Giesler and Sons
Gerry Giesler’s voice is loud and rich, his cheery bellow honed over years of competing against the clamour of the workshop at B Giesler and Sons. The wooden-boat maker that he runs was founded by his grandfather in 1927, making him the third generation to have supported this industry in the small town of Powassan in central Ontario.
“It’s a fantastic community,” says Giesler. “The town slogan used to be ‘Powassan: The Friendly Town’. That basically sums it up.” And it’s also the ideal place for a business such as his: the town and its environs are pocked with lakes and fishing ponds.
The construction process that Giesler and his team follow has barely changed since his grandfather built his first boat in 1921. Strips of mahogany are softened in a steamer and then moulded into a ribcage, around which the boat is built. The rough edges are then smoothed away with an old modified horseshoe, made in the 1920s.
The hulls are crafted from western cedar that is harvested in British Columbia, and glow after varnishing in a spectrum of browns, ambers and yellows. His workshop produces up to 40 vessels each year. The staple models are the 15ft (4.5-metre) rowboat Powassan and the larger motorboat Lake Nipissing, both designed by Giesler’s grandfather.
“It’s steady, I guess,” says Giesler of the business, which has five full-time employees. “There used to be a few boatmakers around here but we’re pretty much the only ones left. I guess we’ll just keep doing what we’re doing.”
When Stephen Gordon was a boy he spent hours rowing his grandfather’s boat across the lakes of upstate New York. It was no ordinary vessel: the design was specific to the region of the Adirondack Mountains. From afar it looked like a canoe but on the water it was as stable as a conventional skiff. The craft was an Adirondack guideboat. “I loved that thing,” says Gordon.
Adirondack guideboats were conceived in the early 1800s as a way of transporting heavy items to the lakeside mansions of holidaying industrialists. For Gordon, however, the boat was a ticket to adventure. “I got a lot of pleasure out of being able to go places and see beautiful landscapes,” he says. The thrill of exploration remained. He relocated to California to study psychology; he then turned his hand to bartending (“the same as being a therapist”) and trained as a carpenter. In his spare time he sold home fixtures. This led him to found Restoration Hardware, which grew into a retail goliath. By the time he stepped aside as chairman in 2005 it had more than 100 US stores.
Gordon attempted to retire but relaxing turned out to be difficult so he started looking for a new business. His mind went back to the Adirondack guideboat. He wondered if there was a way to manufacture the vessel at a price that would make them accessible to the wider public.
The result is Guideboat Co. Based in Mill Valley, the business sells beautifully crafted reproductions of classic rowboats, along with clothes and an array of merchandise. All of the vessels are made to specification using biaxial composite and oiled cherry wood. “I wanted it so that if you ordered a boat online you could get it within 30 days,” says Gordon. “I also wanted to sell the boats for less than $5,000 [€4,400].”
The firm has been inundated with interest since it began in 2014 but Gordon isn’t interested in expanding rapidly: he wants to make sure that quality remains high. “We’re not trying to be an empire,” he says. “We’re just happy being a company that values timeless goods and creating joy.”