum, and the Niagara Foundation. Marine experts have attested to its significance in local history and its current state of preservation. Julian Smith, highly respected restoration architect known locally for his years as director of Willowbank’s School of Restoration Arts, has spoken to town representatives about the boat as “a perfect vehicle” to preserve the town’s cultural landscape in the Dock Area. He even designed a boat house to sit at the water’s edge, which he envisioned as a display to protect the Teenie H while making it available to the public, says Boulton.
That proposal was presented to then-Lord Mayor Dave Eke and senior management, “and was positively received,” says Boulton. The exact site of the display was left to be decided, he says, but “there was no question raised as to the general viability of the proposal. However, any progress was again stalled by the need for final approval of a Dock Area Master Plan.”
Smith felt the best location was beside the Foghorn House, which is beside the municipal dock on River Beach Drive. Built in 1904 by the Department of Marine and Fisheries, and operated as a warning signal for marine vessels in the days when Niagara’s waterfront was a bustling centre for the shipping industry, the house was restored by the Niagara Foundation, and is now owned by the Town.
Boulton still believes that’s the ideal location for it, but it will be the Town’s decision moving forward, he says.
From the earliest discussions of the future of the Teenie H, the delay has been, and continues to be, an evolving Dock Area plan, says Boulton.
Allen and Boulton both have a deep love and respect for the history of the town, and Boulton’s family has ties to the fishing industry going back several generations. He can remember helping to roll the fishing nets back on his family’s boat as a young boy.
They have both put their hearts into the continued preservation of the Teenie H, with Boulton taking the lead on discussions with the Town.
Moving the boat to Town property is significant, he says, “and a relief. It’s a load off my shoulders.”
It had been tucked away, safely, in storage at the NOTL Sailing Club for 14 years, first at no cost, initially supported by Glen Stewart from ATL Trucking, who was commodore at the time. In recent years, the Town has contributed to the storage cost.
ATL provided the equipment to move the boat to the sailing club, and is doing the same now, again at no cost, Boulton says.
Monday, after a week of preparing the boat for its move, Boulton says the Teenie H “once again defied her age (at 80-plus) and was easily moved onto what should be her last resting place, her own, specially adapted cradle. It has been seven long, tiring days to get her moved onto her own cradle, but now she should be set for as long as she remains. She has newly constructed framing overhead, a very workable tarp and a low slung cradle which should work well in any display.”
Before being moved to the sailing club, it had been on the Ball property, beside Ball’s Beach, and when that property was to be sold, the boat had to be moved. It was sold to Allen in 2006, and he and Boulton became involved in its preservation.
It had been purchased by Goring Ball in 1949, and remained in use until 1975, when it was pulled from the water beside the house, where it sat until its move to the sailing club. Ball purchased the boat from Bill Rooker, who bought it from Hand in 1943 or ’44, with all the fishing gear, for $1,500. He and his brother fished out of Port Dalhousie for a few years, travelling to Four Mile Creek for whitefish, until they sold it to Ball.
Boulton and Allen make the point that, on the advice of experts, the boat will not be restored. It will be cared for in its existing condition, which is far superior to what would be expected of a boat its age, experts have said — documented in updates prepared by Boulton in his efforts to have the Town take ownership of the boat and its future.
His efforts became more pressing when the sailing club wanted to use the space for other purposes, says Boulton, and a new home needed to be found. He has struggled to find a solution, and is relieved to see the next step in a final plan that will take place Monday.
He and Allen have worked exhaustively in recent weeks to prepare it for a safe move, once again on a cradle specifically designed by ATL Trucking for the Teenie H.
Boulton is happy to give the reins over to the Town, knowing the future of the Teenie H is now in the hands of the municipality, hoping any decisions to be made will reflect his and Allen’s input, along with the advice from experts such as Smith.
Town documents, including a 2017 official plan amendment, indicate the Dock Area should recognize its significant history in commercial fishing, and should support its cultural heritage, including a display of the Teenie H.
Since the current council was elected in 2018, Couns. Allan Bisback, Norm Arsenault and Stuart McCormack have been supportive in getting the boat onto town property, as a step toward the Town becoming involved in preserving it.
Bisback says he appreciates the importance of saving and displaying the Teenie H, and would like to see a plan put forward that would include funding from other levels of government.
He would also like to get the Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum, which has helped by holding funds raised for the preservation of the boat, involved in the next steps, although he notes such large artifacts are not part of the museum mandate.
Bisback says he will encourage council to agree on the preservation and future location of the Teenie H. In addition to the need for a complete plan for the Dock Area, flooding issues have of necessity taken front and centre recently, he says, with the emphasis on waterfront preservation, prevention of future flooding, and the funding to pay for those important initiatives.
“We’re still working on a comprehensive plan for the waterfront,” says Bisback. “Then we need a report formalizing what the Town is going to do with the Teenie H. We don’t want it to just sit there.”