“There’s just gott’a be a better way to earn a living than this!”
Grant ‘Lindy’ Lucy, machine operator at Parmenter & Bulloch factory
“The boats were supposed to be called the ‘Lindys’ not ‘Lyndas’. That was Dad’s nickname for as long as I could remember.”
Yvonne (Lucy) Offspring
Winter came early to Gananoque in 1927.
From his bedroom window at the end of Water Street, 17 year old Grant Lucy had an almost panoramic view of Gananoque’s waterfront. Outside, the frigid air had frosted most of the windows so he had to scrape some of it off to see clearly. It was late December and already the bays and inlets were frozen over with a sheer coating of clear ice. Downstairs, he could hear his mother preparing supper so he knew she was occupied. His father, Archie, a marine engineer working on the Great Lakes, wouldn’t be home until probably the end of the week when his ship tied up for the season.
All afternoon, kids were skating on the clear ice, from the canoe club dock to around the point where the Lucy’s lived. Two or three ice boats with their sails full were also weaving around the nearby islands just to the west.
Young Grant quietly went into his parents’ room and took off the inner sheet from their bed. By late afternoon, he had sewn the sheet together with the one covering his own bed. Beside him, on the floor, were his father’s skates. The forward part of the blades curved upward tapering off toward the end of the boot. Perfect. He took a small screw driver and working patiently, removed the blades from each boot.
By mid morning the next day, he had the blades fastened to a makeshift frame that he had been working on in the late fall. The leading edge of the blades fit perfectly into the notch he had carved on the wooden runners. Raising the spar, he wrapped the one end of the combined bed sheets around it and quickly sewed it into place. The lower part, he sewed onto the swinging boom. He was ready. He pushed the boat from the side of the house down to the river’s edge. She glided easily.
Climbing aboard, Grant hauled the ‘sail’ tight and pushed her off with his feet. They were off. As the sail filled, the ice-boat glided past several skaters, almost buzzing them, like a low flying airplane. She was hard to steer and he narrowly missed another bunch.
“Hey! Watch it!” someone yelled.
“He thinks he’s ‘Lucky Lindy’ up in the sky,” yelled another, quoting the popular song written earlier that summer, about American aviator Charles ‘Lindy’ Lindbergh and his epic solo flight to Paris, France earlier in May.
Gaining control, Grant Lucy brought his ‘boat’ around to the front of his house, only to find his father standing by the ice edge waiting. Waiting and holding up his empty ‘boots’.
The town of Gananoque, Ontario was an industrial town in 1910, the year Grant Lucy was born to Archibald Lucy and Charlotte Lasha. The area became known as the ‘Birmingham of Canada’ with factories lining the Gananoque River using the flowing water as a source of energy. Two such mills were the Steel Company of Canada and the Parmenter & Bulloch factory, two major employers for the town. Situated in the heart of the Thousand Islands, hundreds of tourists from everywhere eventually came to swim, fish, and enjoy the natural beauty of the area.
“Dad always had a love for the river,” said daughter Yvonne Offspring recently. “I can remember, and it’s strictly hearsay, that when my Dad had his first boat, my mother would stand on the corner of Main Street and St. Lawrence Street. She tied me to a fire hydrant so I wouldn’t go out on the road while she sold tickets for 25 cents for a boat ride. Dad was a fishing guide. If there was no one who wanted to fish, he took people for a short tour of the islands in his wooden inboard cruiser, the Alquipa.”
Grant ‘Lindy’ Lucy and Ida Keyes married in 1936 and lived on the corner of St. Lawrence and Main Street, just up from the river’s edge. Grant worked at the nearby Paramenter and Bulloch rivet plant. Every day at noon, he would lower a basket on a rope from the floor he was working and his wife Ida would send up a homemade lunch fresh from the oven.
“One day he took his leather apron off, folded it up and put it on the stand beside his machine,” remembered Yvonne. “‘There’s just gott’a be a better way to earn a living than this’ he said. And that was it. He left the plant. I believe it was at this time he struck a deal with Sam Sedgwick.”
In the 1940’s local school teacher Sam Sedgwick owned and operated the 1000 Island Boat Line. The war years being over, tourists were flocking to the Thousand Islands area from near and far. Sedgwick also saw a golden opportunity in Kingston. This involved the purchase of a Royal Canadian Navy surplus Fairmile B coastal sub-chaser. At 112 feet long, HMC ML 110 was a sleek ship; she was fast, economical to operate, and would be the largest boat to tour the 1000 Islands. She was called the Roseline. She would later be called Miss Kingston. To buy her, convert her into a passenger vessel, a somewhat costly venture, involved selling the boat line company in Gananoque. Thirty eight year old ‘lucky Lindy’ was indeed interested.
“I know for a fact that he had to borrow $60.00 from Jim McGlade, the lawyer involved with the transaction,” laughed Yvonne.
Taking in partners Art Bringloe and Walden Beckstead, the three men drew up a contract with lawyer J.E. Cliff and on April 1, 1948 the Gananoque Boat Line Company was incorporated.
