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School Floats Student Success

Posted on April 24 2014

Liam Karkin’s 16’ Prospector cedar strip canoe.

Liam Karkin’s 16’ Prospector cedar strip canoe

By Kathy Rhodes

One of the many exciting developments in secondary education in Ontario over the past several years has been the introduction of the Specialist High Skills Major (SHSM) program - a ministry-approved specialized program that allows students to focus their learning on a specific economic sector while meeting the requirements to graduate from secondary school. It also assists in the transition after graduation to apprenticeship training, college, university, or the workplace. I.E. Weldon Secondary School in Lindsay offers three SHSMs – one each in Construction, Transportation, and Arts and Culture.

One of their senior shop classes in the Construction SHSMS gives students the opportunity to choose their own project to complete over the school year. Some choose to build canoes, boats, sheds, saunas, beds, or cabinets. Several have gone on to complete the apprenticeship program and become licensed carpenters. We first became aware of the program at the Small Craft Builders’ Rendezvous held at the Canadian Canoe Museum in Peterborough earlier this spring. Among the many displays were a number of hand-built canoes and kayaks and their builders. All were between the ages of 17 and 19 and incredibly (and justifiably) proud of their accomplishments.

This is the story of four young men who recently completed the shop program, their individual projects, and their dedicated teacher, Peter Tamlin, who would often stay late or come in early (sometimes at 5:00 a.m.) to supervise students in their projects. Assisting Peter was Tyler Archer, an instructor at Fleming College.

The shop program got its start when Peter built his first canoe in 1999 and took it into the school to show his students. Some of them expressed an interest in building their own, and in 2000 the first student built and completed a canoe. The class now builds several boats a year, and this year they completed their 70th boat! Every student is required to purchase Ted Moores’ CanoeCraft and read it over the summer (Bear Mountain Boats has been a terrific supporter of the program). This prepares them for the challenge ahead. There is a big commitment on the students’ part as they show up each day at lunch or on their spares and for several hours before or after school. Peter is currently rebuilding a 1957 Lakefield Mohawk and sharing this process with his students. Peter believes this could be the start of something new at I.E. Weldon. As Peter says, “Living in the heart of the Kawarthas, canoes and boats seem to be a passion for some of my students. I like to let them use the skills that they have been taught for something they enjoy and can use for the rest of their lives.”

Liam Karkin’s 16’ Prospector cedar strip canoe in the shopLiam Karkin’s 16’ Prospector cedar strip canoe in the shop

Liam Karklins’ senior wood shop project was a 16’ Prospector cedar strip canoe. Growing up on a farm, Liam has always had an interest in wood working. From a very young age, he helped his father log timber, saw wood on the sawmill, dry, plane and mill boards, then craft and finish a final product. But he was never as excited as when he learned about the shop classes offered at his local high school. These shop classes were what really drew Liam into the technology program. Although he began high school in the International Baccalaureate (IB)- an enriched academic of schooling - stream, Liam soon realized that he would be unable to take advantage of all the technology subjects or participate in the various shop classes. So, having successfully completed two years, he enrolled in the SHSM stream. This program appealed to Liam because it allowed him to take all his university level high school courses while also earning some dual credit courses with Fleming College in welding and electrical, as well as specialized certificates and “tickets” in hoisting and rigging, fall arrest, and propane safety, etc. Liam’s co-op placement with a local construction company specializing in custom timber frame and log houses gave him a great head start in a highly specialized area.

One of the projects that really caught Liam’s attention was the cedar strip canoes produced in Peter’s class. There were many ups and downs during the build, but woodworking class was always the highlight of Liam’s day and he couldn’t wait to work on his project. One major issue was with the cherry feature strip which had a tendency to pull away from the used form at the critical curve point. Liam had to strap every rib and slide in each strip, one by one, to bring it tight in together. It slowed his progress, but he was able to make up the time by working after school or taking parts home where he was fortunate to have the tools to work on them. Some of the highlights included pre-making the arrow at the feature strip and working the other details of the boat. Hand carving the yoke and beveling the herring bone design for the decks really created a focal point on the boat. Overall, Liam was extremely happy with the entire project. Although he sacrificed a bit of weight by incorporating so many cherry features (gunwales and seats), it was worth it. Liam also had the satisfaction of knowing he built everything on the canoe. His project received the I.E. Weldon Secondary School “Canoe Craftsmanship” award this year at graduation which validated all the extra time spent on the smaller individual projects.

