Greavette -1930's and later


1945  forward design



Design was per customer from a 1936 model


By the mid 1920’s the core Muskoka boat building fraternity had settled somewhat into a marine precinct of sorts. Geographically located away from the bright lights and big cities, all the companies knew each other and in fact at one point or another their employees had all crossed paths, either starting or coaxing along the half dozen or so companies in existence there.


Greavette it seems was given birth from the purchase of a boat building business originally owned by John Matheson, who in the early days had worked with William Johnston Sr. and Henry Ditchburn, establishing the water livery business from the Gravenhurst rail point to the grand hotels. After leaving their employ in the water livery business John Matheson had ventured out on his own building boats.


In the same year that the Disappearing Propeller Boat Company closed down, John Matheson had sold his boat building business to Ernest Greavette and Charles Duke who operated it as “Greavette and Duke”. Ernest Greavette later withdrew from the company and Charles Duke went out on his own with Duke Boats in 1931, leaving Ernest to develop what would become a legendary boat builder and a patronage to his family name.

It is unclear at this point the official status of Greavette Boatworks as a sole proprietorship or as a partnership, but in the same time period Ernest Greavette and Ernest Wilson seemed to have joined forces or at the very least been working cooperatively together in the endeavor of building boats.


Ernest Wilson and his son Harold, like many pioneers of wooden boats were attracted to the Gold Cup racing scene. This fascination with speed, in turn led to significant technical improvements and leading edge design capabilities that would later manifest themselves in modern production boat building.


Design and construction of the Miss Canada’s at the Greavette yard by early 1936 meant that the Wilson’s had a challenger that met with the modern ruling for Gold Cup competition. Both the Gold Cup and Presidents Cup in 1936 were dismal displays of motorboat racing and it wouldn’t be until the 1937 challenge that “Miss Canada II” would come into her own.


For the next thirteen years, the Miss Canada’s would be a recognizable force on the racing circuit and between custom built engines and support from Rolls Royce with their Merlin engines, Greavette had established the racing side of the business quite successfully.


On the production side of things, physical assets from the Disappearing Propeller Boat Company that had gone to the Lindsay Boat Company in 1924 returned to the Muskoka region and were thereafter manufactured by Greavette for the next twenty years until 1956.


Following the 1936 Gold Cup challenge with Miss Canada II, Greavette Boatworks persuaded naval architect C. Douglas Van Patten to move from Eddy Marine in Bay City Michigan to their Muskoka location. While employed with Greavette, Van Patten would design the highly collectible Greavette Streamliner and Sheerliner models that would continue to be built by Greavette for the next 38 and 29 years respectively.


The Streamliner was a sophisticated mahogany runabout with a stylish rounded bow section and required a great deal of unique engineering in her construction. C. Douglas Van Patten in addition to designing the hull shape also designed the equipment necessary to make the mahogany do what wood was never meant to do in ordinary circumstances.


Before parting company with Greavette, C. Douglas Van Patten redesigned Miss Canada II with permission from her original designer, John L. Hacker. Van Patten succeeded in solving a series of porpising problems but was given a mere week to redesign her hull shape prior to the 1937 Gold Cup races.


During the race, due in part to the haste in putting her together, Miss Canada II slowly came apart but not before demonstrating that Van Patten’s principles of design were sound. After agonizing over a decision to either modify or start over, the decision was made by the Wilson’s to start from scratch and thus the construction of Miss Canada III came to be in 1937 and built by Tom Greavette.


This unique 24½ ft hull integrated a double concave unevenly spaced set of steps on its bottom (later dubbed "keel knuckle" steps), which gave it exceptional directional and turning stability even in rough water. This design also resulted in a low specific drag coefficient on the wetted surface giving it an optimum running attitude. The concept having evolved as early as 1929 from Van Patten's experiments with models would now form the new generation of Miss Canada’s.


After leading the 1939 Gold Cup, Miss Canada III sheared off her shaft to the oil scavenger pump putting it out of the race. After replacement with a bigger shaft, she went on to win the President's Cup that year and was also the High Point champion along with a host of other victories, including the Canadian National Championships, the National Sweepstakes and two Silver Cups. Running with her Miller engine she bettered 119 mph and set a Gold Cup straightaway record of 122 MPH.


After two years with Greavette, Van Patten moved further north to competitors Minett-Shields in 1939 but would continue to do work for the Wilson’s in their racing endeavours.


Leading into the War years, Van Patten was on loan to the Canadian Government, the British Admiralty and the U.S. Navy as a troubleshooter. While there he designed for the Canadian government a torpedo boat capable of 41kts that could easily run circles around the Elco designed PT Boats despite their enormous Packard V-12 engines.


From 1941 to 1944, Greavette was one of the companies chosen to construct 9 of the British designed Fairmile “B” Series anti-submarine vessels used extensively by the Canadian Navy.


The Fairmiles were constructed from plywood and were shipped in kit form by rail to Greavettes Gravenhurst location for assembly.


The legend of the Miss Canada’s continued and in 1946, running with a Rolls-Royce Merlin engine and an unblocked throttle she bettered 133mph during the time trials of the Gold Cup.


By 1949 the Wilson’s had commissioned Van Patten to design Miss Canada IV when the decision was made to challenge for the Harmsworth Trophy. The power plant would be converted from the Rolls-Royce Merlin used in Miss Canada III to that of a Rolls-Royce Griffon engine capable of 2850hp.


After setting the North American speed record of 138.6mph in Detroit, Miss Canada IV was fitted with a stainless steel prop that boosted her performance to 170mph and after some tweaking, achieved a measured mile performance of greater than 190mph, prior to the gearbox heating up and exploding beneath the feet of Harold Wilson.


By late 1949, Rolls Royce had demanded her engines back, forcing the Wilson’s out of racing altogether and both Miss Canada III and Miss Canada IV were sold to the owner of Supertest Petroleum who renamed Miss Canada IV to “Miss Supertest”.


After 1949 Greavette continued to produce top quality mahogany runabouts on a production line basis and did so until the early 1970’s when fibreglass technology revolutionized the modern boat building industry.


While I am unaware of any notable owners of Greavette boats or stories of infamy, during the war years the Wilson family would give birth to a son, Harold “Harry” Wilson who went on to become a secondary school teacher and taught with my Father for the last few years of his career at North Park Secondary School in Brampton Ontario.


In 1964, naval architect C. Douglas Van Patten went on to design what was then the world's largest boat, the Beatrice, a 1200 ft. diesel-electric launch that cruised the Amazon River for the Delgado Line.


Today, Greavette Boatworks lives on as one of the premiere builders of mahogany runabouts in their day and their Streamliner models are among the most sought after and highly prized collectible boats available and are rarely for sale.


Miss Canada IV is currently proudly displayed as Miss Supertest in the Marine Museum located in Clayton New York.


Andy McCutcheon, 100 Years of Wooden Glory. Copyright 2006