McVay Yachts of Nova Scotia
This article came about as the result of a visit to some friends in Kingston, Ontario. In addition to extending to us their usual warm hospitality, they gave us a little fiberglass sailboat on a trailer that had been languishing under a tree in their back yard for probably 15 years or more.
After administering some first aid to the trailer lights, wheels and tires, we hauled our new treasure the thousand miles back to our home in Nova Scotia.
I immediately set about getting her ready for the water and during the cleaning process a plaque revealed she was hull #1191, a McVay "Falcon" and had been built at Mahone Bay, a mile or two down the road where I plan to launch and keep her on a mooring.
In the not too distant past Mahone Bay was a ship and boat building center and today plays host to the big annual "Wooden Boat Festival" that attracts visitors from all over the world.
Having never owned such a small sailboat I had some questions as to her rigging , and so later that evening when I was on the computer I punched in "McVay Yachts - Falcon" and to my surprise found a website. I sent an email requesting help with my rigging problem and received instead a request to visit a Mr. Bob McVay, take a camera and a note pad and write a brief history of McVay Yachts.
This I have done and what follows is the information I gleaned from our visit.
George William McVay Sr. was born November 9, 1921 at Providence, Rhode Island. He was one of four sons born to Howard and Marjorie McVay. Howard was a tugboat captain in Narragansett Bay so it was not surprising George William had an eye for boats and a love of the sea.
This notwithstanding he trained as a chartered accountant, married Marion and took a job with the Colgate Company as a traveling salesman. During the fifties they raised three sons and a daughter - Bob, David, Billy and Virginia.
George was always on the lookout for derelict vessels to fix up in his spare time. One such vessel he christened "S.V. REBATE" as she was purchased with his tax refund. This old dear he found in a tobacco field and with the help of his three sons spent the next four years replanking her and recanvasing her decks. The "S.V.REBATE" was sailed for two seasons, sold and then lost in a hurricane in 1959. Bob is pretty sure his dad had her lines in mind when he designed the "Minuet".
In 1959 Colgate wanted to move George to New York City and not wishing to relocate his family he took a job with the American Boat Co. of Rhode Island. This firm purchased a boat building plant in Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia called "Industrial Shipping" and George became manager of the plant in June of 1961. Here they built a Ted Hood designed "Galaxie 32" in fiberglass and several plywood veneer boats the "Mahone" and the "Grand Banker".
George missed his family back in Rhode Island and set about convincing them to come to Canada and join him. At this time Bill was 12, Bob 11 and Dave 10. Virginia was almost 18 and chose to stay in the United States.
The rest of the family arrived in the spring of 1961 and moved into an old World War II log cook house that sat on the beach of Mahone Bay. There they lived from 1961 through 1965 in less than ideal conditions as the beach and grass around their home was washed away by wave action and the windows were battered by sea water and ice whenever there was stormy weather and a high tide.
Bob remembers his mother longing for home. Her big complaints about Canada were cellophane wrapped hot dog weiners, margarine you had to color yourself and the difficulties encountered in trying to read directions on boxes and labels that bore the two official languages in print too small to decipher.
The American Boat Co. of Rhode Island (also known as Paceship) built the following boats at Mahone Bay:
12" Oak Island
16' Falcon designed by George
20' MacVay designed by George
15' Venus Cabin Cruiser
In 1965 Paceship wanted George to become a Canadian citizen, something he did not want to do. So he left the company and decided to go in business for himself. An Annapolis friend who had purchased an Eastwind suggested Bermuda and George spent a winter there investigating the possibility of taking over an old airplane hangar and converting it into a plant. The cost of shipping the boats back to the United States market caused him to reconsider and later in the year he purchased the recently vacated Mahone Bay Auto facility across from the present day site of the Bank of Montreal. The family moved into a 3 bedroom apartment in the same building.
The famous designer of the "Bluenose" schooner that appears on the Canadian dime had also designed a 23.5 foot sloop of the same name and about 80 of these had been built in wood. This gentleman, W.J. Roue gave George the rights to build this vessel in fiberglass. Shortly after this Mr. Roue passed away but the glass version of the McVay Bluenose was extremely popular and more than fifty were manufactured during the next eight years.
During peak season McVay Yachts employed over twenty-five people. The teak combings, toerails and cabin doors were built in advance. The boats were hand laid up in waxed female molds usually with two layers of woven mat and a layer of woven cloth. The lead keels were poured in a mold for lifting them, allowed to cool and then placed within the keel and encapsulated with resin and fiber. Production included:
8' Midget Rowing Sailboat
10' Dinky Dory
13' Moppet Sailboat
21' Mahone (one and only owned by Bob Mcvay)
In addition to boats McVay built "Lighthouse Route" signs for the province, 30' high lighthouses in fiberglass, folding chairs, teak tables and fire engine tanks.
There is a motel in Pictou, Nova Scotia where you can find a life-sized fiberglass horse made by the McVays. Bob remembers the snowstorm on the night he delivered the horse to Pictou. It was tethered down in a standing position in the back of the company's pickup. On route he was waved down by a lady whose car had slid off the road and into the ditch. He pulled off on the shoulder and rolled down his window. Upon arriving at the truck the lady stated, "Sir, my car has slid into the ditch. Do you suppose your horse might be able to pull it out?"
Bob reached back and patted the horse on the head and replied, "Mam this horse is so cold he's froze solid". Bob did however pull her car out with the truck.
George's three sons all worked on and off at the plant until it closed. Billy eventually went to university in Gainsville, Florida after serving in Vietman. Later he started "Victoria Yachts" financed in part by a gentleman from New York who had once worked with George. Victoria Yachts built a Victoria 18' and a Victoria 26'.
David ended up as an executive with the Bank of Montreal and lives in Toronto.
Bob, who originally planned to join the Royal Canadian Mounted Police took out Canadian citizenship and then ended up staying on to help his father. George passed away in 1972 and the McVay Boat Works in Mahone Bay closed its doors in June of 1973.
The molds went to Minto, New Brunswick where more vessels were built near the old Brickland car factory. Finally the rights were sold to one of the McVay's Ontario dealers who carried on building the" Minuet" and "Bluenose" until 1988.
Bob recalls feeling the onset of health problems in the final years of operation. Little protection was worn at the plant beyond maybe dust masks. Itchiness of the skin and respiratory problems cleared up with time, but Bob doubts he would still be alive had he worked at it much longer. For the past 22 years he has worked at "Highliner Foods" and he and his wife, Elizabeth and son Dustin continue to live on in Mahone Bay.
From time to time he is stopped on the street or receives an email from a grateful and happy McVay boat owner. A" Bluenose" that sold for $100 a foot in 1965 can now fetch up to $8000 Canadian and are much sought after by used boat buyers. As time has proven, McVay boats were built to last.