© Guardian photo by Steve Sharratt
In his woodworking shop near Montague, Sturgeon boat builder Leo Murphy has been commissioned to build a replica of a Prince Edward Island ice boat for the 100th anniversary of the Transportation Association of Canada.
MONTAGUE – When you want something that floats, most eyes around this province turn to Leo Murphy.
He’s a veteran boat builder along the shores of St. Mary’s Bay in Sturgeon and making things float comes as easy as drawing breath.
But he’s never been asked to build an ice boat — until now.
Rich with Island history, the ice boat (mail boat) was the only transportation link to the province during the winter before ice-breaking equipment or air travel arrived. And a trip on an ice boat, which carried the mail as well as passengers, was no pleasure ride.
“Some people, as I understand it, would get a cheaper fare for an ice boat crossing if they agreed to get out and push and pull it over the tough parts,” says Murphy, scratching his chin. “But you can just imagine how difficult it was in those days dragging a 20-foot boat across the Strait in winter.”
There is no shortage of stories of ice boats landing miles and miles away from where they planned to dock or even times when the vessel, crew and passengers were stuck in snowstorms for weeks.
Those are the images that were conjured up as Murphy spent the last number of weeks building his replica ice boat for a special event. The Transportation Association of Canada is celebrating a 100th anniversary and each province is contributing an example of historical travel.
“It seemed the ice boat was a unique example to represent P.E.I.,” says provincial engineer Steven Pigott, who is helping to oversee the project.
Murphy is no stranger to building things. He’s constructed numerous fishing boats over the years and even built a replica of a 1939 Chris Craft pleasure cruiser that he pulls around with his restored 1946 Ford pickup truck.
He used B.C. fir to build his one-third-size replica based on the Island’s last real ice boat, which is on display at the Basin Head museum near Souris.
“She’s all handmade and really has taken as much time as if I built one full size,’’ he says. “The last thing now is to sand her down and paint her.”
The lap strake designed ice boat will be stained red on the inside and painted a sky blue on the outer shell. It will head to Montreal to be showcased when the association marks its anniversary this fall.
A spokesperson from the province said the replica would eventually be returned to the province and a local home would be found for display.