A boat-building workshop in London, Ont., is not only teaching youth how to put together a boat in just five days, it’s also providing valuable skills they can take into adulthood.
As part of the Youth Empowerment Program run by the Northwest London Resource Centre (NLRC), eight students between 14 to 17 years old took part in a week-long workshop to build a boat they can eventually launch on the lake.
The program is run in collaboration with Stem2Stern, a community boat-building organization that ran the same workshop at the Neighbourhood Resource Association of Westminster Park the week before, and will also be kicking off their third workshop with the South London Neighbourhood Resource Centre next week.
From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily, the team works to build a 12-foot flat-bottom skiff, from start to finish, in just one week. The three-seat boat can hold between two to three youth.
David Vine, founder and principle boat builder of Stem2Stern, first started the project five years ago, when he was teaching at Strathroy District Collegiate Institute, later running it every year during the summer.
“The funniest reaction is when they show up on day one, and they’re unloading my trailer and they’re looking at all the pieces coming out, and I show them the photo album of what their target is by the end of the day on Friday. They say, ‘Wait, this is a full-sized boat?’ ‘I’m getting in this boat?'” Vine said.
“And I say not only are you getting into this boat but you’re going to drop it into Fanshawe Lake and then row across to the other side with your family watching, so you better do a pretty darn good job at this.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Vine was asked to continue teaching building construction, cabinet making and fine woodworking through virtual platforms, but he decided it was time to take on Stem2Stern full-time.
“It’s been so rewarding,” Vine said. “This is our fourth build of the summer. Every time we start a new build, it is a completely new experience, different kids coming together with different life experiences.”
In addition to technical skills, students also gain academic and social skills through the program, Vine said.
WATCH: London youth work together to build a boat:
Amani Radhaa, Associate Director of the NLRC, said this is the first time the resource centre has collaboratively worked to launch such a workshop.
“We were looking at different activities and programs to engage our youth who are not connecting, especially after COVID-19, we see reduced engagement of learning and zoom fatigue,” Radhaa said.
“We’ve seen kids interested in going to the field of construction or engineering or kids who have never used tools before.”
Radhaa said she hopes the teens take away a new set of skills from this workshop, new friendships and new connections.
The workshop teaches the students how to interpret drawings, build a layout from the plans onto actual material, assemble the boat and finally undergo the finishing process.
“At the end of the day, it’s not really about what the project is, it’s about the process,” Vine said.
Reina Chaiekh,17, has been volunteering with the NLRC since September and will be going to Ryerson University this fall for biomedical engineering. She said she signed up for the program because she wanted something to pass the time and thought it was interesting.
“I didn’t think I’d love it this much,” Chaeikh said. “It wasn’t as daunting once we started.”
Valentina Torres, one of the resource centre’s youth community connectors, immigrated to Canada from Colombia and works directly with immigrant and newcomer youth.
“It’s been a learning experience for all of us,” Torres said. “I’ve seen their confidence switch, even within just a couple of days.”
“I would’ve loved to have been able to be a part of something like this. You’re applying so many different [skills], you’re applying physics, engineering, math, team-building, so many things in one week.”
Vine said most of the major fabrication of the parts is done by him, and students spend more time assembling the actual boat. Hammers, handsaws and chisels are some of the tools used by students, along with cordless drills and sanders that are needed for specific tasks.
“The idea is that we’re introducing them to the trades but we’re really giving them the skills that would be important to them even just as a homeowner or renter,” he said.
The program is sponsored by Hudson Boat Works and the May Court Club of London.
The students who helped build the three boats will launch them the morning of July 31 into Fanshawe Lake.