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"Local Museum Builds the Past, Lives the Story"

Kingston East News
July, 2015

At the end of June, a group of teenagers came together on the Gananoque waterfront to learn about workplace safety; these teens are part of the Thousand Islands Boat Museum (TIBM) summer works program. The program, which hires students to repair and restore boats, as well as to build sailboats, is an extension of the boat building program the Museum has run the last two years at the local high school.

From the start, teaching kids about their local boat building heritage and involving them for the future, has been a fundamental component of the Museum’s vision.

In 2013 and 2014, Gananoque Intermediate and Secondary School GISS) students built a St. Lawrence skiff under the supervision of boat builder Mike Corrigan. The St. Lawrence skiff design was one by the late Rockport boat builder Fred Huck. The skiff, loaned to the project by Ed Huck Marine, is proudly on display at the TIBM boat building shop, along with the students’ new skiff. Huck, a German immigrant, came to Rockport from Grindstone Island to establish the marina in 1889, which celebrates its 126th anniversary this summer. This school year, the students concentrated on building small sailboats known as Optimists or Optis. To date, they have completed four sailboats to be used in the TIBM’s sailing program. Chris Boston, Principal at GISS sums up the experience: “The immediate impact of having the students contribute to the local Museum is having the opportunity to learn the skills from the curriculum while crafting something that will have relevance for the community for years to come, providing a tangible sense of what is possible in obtaining the skills of a craftsman.”

The TIBM offers engaging programing for all age groups. This past winter a group of local volunteers, mostly retirees, interested in learning about boat building, restored a 1961 Cliffe Craft that is now on display in the Boathouse exhibit.

When you pass by the TIBM this summer, stop into the Boat Shop to see what’s being restored or built, and to ask how you can participate.

The Boat Shop is also where other Museum projects, like the “River Rocker” are built. In addition to the high school outreach and apprentice programs that integrate experiential education, (boat building, sailing, rowing), and outdoor adventures and life skills workshops (a combination of trade and artistic skills), a children’s area has been developed that provides hands-on projects related to boating and the river.

This summer, the TIBM offers weekly drop-in classes, in addition to the scheduled classes for daycares and school groups. Projects include: tugboats, mini-sailboats, cottage signs, cargo ships, and houseboats; each child proudly takes home their project. The Museum features living exhibits, and interactive experiences. Set in a re-created Boathouse, the 2015 exhibit features Cliffe Craft boats, the popular wooden vessels first built in Gananoque in the 1950s by veteran Gananoque boat builder Charlie Cliffe, founder and owner of Cliffe Craft. When speaking of her father’s legacy to the area, Sarah Indewey writes: “Preserving the history of local artisans and craftsman, like my father Charles Cliffe – who for over 50 years built a variety of wooden watercraft right here in the town of Gananoque – defines our commitment to ensuring that progress does not mean neglect of the important pillars on which this community was founded.”

Although he is now 83 years of age, Charlie continues his craft in constructing St. Lawrence River skiffs — a testament to the addiction experienced by many when introduced to the Thousand Islands.

The TIBM is a meeting place that celebrates and chronicles the role of boats and boat building in the history and development of Gananoque and the 1000 Islands region.

“This Museum tells the story of the river through the lens of a boat,” says Susanne Richter, the Museum’s executive director. The Museum uses an existing collection of boats, as well as borrowed ones, to illustrate the stories of the river, and the lives of the people touched by it. Turning that “lens” on the Museum, it becomes a story of belonging.

Enlivened by experiential learning, the storytelling unfolds in real-time; it is a place where 4-90 year olds are engaged in projects, sharing experiences, and connecting generations. The story is of the river and those touched by it. The boats are beautiful, but thankfully, the Museum is about the people.

About the TIBM.

Located on the Gananoque waterfront at 125 Water Street, the Thousand Islands Boat Museum dates its origin back to 1993, with the formation of the Thousand Islands Antique Boat Museum Trust, a registered non-profit charity. The Trust was inspired by the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton, New York, the premier freshwater nautical Museum in North America. Officially incorporated last November, the TIBM is governed by a board of directors dedicated to preserving the region’s world famous marine heritage in the Thousand Islands for generations to come. In addition to the financial commitment of the founding directors, the project has also been generously supported by the Thousand Islands Community Development Corporation, Canada Summer Jobs, numerous local businesses, and the countless hours of a team of dedicated volunteers.

To learn more, visit: or contact the Museum by telephone at 613.382.8484

Programming, including future on water activities and boat excursions into and onto the 1000 Islands, as well as upcoming event information, is also available through the Thousand Islands Boat Museum Facebook page.


Bringing the heritage of the St. Lawrence River, the 1000 Islands, and the magic spirit of the region to life.


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Telephone: 613 382 8484

125 Water Street, Gananoque, Ontario K7G 3E3