Eganville — “I can’t believe an alligator has been found in the Shaw Woods Mill Pond,” exclaimed Herb Shaw of Pembroke, fifth generation member of the well-known Shaw family of Pembroke whose roots are planted deep in the Lake Dore area of North Algona Wilberforce Township.
It was through the generosity of the Shaw family that Shaw Woods, a 200 hectares nature preserve of old growth forest, which is managed by Shaw Woods Outdoor Education Centre, was created several years ago.
But hold it for a minute. We aren’t talking about an alligator the likes of which are found in the Florida Everglades. No, no. The alligator Mr. Shaw was referring to was an Alligator boat, a type of amphibious vehicle used in the forestry industry throughout Ontario, Quebec, the Maritime provinces of Canada and the northern United States from the mid-19th century to the beginning of the 20th century. These boats were so named because of their ability to travel between lakes by pulling themselves with a winch across land. They towed log booms across lakes and then portaged themselves using a winch to the next body of water. The rugged, steam-powered tugs were one of the pioneers in the mechanization of the forest industry in North America.
While there are few Alligator boats left — the only other one in the area is located in a display at the logging exhibit in Algonquin Park — the one that has now found its permanent home at Shaw Woods was built by retired Renfrew doctor, Bill Burwell and a group of friends about 10 years ago. After spending four years building the boat, it was finally launched in the Ottawa near Castleford two years ago before it was moored on the Quebec side of the river. It was stored at the waterfront property of Peter and Barbara Haughton in — Bay at Bristol, Quebec and last Thursday towed across the Ottawa to a boat launch at Red Pine Bay near Braeside where it was lifted on to a flatbed tractor trailer and moved to Lake Dore. The crane was provided by Kempco Rentals of Renfrew, owned by Ian Kemp and the trucking was completed by Dave and Ashley Bennett.
“We’re delighted that the Alligator, built by Dr. Bill Burwell and his team, has found an appropriate resting place here at Shaw Woods,” said Fred Blackstein, co-chair of the board of directors of Shaw Woods.
Mr. Blackstein said the Alligator boat was a very important part of the logging history of Renfrew County and the rest of the country and Shaw Woods was a most appropriate location for the boat.
“It is a perfect fit for Shaw Woods which teaches the history, heritage and sustainability of forestry in Renfrew County and we are very grateful to the team that they chose to locate it here,” he added.
The boat was acquired for the grand sum of $2, the cost split equally between Mr. Shaw and Mr. Blackstein.
Dave Lemkay, who has been associated with the forest industry most of his life and who arranged through the Canadian Forestry Association to bring the W.D. Stalker Alligator Tug Steam Boat from Simcoe to Renfrew County for the county’s 150th celebrations in 2011, played a key role in securing Dr. Burwell’s boat to become a permanent future at Shaw Woods.
“Bill was masterful at getting a whole lot of people coming to help him so he had a really good team of hardworking guys,” he said. “They engineered the deering for the paddle wheels, they manufactuired the paddle wheels from scratch, they built the boiler and put a steam engine and they built the hull.
“Sadly, we launched in 2017 down at Red Pine Bay, took it over to Bristol and Bill was there in his walker at that point. A week later he came over to Haugtons, had one more look and then we never saw see Bill after that. He was hospitalized and passed away.
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Although the river was a bit rough Thursday morning when the Alligator was being pulled across to the Ontario side, conditions were ideal for the drive to Lake Dore and placement of the boat and Mr. Lemkay couldn’t help but smile and suggest Dr. Burwell was smiling down on the day.
“We had a parade, the crane and the boat, and we came down through Renfrew and I’m thinking, ‘Bill, you’ve been on this street all your life and everyday and here is your boat coming down’.”
Mr. Lemkay said Dr. Burwell always hoped the boat would be a live display, but because of the risk associated with steam the insurance would be atrocious if it was ever going to be fired up. He said there were a couple of places where the boat could have ended up as a static display, but Shaw Woods seemed to be the most suitable in terms of security, visibility and the connection to the history of forestry.
“It was a kindly donation and so here it is,” he said.
A dedication ceremony will take place this fall after the wheel house is re-attached the boat and it is touched up for display. Interpretive signage explaining the history of Alligator boats will also be located on site.