Liam currently plans to return to high school to take extra university credits in physics, chemistry and calculus – just to ensure all his options are open for university entrance as well as for college or the trades. Although he has begun an apprenticeship in carpentry through the SHSM program, he is also interested in a career in either construction or mechanical engineering. Having the practical hands on experience gives him a solid foundation in those fields because of the real work experience he has gained. This might even lead into a combination of both trades and university or even college for Civil Technology. Liam sees an exciting future ahead for himself and is thankful to I.E. Weldon S.S. for providing so many opportunities and opening the many doors to the future.

Dan Lowe was introduced to the program in his first year of high school and was amazed to learn about the opportunity to build a project of his choice in his final year. At the time, students in the program had recently completed the group project of the Voyager War Canoe. Seeing this project as well as canoes built by individual students inspired Dan to build a canoe of his own - something that he would be able to have and use for the rest of his life. Although the project itself was very challenging, Dan is proud of the end result. Now that he’s had this experience and developed these new skills, he’s looking forward to building another boat!

Dan Lowe test drives his canoeDan Lowe test drives his canoe

Dylan Peltenburg has always enjoyed working in construction and being hands on with any work that he does. Prior to his final year, Dylan had built a small wall, and worked on some intarsia and sawhorses; he feels that these projects almost forced him into the next year and making a boat. With the exception of working with fibreglass, Dylan loved every minute of building the boat. However, the fibreglass finish does make the boat look “awesome”! Dylan enjoyed doing all of the actual woodworking - the cutting, the planing, and the stapling to the template - and hopes to eventually get enough time to complete all of the finishing touches on it. Once this boat is completed, he’d really love to make another boat with no deadline and no rush, and do a more thorough job with a nicer finish. According to Dylan, “Peter was a great instructor who gave everybody all of his time and more. He helped everybody when he could, and he made the course much more enjoyable for everyone in it.”

Building a cedar strip canoe was something Zack Fleming would never have thought he could do several years ago. Nor would he have guessed how many countless hours, long nights, and sheets of sandpaper went into a project like this. Having a fair bit of woodworking experience at home, Zack felt building a canoe would be a great challenge. With a combination of working at home and at school during his spare periods, he was able to build a 13’ Rob Roy single person canoe - which is a Bear Mountain Boats design.

Building started the summer before school, when Zack purchased plans directly from Bear Mountain and built the form around which the canoe is built. All of the lumber used in the project was sourced locally - from the white cedar MARINE MARKETPLACE from a neighbour’s sawmill to the black walnut being cut from Zack’s grandmother’s property. Planking the hull was one of the stages where the boat could be seen to be taking shape. Working with hand tools for the fitting of each strip on the hull allowed for super tight fits and invisible glue joints. According to Zack, it was tedious and time consuming, but a great learning experience in using tools that don’t plug in. Fibreglassing and epoxying was totally new, but with a bit of guidance from Peter and help from a buddy, it turned out better than Zack could have imagined. Once the school year was over, Zack took the boat home and finished all the trim work there. Last spring, he tried it out for the first time and was thrilled when it floated! Overall, Zack felt it was an awesome project, where he learned a lot about boat building, working with new materials and building outside the box (meaning building without straight lines and square corners!). Zack sees himself building another boat in the future – perhaps a kayak – and encourages anyone interested in building their own boat to go for it!

Zack Fleming’s cedar strip canoeZack Fleming’s cedar strip canoe

Successful completion of the program also counts as a dual credit with Fleming College for basic level carpentry. In addition, there is a Co-op component of the program, the main focus of which is to provide students exposure to the various trades. The program benefits do not stop here, since in most cases the co-op hours can go towards a formal government approved apprenticeship path.

Peter and his program have always had great support from the school’s senior administration who see the successes and the self esteem that the students show and how proud they are of their projects. We talk a lot about how to interest more young people in our hobby. This program offers an excellent opportunity to encourage further interest from these talented students. It’s also a wonderful opportunity for any of our professional or amateur boatbuilders/restorers/refinishers to take a turn as a guest speaker or even offer an apprenticeship opportunity. To learn more about the program, contact Peter Tamlin.