Track 5: CANADA 150 – INDIGENOUS HERITAGE, DIVERSITY, and NEW DIRECTIONS / Volet 5: Canada 150 – Patrimoine autochtone, diversité et nouvelles orientations

Creating a Culture of Craftsmanship: Studying the Family Boatbuilding Movement

Saturday, October 14
10:45 AM - 12:15 PM

Craft skills are at the heart of conservation practice in the twenty-first century. At the very same time, there is an acute sense that we, as a society, are losing the embodied knowledge of expert craftspeople. A 'craft crisis' exists. The world seems over-mechanized, our lives removed from first-hand experience. We feel the knowledge of how to make things ‘by hand’ slipping away.

When we practice heritage conservation, we are not just conserving buildings, we are conserving the very intangible heritage craft skills that make preservation possible. Yet, tension exists: are craft skills "in" or "out" of history? Should we accept change in craft practice or minimize it? How can we let craftsmanship evolve and reach new audiences? Artisans today shoulder these expectations and these disparate conservation philosophies. Craftsmanship walks the tightrope between authenticity and fabrication, between tradition and innovation, and between a living practice and a fossilized one.

Carpentry is one of the most common crafts performing this high wire act. Built heritage carpentry is usually what comes to mind first, but wooden boatbuilding presents an even more compelling case study. Boatbuilding seems to be one of the few areas bucking the 'craft crisis' trend. This research analyzes the flourishing Family Boatbuilding movement. Founded in 1998 by WoodenBoat Magazine, Family Boatbuilding events have since spread across the US and Canada and become a veritable international movement. The premise is simple: members of the public, often novices, build their own 12-foot wooden rowboat with guidance from expert boatbuilders over the course of three days, launching the boat on the third day. Its policy is straightforward: public outreach with a "can-do" and a "hands-on" approach. Both NGOs and government-managed heritage institutions like the Alexandria Seaport Foundation and the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic have recognized that the program is not only a way to bring new people to boatbuilding, but to the very idea of conservation and craftsmanship. This accessible grassroots program with a DIY spin has brought community groups, new immigrants, at-risk youth, and families alike into the conservation fold. The movement continues to grow.

As Nova Scotia sailor, boatbuilder, and writer, Silver Donald Cameron describes in his essay The Nine Year Seminar on Boatbuilding and Life, "Building a boat is a process of thinking, knowing, and doing—of learning and creating, which are the two most important of all human activities. It is not a single big job; it is a thousand little jobs, some of them done over and over and over." In a way, boatbuilding can stand as a metaphor for conservation policy and practice, and for life. We do not live in an ideal world, but we can continue to try and make it one.

Learning Objectives:

Aleen L. Stanton

Graduate Student
University of York, UK

Aleen Stanton is an historian, heritage conservationist, and carpenter from Halifax, Nova Scotia. She holds a BA (Hons.) in History from Acadia University, and a MA in Cultural Heritage Management from England's University of York. Combining her passion for skilled craftsmanship and academic scholarship, she has been involved with preservation projects at Natural England, Historic England, Long Lake Provincial Park, the Nova Scotia Archives, and the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. As a lifelong Maritimer, she is fascinated by Atlantic Canada's enduring relationship with the sea, and she hopes to continue to help preserve that heritage through research and conservation.


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Senior Associate, Architect
EVOQ Architecture Inc.

Dima Cook has extensive experience in heritage conservation, construction and project management. She is recognized for her ability to manage large, complex projects from early design to contract administration. As a Senior Associate of EVOQ Architecture (FGMDA), Dima is responsible for directing the firm’s Toronto office. A graduate of the McGill School of Architecture, she is LEED AP accredited and serves as the firm’s sustainability advisor. She has served as the co-chair of the APT Sustainable Preservation Sub-Committee on Climate Change. In 2014, Dima was appointed to the City of Toronto Design Review Panel as its Heritage Representative.


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Creating a Culture of Craftsmanship: Studying the Family Boatbuilding Movement

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