“Dad sat down and designed the GBL logo shortly after,” said son Brian Lucy. “It’s the same one used to this day on the Thousand Islanders.”
“Dad wanted to build a brand new boat,” Yvonne continued. “That’s when he took Walden Beckstead in as a partner. The boat was built and he called her the Jewel. She was a passenger boat built here in Gananoque.”
The Gananoque Boat Line fleet consisted of three other single deck Island Wanderer boats; all about 40 to 45 feet long driven by a single gasoline engine. The pilot sat forward, ‘bus-like’ with the passengers sitting behind. They carried anywhere from 30 to 100 passengers. Their route took them around Wellesley Island and back through the Canadian channel, much like today. Two new boats were soon built called the Lynda VII and Lynda VIII. Thus began the Lynda fleet.
“Something got lost or misspelled during their registry,” said Brian. “Dad’s nickname ‘Lindy’ somehow became ‘Lynda’. When the paperwork was done, there it was. And there it stayed. The Miss Rockport II built by Clifford Hunt in Rockport joined the fleet soon after.”
“The next thing I remember, I’m 11 years old and they put me to work on the Gananoque Square selling tickets for the Gananoque Boat Line,” said Yvonne. “My best friend Catherine Bishop whose father was the manager of the American Boat Line was on the opposite corner and we argued all day long over catching the cars by waving folders. But at night we played ball together or went to a show.
“If Dad piloted the sunset cruise, I worked as his deckhand. Otherwise, I was not allowed on the dock. I could go to the gift shop at the wharf and be with my mother. When I turned 13, I actually worked and ran the gift shop on the Main Street called Lucy’s Souvenirs.”
Meantime, in 1962 the Gananoque Boat Line bought Rockport Boat Line from George Fletcher and George Houck, two entrepreneurs from the Rockport area. The purchase included the waterfront and nearby campsite. One boat, the Miss Rockport made up the fleet. In the interim Walden Beckstead had passed away replaced by son Robert. Art Bringloe had also departed leaving just the two partners. GBL built two new, larger vessels, the split level Miss Gananoque and the all steel Miss Gananoque II.
“After I got older, I wasn’t involved again until 1970,” said Yvonne. “That’s when Dad brought Brian, my husband Fred Offspring and me into the operation of Rockport Boat Line. It was then that he sold his share of GBL to Hal McCarney and Harry Clarke. We started off together, as a family, with the Island Wanderer II and Island Wanderer IV. Dad brought the Miss Rockport II down with him.”
Work started immediately at Ed Andress Boat Works in Rockport for their new boat. At the same time, the Island View restaurant was built right on the waterfront, at the Lucy’s dock. By early summer, the new double decker boat was finished. The Ida M could carry 130 passengers and was propelled by twin Volvo diesel engines driven by inboard/outboard units. One of a kind in appearance, the 55 ft wooden vessel resembled a banana turned downward. She was followed immediately in 1973 by the Ida M II, an all aluminum triple deck 65 ft vessel built by Marlin Yachts in Gananoque.
“We did a lot of scrounging at the start, Yvonne recalled. “Eventually it turned into quite a venture. In 1988 we sold the company to an Ottawa firm. My husband Fred got a phone call the following spring. ‘Could you just help us out until we get going?’ Well, he stayed on until he died from cancer in 2001.”
Grant ‘Lindy’ Lucy passed away in 1976 followed by his wife Ida in 1981. The Rockport Boat Line Company today is managed by Kathleen Allen. It encompasses three restaurants, an inn and two souvenir shops on the main street. On any given day, the parking lot is full of cars, tour coaches and buses. Three vessels make up the fleet.
“There’s a lot of history here,” Kathleen points out. “The village is rich with it and we’ve worked with the Rockport Development Group to enhance some of the heritage.”
“Dad always said he was ‘going to build an empire ...,” Yvonne said. “It became his favorite term.”
Lucky Lindy, indeed.
It was springtime, 1973. I well remember the big, Chrysler LeBaron pulling up to our boat at Brock Street dock here in Kingston. The gentleman got out, took a puff of his cigar and said, “My name is Grant Lucy. How’d you like to come work for me? I need a skipper this year in Rockport.”
I’ve never looked back!
By Brian Johnson, captain of Wolfe Islander III and former skipper of the Miss Rockport II and Ida M.
Brian Paul Johnson is one of five captains of the Wolfe Island car ferry Wolfe Islander III. He has worked for the Ontario Ministry of Transportation for more than 30 years, recently celebrating 20+ years as captain. We often see him pass through the islands as captain of the Canadian Empress. Today, Brian combines his marine career with writing. Fascinated by stories and legends of the 1000 Islands area he has written for the Kingston Whig Standard, Telescope magazine and the Great Lakes Boatnerd Website:Seaway News. Brian co-edited Growing up on Wolfe Island, a compilation of interviews and stories with Sarah Sorensen. He is also a past president of the Wolfe Island Historical Society and former president of the Wolfe Island Scene of the Crime mystery writer’s festival held on the island every August.
Captain Johnson wishes to thank Yvonne Offspring, Brian J. Lucy, John Nalon and Kathleen Allen for their help piecing together this story.