George Harris

George Harris: Boat Builder

George Harris

George Harris was born in Gore's Landing, Ontario in 1908 to a large farming family of English heritage. While some of his brothers farmed the land, George was entrusted at a young age with the task of being an angler and hunter to provide food. He spent nearly every day taking advantage of Rice Lake's plentiful resources of fish and waterfowl and sometimes the more sparse deer population. It was from this role in his family that he first learned about precision and patience, which would serve him well for the duration of his life.

Young George
Young George – 1920s

Beulah and George
Beulah and George – 1930s

Gore's Landing

Since the late 1800s, the village of Gore's Landing had been involved in canoe and boat building, beginning with the Herald Canoe Co. in 1862. (Later Herald & Hutchison, Herald & McBride, and eventually Rice Lake Boat Works). The Kawarthas region as a whole had a large role in boat manufacturing in Canada during the early half of the 20th century. In fact, by 1930, 25% of all employees in the boat building industry of Canada worked in the Peterborough area.

Herald & Hutchinson Canoe Builders
Herald & Hutchinson

With the industry offering plenty of opportunity for skilled workers, George began apprenticeship work at the age of 20 in 1928 for Rice Lake Boat Works under owner Wally Pratt. By the time the spring of 1947 had come, George Harris had already become a skilled builder of cedar strip canoes, boats, and paddles.

Starting a Business

Rice Lake

With the advantage of the Harris family owning a large amount of farm land property to the west of the main village, George used this opportunity to acquire a waterfront parcel from his siblings and began his own modest business by building a workshop on the shoreline of Rice Lake practically beside his family home.

This turned out to be a good time, in some regard, to start out small and independent, as the canoe industry had begun to decline rapidly in the 1950’s. As a result, the larger companies with high production and overhead began to go out of business with the high volumes they were accustomed to now having evaporated.

Working solely off custom orders he was able to build a reputation for quality work and honest and personal business relationships with his customers.

George was a very humble man, who never thought of himself as having a special talent or as being the artist he was later considered by many. He continued to build in his shop at Harris Boat Works until 1980 when the shop burned to the ground in a fire.

George in the Old Shop
George in the Old Shop – 1970s

George with Jay
George with Jay – Early 1980s

George was in semi-retirement as he continued to build-to-order in the basement of his home until the time of his death in November of 1988. To this day, George Harris' fine craftsmanship is still appreciated and admired by those who have seen any of the few remaining examples of his work. One of these examples, the last cedar strip canoe George made before his passing, is hanging on display in the main building of Harris Boat Works. Be sure to have a look the next time you are in, for a glimpse into a part of the fine history of Gore's Landing!

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