|Back to Home||Feature Article - July 8, 2010|
What floats your boat?by Julie Druker
Parham resident and boat builder Brian Frost with a 1954 Shepherd nearing completion
The two small gold hoops dangling from his left ear are a dead give away if you know anything about sailing in South Africa. To some they might signify a pirate but in the real world they are actually mementos of Brian Frost’s sailing trips around the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn, and his transatlantic excursions.
And though his sailing days are now mostly behind him, boats still remain the primary focus of his life, and it is no wonder why.
Brian Frost, who now resides with his wife Nancy near Parham, learned the trade of boat building at a very early age in Johannesburg, South Africa, from his father and grandfather. He has been earning a steady pay cheque from the trade ever since. “As soon as I could hold a tool in my hands I was helping my dad and grandpa build boats,” Brian said.
A varied 50-year career has seen him employed by a number of boat builders in Canada and he ran his own business, Frost Shipwrights and Boatworks from 1988-1996.
At the age of 66 Brian is still practicing the family trade in his shop on the Wagarville Road, where his passion is helping to keep alive the historic boats of Canada.These days Brian is focusing primarily on Shepherds, those regal, mahogany “runabouts” that have graced the waters of Lake Ontario and the Muskokas ever since Lloyd Henry Shepherd founded the Shepherd Boat Works in 1928 and opened his Niagara-on-the-Lake plant in 1939.
Similar to their American cousins, the Chris-Crafts, Shepherds are Canada's own historic floating antiques. They are no longer being made and are still greatly sought after in Canada and the US.
Brian “fell in love with them” when he was rebuilding them in Merrickville and Portland. Currently, there are three Shepherds at Brian's Parham shop. Two weathered models sit high and dry on his front lawn awaiting his touch; the third, an 18 foot, 1954 Shepherd utility runabout, is close to completion and is waiting to receive its final layers of varnish before Brian sends it out to a local upholsterer and then to a mechanic, who will apply the finishing touches to its seats and motor.
The cost of restoring an old Shepherd can be expensive - the mahogany alone for this one cost upwards of $7,000. Essentially Brain has rebuilt the boat from the bottom up, virtually from scratch. He began the project last fall and all told has put roughly 400 hours into it.
He admits to having the luxury of working “on a feel good basis” – that is, when he feels the need and is in the mood, and although his finished products come with a hefty price tag, comparable to that of classic cars, Brian never has trouble finding buyers for them. He says that often he has a number of serious buyers in line for a single boat and this Shepherd is no exception.
But Brian is not in it for the money, but rather for pleasure he derives from the work. He always loves to talk old boats with like-minded enthusiasts and is more than willing to give advice to those undertaking similar projects.
The work is a passion for him and he has no plans to quit any time soon. “When I am working here I am totally at peace with my soul. I'll likely be doing this until I drop. In the meantime there is still so much work that I still want and love to do.”
While boat building is his primary line of work, Brian also carves and paints carousel horses, sleighs, canvas canoes and horse trophies for ploughing matches.
Currently Brian does not own his own Shepherd and is patiently awaiting the arrival of a 27-foot Shepherd, a rare model, only four of which are in existence. That will be the one project that he keeps for himself.
Until then he will continue to work peacefully at his own pace at his shop, which is located at 2012 Wagarville Road, 5 km west of Road 38.