In what is likely a massive understatement, Cecil Reid says it took him a while to haul a stubborn black spruce tree along a riverbed almost 50 years ago.
“It was all I could carry up the brook a little ways,” he admits. “But it was so good that I had to have it.”
Back then he was still working with the railway.
“I was on a work train at Cook’s Brook,” recalls Cecil, who is now 86. The brook is roughly eight miles west of Corner Brook. “After we were finished work in the evening, I decided I would go for a little walk down the brook and I saw this perfect stem for a boat.”
After felling the tree, he singlehandedly dragged it up the brook and put it on the running boards of the train’s diesel engine to get it to Corner Brook where his truck was parked. The tree was then taken to his home in Millville and shoved into one corner of the garage where it remained for the next 48 years.
It was only during this year’s annual summer vacation to Newfoundland that Cecil decided the time was right. He has two sisters in the area and Cecil says they’ve had a few conversations about their lack of a boat despite there being a boat builder in the immediate family.
“They like to go to Codroy Island berry-picking, and I think this is where it started to come up,” he said.
He says they would like to participate in the recreational food fishery, which also requires a boat. So Cecil finally decided the time was right to dust off the black spruce and use it as a stem for a new 16-foot boat.
“The wood is still so hard that I have to drill that I have to put a screw in,” says Cecil. He estimates the black spruce is about 10 inches in diameter. “White spruce would be a lot softer wood.”
His wife, Joanne, who is a naturalist and enjoys working with flowers, often lends a hand. The couple have been married for 36 years.
“She holds the boards and that for me,” says Cecil. “She’s a big help.”
Even with her help the boat won’t be ready this summer, so his sisters will still have to find another way to get to their berry-picking spots for a while yet.
“If I survive until next summer, I’ll finish it next summer,” he laughs.
Cecil is an old hand when it comes to boat building and carpentry. He’s built at least three in Codroy, and he kept at it out west at his home in Smithers, British Columbia.
“I have a canoe and a sea kayak on the island of Tasmania off the coast of Australia,” says Cecil. He built them for friends, school teachers who eventually returned home and wouldn’t leave their boats behind. Admits Cecil, “It was good work.”
In exchange one of the teachers edited Cecil’s private memoirs, which he shares only with family and friends.
“He’s built a lot of boats over the years,” says son Scott Reid. “He used to build motor boats and then he started building kayaks for a while.”
Cecil also built a few homes out in B.C. and was one of the team leads who built a huge cross-country ski lodge.
“That was a real bit of hard work,” he said.
Hard work or not, the retired railway engineer thoroughly enjoys his favourite hobby.
“Well it’s a gift that I have, I think, that I can craft a boat or anything with wood,” says Cecil. “I love wood.”