When renown T’Sou-ke First Nation woodcarver Harvey George builds a model boat, he starts from a block of cedar and does it all by sight – no measurements.
His uncle did it the same way, who used to come visit George in Sooke when he was a young child. It was this point when his passion for woodcarving took off.
“I used to watch him. He taught me the basics and he said, ‘I’m not teaching you anymore, you’re on your own’ so I started doing it by myself,” George said, adding that until now he shapes the boat with a mallet and chisel.
George, who was raised on the T’Sou-ke First Nation reserve and went to high school in Sooke, eventually became a deckhand on fishing vessels.
Having served on trollers, seiners and a fish packer, his passion and skill became evident when he began recapturing the elegance, beauty and design of these ships by creating incredibly detailed scale replicas of them.
“The odd thing I measure is the hatch,” George said. “I shape with a mallet and chisel, and a wood truss after how I want it shaped, like the bow and stern, but that’s it.”
He did a bit of logging in Sooke and Jordan River, but his heart remained set on fishing boats.
“Fish boats were part of my life.”
On March 18, George will hold a special presentation at the Charters River Salmon Interpretive Centre in Sooke as part of the Canada 150th celebrations, where he will talk about his woodworking and how he builds his model boats.
“I’m quite excited about it, because it’s right down my alley,” he said.
George’s work certainly goes a long way. In Sooke alone, there are five of his ships on display – both at the Sooke Regional Museum and at the interpretive centre – which includes his favourite, a table seiner named the Agnes Rose, named after his grandmother, Agnes, and his niece, Rose Dumont.
He chose the seiner because it’s not only his personal favourite, but it’s also fairly rare.
“You just don’t see those [table seiners] anymore nowadays,” George said.
On average, it takes George about a year or more to finish a single ship from scratch to finish, complete with glass, paint and accessories. Each boat has around $1,000 worth of fittings alone added to it.
He has also donated 10 boats to the Cowichan Bay Maritime Museum, which has one of his biggest ships, a five-foot-long fish packer.
George will be at the Charters River Salmon Interpretive Centre (located at 2895 Sooke River Rd) at 11 a.m. this Saturday (March 18).