SeaBirD boats; a brief history.
December 23, 2019 in Uncategorized
The Port Carling Boat Works, a company which operated from 1925 to 1959, apparently produced more wooden runabouts and launches than any other company in Muskoka, and possibly Canada.
The boats squeezed out of the factory were known generally as SeaBirDs, a moniker created when a Muskoka visitor noticed a test model emerging from a fog, sleek and graceful. “Why, it’s just like a seabird sailing gracefully out of the fog,” he commented. The name stuck thereafter.
Port Carling Boat Works was founded in 1925, following the collapse of the Disappearing Propeller Boat Company in Port Carling. The founders included Billie Johnson Jr., who also later produced watercraft under his own name.
Unlike other builders who produced mainly custom boats, Port Carling Boats built stock models, using a small production line. Purchasers could pick up a SeaBirD at the factory, at a showroom, or through dealers across the Country.
There are three fairly distinct periods in the life of the Port Carling Boat Works:
1925-1939…the expansion of the company
1939-1945…the war years
1945-1959…the C.J. McCulley years
The first production-line SeaBirDs sold for a reasonable $400. They were good quality boats with an inboard engine and reverse gear. From the beginning, SeaBirds were powered with engines from Fred Buchanan, who ran a machine shop in Orillia, Ontario
The first production line could not keep up with the demand. Letters of appreciation from new owners, (including McLaughlin of General Motors) gave encouragement to the owners and employees.
Unfortunately, the factory was completely destroyed by a fire in October, 1931. A larger and greatly improved building was constructed soon afterwards. Production increased to the point where the firm’s accountant noted that the Company had sold more inboard motor launches than any other company in Canada.
By 1935 Port Carling Boat Works had opened a branch at Honey Harbour in Georgian Bay. This offered access to the Great Lakes.
In 1938 the Ditchburn Boat Company folded. Port Cartling Boat Works bought all the hulls that had been partially finished as well as their stock of lumber and supplies. These boats were finished in Port Carling. One of them, a twin engine, twenty-six foot model, was sold to Ewart McLaughlin of General Motors fame. Unfortunately, this boat burned in a fire in 1960.
By 1939 Port Carling Boat Works had “the finest outlet in the world for boats, with service and parts in sixty-odd countries”, according to the Company’s accountant.
Stay tuned for Part II: The War Years
Note: Information for this article is credited to Douglas Garfield McCulley, author of “SeaBird…Muskoka’s SeaBirds:’