By John C.P. King
“Skip,” 65th Toronto Sea Scouts and Sea Venturers
A boat representing three centuries of Canadian history is moving to the National Yacht Club.
Rigged as a 19th-century longboat from the War of 1812 era, the Sea Scout whaler “United” will be a participant in re-enactments of famous battles during the next few years of bicentennial remembrances of this crucial period in Canada’s history.
This 27-foot Montagu whaler is a fibreglass-hulled three-in-one, equipped for rowing and sailing, with a hidden outboard engine. She was built in the 1960s for the Royal Canadian Navy, which used these vessels as ocean-going communications boats on destroyers and, in emergency, as lifeboats. The Montagu was the standard seaboat for the Royal Navy, the RCN and the Royal Australian Navy until they were replaced by Rigid-Hulled Inflatable Boats in the latter years of the 20th century.
For the 21st century, she is the flagship of the 65th Toronto Sea Scouts and Sea Venturers, a nautically oriented youth group associated with Scouts Canada and based out of Emmanuel-Howard Park United Church, at Roncesvalles and Wright Aves.
United was a sad-looking hull that had been sold for scrap when the 65th Toronto Scout Group (a co-ed organization that also includes younger Beavers and Cubs, aged 5 to 11) first came across her in Penetanguishene, Ont., in January 2011.
Over the next year and a half, the 11- to 14-year-old Sea Scouts, 14- to 17-year-old Sea Venturers and their adult leaders, stripped off multiple layers of lead paint, patched a hole in her keel, replaced the rotten woodwork, applied new paint and brass fittings, added two wooden masts and recut some old sails.
Last June, she was back in the water for the first time in years – for a weekend campout and picnic at Snake Island in Toronto Harbour.
And in July, the Sea Scouts and Sea Venturers sailed her from Toronto to Hamilton, Grimsby and Fort George, at Niagara-on-the-Lake, where United took part with 19 other longboats and six tall ships, landing marines in Queen’s Royal Park for a mock assault and 1812 re-enactment battle with American invaders.
In 2013, the Sea Scouts and Sea Venturers are already invited to take part with United in 1813 bicentennial naval re-enactment battles at Grimsby, Kingston and Upper Canada Village.
Scouting is the largest youth movement in the world, a volunteer-supported organization focused on teaching kids life skills, community service and leadership while having fun outdoors. There were dozens of regular Scout Troops, but no Sea Scout Troop in Toronto when the Cubs in the 65th Toronto Group decided to start theirs in 2004, and then expanded to launch their Sea Venturer Ship’s Company for older teenagers in 2009.
Until they found United, the Sea Scouts and Sea Venturers got their on-water experience in rented or borrowed boats, with the help of sailors such as the NYC’s Oliver Bertin, Richard Dermot and Robin Eccles, and 1812 re-enactors such as Cmdr. Tom Hurlbut in the Lake Simcoe Squadron of the Provincial Marine.
For the past two years, United has been kept on her trailer, housed through the courtesy of Don McLeod, another Provincial Marine re-enactor who has a farm about an hour’s drive north of Toronto. But it has been difficult for the Scouts to work on their boat so far away from the city, and they have been looking for a permanent home on the Toronto waterfront.
When NYC’s new Vice Commodore (Marine) Don Weston heard about the Sea Scouts’ need, he took the idea to the NYC board, which has given its support and a new home. One of the Sea Venturers’ winter projects is to make more oars for United. Development projects on the boat include fore and aft decks, more sails and a bowsprit.
We’ll be moving United to NYC soon, so we can launch in time for the 2013 sailing season. Drop by the boat to chat, if you see us working at the club, and pass on our news to any young people you know. (My phone number is 416-532-3363, email firstname.lastname@example.org.) We have an exciting program planned for the next few years, and we’re always looking for new Sea Scouts and Sea Venturers.