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Eastern Canada's oldest fibreglass boat shop turns 50

When Provincial Boat & Marine Ltd. began in 1974 it was already a busy fibreglass fabrication company known as Provincial Construction. "They made everything from fishtanks to siding for houses," says project manager Jay Campbell by phone from the company's head office in Kensington, Prince Edward Island, "[and] at the same time they were also doing road construction, building roads. The idea behind doing more with fibreglass and building boats originally was to keep the road crews busy during the winter, instead of laying people off. So, they got into building boats."

The original shop owners were Earl Davison, Archie Johnson, and Ivan Harrington. At the time it was relatively uncommon to build boats from fibreglass rather than wood.

All images contributed by Jay Campbell

Customers were skeptical in the beginning. "They called them 'Tupperware boats,'" recalls Campbell, but there was a convincing demonstration in store. Some demo hulls were used to prove the toughness of fibreglass. "They took them to different harbours and showed them to it and they hit the sides of it with a sledgehammer," explains Campbell, "and when they didn't damage it as much as they would with wood, people started to believe and the rest is history."

About 10 staff worked in the shop turning out 40-foot hulls, and soon the company was exporting internationally. "I believe it was '75 or '76 they sent one to the University of Fiji as a research vessel," says Campbell. In 1979 the shop started producing a 42-foot hull.

Provincial Boat & Marine Ltd. has experimented from time to time, but their business has been mostly focused on tough, dependable production hulls. "There's always been different products over the years, but nothing that we bothered with commercially," says Campbell, "they they made a couple pleasure houseboats in the early 80's, just trying something new." Turnkey fishing boats remain their specialty.

There have been challenges through the years, but sometimes a problem can become a benefit. "The shop burned to the ground in I believe 1990," says Campbell, but "from that we were able to rebuild a better facility more suited to our needs. So at the time, what seemed like a disaster turned out to be a benefit in the long run." The company name also changed from Provincial Construction to Provincial Boat & Marine, to reflect their focus on, and commitment to, boat building.

In 2000 the company began production of a 45-foot hull that they still build today. Provincial Boat & Marine Ltd. just finished production of their 505th hull, a boat that will be fishing in New Brunswick.

The company's reach extends far beyond the shores of Prince Edward Island, with a presence in 13 countries. The future looks interesting for this longstanding company, with new build methods on the horizon. "It's hard to say with regulatory changes coming down, but it's still looking positive," says Campbell, "we're looking to do more of our production with vacuum infusion." Staff at Provincial Boat & Marine still numbers 10, with some employees having worked 35 years.

Provincial Boat & Marine takes care to ensure their product lives up to their standards. "We're not just on the other end of the phone. We have a service vehicle and we'll be out there, and we're there for sea trials. It's a turnkey product and customers know what they're getting, whether they're buying a new Provincial or a used Provincial they know it was finished by us, to our standards."

Those used Provincials can be a good buy, as the company will even help out if you've got an older model. "We have people calling, buying 30-year old used boats with questions," says Campbell, "and we go back through our files and try to answer their questions as best as we can."

A business depends on its customers, and Campbell would like to thank the generations of both customers and staff who have kept Provincial Boat & Marine afloat for 50 years. "We have great customers and they certainly make building boats and what we do enjoyable," says Campbell, "we're very glad to be here 50 years later. The only reason we're able to do that is our customers and our employees."


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